LONDON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange vowed yesterday to step up his site’s release of secret documents while he fights extradition to Sweden, as his lawyers argued that sending him to Stockholm could land him in Guantanamo Bay or even on US death row.
That claim, regarded by many legal analysts as extremely unlikely, is part of a preliminary defense argument released by Assange’s attorneys ahead of a court hearing next month.
The Australian computer specialist is wanted in Sweden to answer sex-crimes allegations. American officials also are trying to build a criminal case against WikiLeaks, which has published leaked diplomatic cables and secret US military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Assange’s lawyers are seeking to link the two issues, saying the Swedish prosecution is politically motivated, an allegation that Sweden strongly denies.
Assange’s defense said “there is a real risk that, if extradited to Sweden, the US will seek his extradition and/or illegal rendition to the USA, where there will be a real risk of him being detained at Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere.’’
The document, prepared by Assange’s lead lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson, adds that “there is a real risk that he could be made subject to the death penalty’’ if sent to the United States.
Under European law, suspects cannot be extradited to jurisdictions where they may face the death penalty.
It also is not clear what, if any, charges US authorities could bring against Assange, and unclear how he could be classed as an “unlawful enemy combatant,’’ which could expose him to detention at Guantanamo Bay.
“Mr. Assange would not be sent to Guantanamo,’’ said John Bellinger, a former legal adviser to the US State Department. “He would be prosecuted in US federal court. He would not be treated as an enemy combatant. Those are ridiculous concerns.’’
He added that US prosecutors would not seek the death penalty.’’