Assange attorneys: He's ready for extradition, but ...

There’s always a catch, eh? Earlier, Wikileaks announced that Julian Assange would agree to extradition to the US if Barack Obama gave clemency to Chelsea Manning, at the time serving a 35-year sentence for providing over 700,000 classified documents to Wikileaks. After Obama granted Manning a commutation yesterday, Wikileaks and Assange’s attorney said Assange would honor that deal. Kind of:

A lawyer for Julian Assange has indicated that the WikiLeaks founder is ready to face extradition to the US after Barack Obama commuted the sentence of US army whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

Assange has been holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy in London since claiming asylum there in 2012. He has refused to meet prosecutors in Sweden, where he remains wanted on an allegation of rape, which he denies. He has repeatedly said he fears extradition to the US on espionage charges if he leaves the embassy, though at the moment the only public extradition ruling against him comes from Sweden.

So what’s the catch? Assange now argues that his conditions for the deal hinged on immediate release, not release in four months:

“Mr. Assange welcomes the announcement that Ms. Manning’s sentence will be reduced and she will be released in May, but this is well short of what he sought,” said Barry Pollack, Assange’s United State’s attorney.

“Mr. Assange had called for Chelsea Manning to receive clemency and be released immediately.”

Dylan Byers offers a succinct assessment of that spin:

True, but doesn’t that still mean that Assange will agree to extradition in four months? Don’t hold your breath. First, the Department Justice has to find a reason to demand extradition. Despite all of the recent rhetoric, not only has the US not asked for extradition, they have no outstanding public warrant on Assange:

The justice department has never announced any indictment of Assange and it is not clear that any charges have been brought under seal. The department, in refusing to turn over investigative documents sought by Manning under the Freedom of Information Act, has acknowledged that the FBI is continuing to investigate the publication of national security information on WikiLeaks arising from Manning’s disclosures.

“That investigation concerns potential violations of federal criminal laws, in the form of serious threats to the national security, and the investigation continues today,” department lawyers wrote in a court filing last year. “From the terms of her request, it is clear that Manning seeks to obtain documents concerning that investigation.”

Second, the Ecuadorians might not recognize Assange’s actions as extraditable crimes. The State Department noted the “serious need of updating” in the bilateral extradition agreement between the two countries a few years ago, including the “very limited list of extraditable crimes” mentioned in the treaty. Since its last update was in 1939, it’s not likely that computer crimes would be mentioned. According to the treaty texts provided by an extradition defense lawyer on his own personal site, the list does not include espionage or the trafficking of government documents either. Therefore, it might not be a matter of not fighting extradition, but simply refusing to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and letting the Ecuadorian government block extradition.

Of course, Assange could simply leave the embassy on his own at any time. The most likely outcome of that action would be extradition to Sweden, which has a bill of particulars for Assange, rather than the US. Assange isn’t going to want to go back home to face that music. He might prefer to take his chances in the US, but … the US has a bilateral extradition treaty with Sweden, and rape is very much one of the crimes for which extradition can take place. Even if Assange could somehow manage to travel to the US without getting snagged by Sweden, he’d wind up there anyway unless he got prison time here for espionage. And after he got out of a US prison, he’d get extradited to Sweden anyway.

So far, Assange’s offer looks like a publicity stunt. Don’t expect that to change.