Julian Assange’s court battle against extradition to the United States, on hacking and espionage charges, began in London under the glare of the world’s media Monday. But a grieving British family is calling for the whole thing to be put on ice — at least until the U.S. hands over an alleged CIA agent who is a suspect in their son’s death.
Harry Dunn, 19, was killed in August when his motorbike collided with a car driving on the wrong side of the road outside a British air force base currently used as a communications station by the United States Air Force.
The driver was Anne Sacoolas, the wife of an intelligence official stationed at the base. Sacoolas has worked as a CIA agent, according to British media, and claimed diplomatic immunity to flee to the U.S. She has refused to return to face a charge of causing death by dangerous driving, sparking a tense diplomatic standoff between London and Washington.
Now, Dunn’s family has called on the British government to refuse any extradition of Assange unless the U.S. reciprocates by turning over Sacoolas, accusing Washington of an “extraordinary amount of hypocrisy” over the issue.
“The double standards on display are unprecedented,” Radd Seiger, a lawyer and spokesman for the Dunn family, said in a statement, describing the U.S. refusal to hand over Sacoolas as “the single greatest attack on the so-called special relationship between the countries in modern memory.”
“The U.S. is not behaving like an ally and has effectively thumbed its nose… at the U.K.,” he said.
Last month, the U.S. State Department turned down a request from the British government to extradite Sacoolas, saying extradition “would render the invocation of diplomatic immunity a practical nullity and would set an extraordinarily troubling precedent.” The U.K. government, which has said that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged President Donald Trump to return Sacoolas, described that decision as “a denial of justice.”
Britain’s Mail on Sunday reported earlier this month that Sacoolas had previously worked as a CIA operative, although it cited U.S. government sources as saying she was “not active” during her time in the U.K. The revelation led Dunn’s grieving family to question whether this status had helped her to leave the UK in the days following the accident.
The U.K. government was yet to publicly respond to the Dunn family’s statement, as Assange’s extradition hearing began Monday at London’s Woolwich Crown Court. Assange, the Wikileaks founder, listened impassively as U.S. counsel James Lewis outlined the case for his extradition.
The 48-year-old Australian is wanted in the U.S. on 18 charges of attempted hacking and breaches of the Espionage Act for the leaks of hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic cables, and could face a 175-year prison sentence if found guilty.
Cover: A supporter carries a wooden cross that reads 'The truth will win' as he protest against the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange outside Belmarsh Magistrates Court in London, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. The U.S. government and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will face off Monday in a high-security London courthouse, a decade after WikiLeaks infuriated American officials by publishing a trove of classified military documents. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)