Julian Assange to 'Seek Review' of U.K. Extradition Ruling, Lawyer Calls It 'Disturbing'

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will ask that the United Kingdom's top court review the decision to have him extradited to the United States to face espionage charges there, according to his lawyer, who condemned a British ruling that would greenlight the move.

The U.K. High Court issued a ruling Friday that deemed U.S. assurances of his treatment once he is in the country satisfactory enough to have Assange extradited there after a lengthy appeal in which the Australian editor and activist previously won an effort to block the move in the lower Central Criminal Court in January.

Assange's lawyer, Barry Pollack, argued the diplomatic assurances from Washington were not sufficient, accusing the administration of former President Donald Trump of attempting to take Assange by force.

"It is highly disturbing that a U.K. court has overturned a decision not to extradite Julian Assange, accepting vague assurances by the United States government, which has reportedly plotted to kidnap or even assassinate Mr. Assange, that if Mr. Assange is extradited he will be provided appropriate care and not be held in a super-maximum facility," Pollack said in a statement sent to Newsweek.

Pollack's allegations stem from a Yahoo News story published in September that detailed a supposed plot by former CIA Director Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to abduct or potentially even kill Assange, based on testimony from 30 former U.S. intelligence and national security officials.

Pompeo did not deny the allegations outright but later said he would make "no apologies" for the Trump administration's efforts to protect "real national security secrets," and went on to tell the Devil May Care podcast that the sources for the article "should all be prosecuted for speaking about classified activity inside the Central Intelligence Agency."

Pompeo did not immediately respond to Newsweek's request for comment.

Pollack argued that the latest legal move did not take into account the severity of the situation, and defended Assange's efforts to expose secret military and diplomatic documents.

"The U.K. court reached this decision without considering whether extradition is appropriate when the United States is pursuing charges against him that could result in decades in prison, based on his having reported truthful information about newsworthy issues such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," Pollack said. "Mr. Assange will seek review of this decision by the U.K. Supreme Court."

In a statement sent to Newsweek, the U.S. Justice Department said, "We are pleased by the ruling, and have no further comment."

Julian, Assange, Westminster, Magistrate, 2019
Julian Assange will appeal a U.K. Court ruling that would have him extradited to the U.S. Pictured, Assange gestures to the media from a police vehicle on his arrival at Westminster Magistrates court on April 11, 2019 in London. Jack Taylor/Getty Images

WikiLeaks was founded in 2006 as a whistleblower site with Assange widely seen as its founder. The platform has gone on to leak millions of documents, many of which purport to show government abuses.

Among the most notable early exposes included classified information regarding the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the treatment of prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay detainment facility that is part of a U.S. military base in Cuba. Other leaks involved raw cables that shone a light on insider dealings among U.S. diplomats and officials from other countries.

The U.S. Justice Department began pursuing charges against Assange after a 2010 leak facilitated by a U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who was later court-martialed for her actions and jailed over contempt for her refusal to discuss WikiLeaks before being released last year by a federal judge.

The same year the leak was released, Assange was hit with an international arrest warrant over allegations of sexual misconduct in Sweden. Alleging that the charge was a pretext for him to be extradited from Sweden to face trial in the U.S. for espionage, Assange took asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in the U.K., where he lived for nearly seven years.

WikiLeaks again came to the forefront of U.S. attention when a trove of documents belonging to Democratic Party officials appeared to show a preference for then-presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over socialist rival Senator Bernie Sanders. Republican contender Donald Trump, who ultimately won the 2016 election, initially warmed up to WikiLeaks but later turned against it during his time in office.

While Sweden ultimately dropped its investigation against Assange, he remained in the embassy over concerns of being extradited to the U.S. over federal charges that were ultimately unsealed in March 2019. About a month later, Ecuador withdrew Assange's political protection after WikiLeaks shared a report purporting to link then Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno to a corruption scandal and Assange was subsequently arrested by U.K. police for skipping bail, sparking an international legal battle as the U.S. sought to extradite him.

The U.S. charges include 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse stemming from the release of unauthorized documents.

Assange's fiance, Stella Moris, reacted emotionally to the latest turn in her partners' case, which happened to coincide with the United Nations-recognized International Day of Human Rights.

"What a shame, how cynical to have this decision on this day," Moris said in a statement she delivered outside the London court where the proceedings took place. "To have one of the foremost, the foremost publisher, journalist of the past 50 years in a UK prison accused of publishing the truth about war crimes, about CIA kill teams. And in fact every time we have a hearing, we know more about the abusive nature, the criminal nature of this case."

She vowed too vowed to appeal the decision and said she feared for Assange's mental health, a concern that served as the basis for his effort to block extradition to the U.S.

"I want to emphasise that the High Court accepted all the medical evidence and the conclusions of the magistrate that if Julian is extradited and placed under extreme conditions of isolation it will drive him to take his own life," Moris said. "That extradition is oppressive."

WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson also decried the decision in a statement shared by the site.

"Julian's life is once more under grave threat, and so is the right of journalists to publish material that governments and corporations find inconvenient," Hrafnsson said. "This is about the right of a free press to publish without being threatened by a bullying superpower."

Update 12/10/21 9:55 ET - This story has been updated with additional information.