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A hearing in London will determine whether Julian Assange is extradited to the U.S.


The U.K.'s highest court is ruling on Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. Two judges are deciding if they will allow his extradition to the United States. Strictly speaking, they're deciding if they are satisfied with assurances from the U.S. government about the way he might be treated at a trial in America. Assange's organization published hundreds of thousands of leaked documents about U.S. military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Willem Marx, a journalist based in London, is covering the story. Good morning.

WILLEM MARX: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What is the basis of this case?

MARX: So this is all about whether the High Court here in London will allow Assange to appeal his extradition from the U.K. to the U.S. It's something that Britain's interior minister earlier approved. The U.S. wants to charge him with 17 acts of espionage, one of computer misuse. He sought to appeal on nine different grounds back in March. And the court then said he had a, quote, "real prospect of success" in three separate legal areas of that appeal.

The judges back in March also said they needed assurances linked to those three possible grounds for appeal from the U.S. government about Assange's potential treatment were he to end up in the American legal system - namely that he'd be able to rely on his First Amendment rights; he'd be treated no differently than a U.S. citizen and would not receive the death penalty.

We're finding out today the judges are happy with those assurances the U.S. government has made to the court. If they're not happy, Assange will definitely be allowed to appeal. His lawyers may even be able to debate the substance of that appeal as soon as today. If they are happy with the assurances, he may still be given the chance to appeal it.

INSKEEP: OK. So this might not be the end either way. What are you learning in these proceedings?

MARX: Well, we now know that Assange's team, and thus the court, seem happy with the U.S. assurances he'll not be subject to the death penalty. The back and forth between the lawyers has really focused the last couple of hours, Steve, on whether Assange will be entitled to the same constitutional protections as a U.S. citizen would be, with some really kind of detailed, in-the-weeds discussions about concepts around citizenship versus nationality.

His alleged crimes took place outside the U.S. He'd be facing trial inside the U.S., where he's not a citizen. And so his team have questioned whether he'd be able to rely on First Amendment rights, for instance, that are protected under the U.S. Constitution - might provide protection for his actions at WikiLeaks. His lawyers also saying that any promises made by U.S. prosecutors around his rights can't necessarily be guaranteed because, of course, U.S. courts operate independently of the executive branch under the U.S. separation of powers.

INSKEEP: This is all really interesting. I mean, there are these big-picture questions about whether Assange can count as a journalist or merely something more of a spy violating U.S. law. Those are the bigger questions, but there's these more specific ones about his rights. So what could happen next?

MARX: Well, there's a bunch of options. If the court decides he can appeal, then it would potentially drag on here in the British court system. That would be possibly grounds for release in the future. He could potentially appeal above that to the European Court of Human Rights. That could, again, lead to his release. If he does end up in the U.S. one day, he could theoretically receive a prison sentence up to 175 years, so that seems like an outlier. And of course, you know, the final possibility is that he could be acquitted in a U.S. court one day, as well.

INSKEEP: Wow, a range from being acquitted to 175 years. Willem, thanks so much.

MARX: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Reporter Willem Marx in London.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Willem Marx
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