The Ecuadorian diplomat who gave Julian Assange political asylum reports from the extradition hearing against the WikiLeaks journalist, and explains why it is “the most important case against the freedom of expression in an entire generation.”
by Fidel Narváez, (translated by Ben Norton)
Part 8 - Assange would face inhumane conditions in the U.S.
By being accused of spying, Julian Assange would be imprisoned under “Special Administration Measures” (SAMs). He would be in solitary confinement, would not be allowed any contact with family, and would only be able to speak with lawyers, who could not be able to communicate any messages from him or would face criminal punishment. Such conditions are a sentence to a living death.
For his entire trial, Assange would be imprisoned in Alexandria Detention Center (ADC), and he would later serve a life sentence in the maximum security prison ADX Florence in Colorado.
The prosecution has tried to whitewash the conditions, in the written testimony of the assistant United States attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, Gordon Kromberg, who tried to depict the hell of maximum-security prisons as friendly, which the defense’s witnesses said was a fiction.
Yancey Ellis, a former defense lawyer for the U.S. Marines, who has defended many clients from ADC, told the court that the situation with Assange would be “cruel and oppressive,” with an unknown time in solitary confinement, where he would be subjected to “torture and inhumane and degrading punishment.”
Assange would pass 22 to 23 hours per day without any contact in a cell of less than five square meters. Normally, food is eaten inside the cell, and he would not have access to therapeutic programs of any kind. There is no outside area for recreation or exercise in the Alexandria prison.
The lawyer Joel Sickler, an expert on prison conditions and founder of the Justice Advocacy Group in Virginia, who also has clients in ADC and is familiar with ADX Florence prison in Colorado, told the court that Assange “absolutely won’t have communication with other inmates.” He added, “Your whole world is the four corners of that room.”
In general, they allow one phone call with family for 15 to 30 minutes per month, and all of the calls are monitored, he explained. Sickler described the system as “feudal.” He added that the possibility of appealing SAMs cases is “remote to nil,” and said that he had a client who was in solitary confinement for 23 years.
The witness Maureen Baird, a former director of three U.S. prisons, including Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) of New York, where there are prisoners under SAMs measures, said that Assange would face “desolate and degrading” conditions before and after the trial.
SAMs is not discretionary; it is a directive imposed only by the attorney general, with the backing of intelligence agencies. The prisoners that they put under SAMs are technically in isolation for 24 hours per day. The conditions are so bad that it is hard to believe they still exist, given all of the studies and reports on the horrible physical and psychological effects it has on the prisoners.
Another witness was Lindsay Lewis, the lawyer for the British Muslim preacher Abu Hamza al-Masri, who is detained in ADX Florence in Colorado, despite the fact that the United States guaranteed British courts and the European Court for Human Rights that he would not be detained in such conditions, without an adequate medical examination.
Abu Hamza is an amputee who lost both hands, is blind in one eye, and suffers a skin condition called hyperhidrosis. He has been imprisoned under SAMs and in solidarity confinement for the past eight years. His bed, toilet, and sink were not adequate given his disabilities and other medical conditions, including severe diabetes, hypertension, and depression, which are not adequately treated.
Lewis said that the “unreliable nature of the U.S. government’s assurances” should be a concern for British authorities on whether or not to extradite Assange to the United States.
The lawyer said the restrictions are so absurd that Abu Hamza was accused of violated SAMs when he tried to express his love for his grandson, in a letter to one of his children, because the grandchild, a 1-year-old baby, was not a pre-approved contact.