Julian Assange would be held under conditions equivalent to solitary confinement if extradited to the US, a court heard today.
Yancey Ellis, a lawyer and former public defender, told the court that Assange would be held in a cell for 22 to 23 hours a day without contact with other inmates.
Giving evidence on the 14th day of an extradition hearing being held at the Old Bailey court, Ellis said that Assange was likely to be held at the Truesdale Adult Detention Centre in Alexandria in Virginia as he awaited trial.
The 49-year-old founder of WikiLeaks would be detained in a cell of 50 square feet or less – the size of a parking space – equipped with a shelf and a mat for sleeping, a small metal toilet and sink in the prisons’ “X block”.
“The whole point is to keep you away from other inmates. If there are other inmates in the unit, it is most likely you would be in the cells all the time,” said Ellis.
Assange faces extradition to the US over allegations of encouraging hacking and faces one count under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFFA) and 17 counts under the Espionage Act, which carry a maximum sentence of 175 years.
Lawyer had to scream at the ‘top of his lungs’ to speak to prisoner
Ellis questioned assertions by US prosecutor Gordon Kromberg that prisoners would be able to communicate with each through the doors and windows.
He said that when he had visited prisoners in the “X block” it had been almost impossible to speak to them.
The cell doors were made of thick steel and the windows were made from transparent thick plexiglass with no slots or holes.
Ellis said he had only been able to talk to inmates by asking a deputy sheriff to open the cell’s food tray slot.
“I have tried to communicate with clients through the doors. It is very difficult. You would have to scream at the top of your lungs,” he said.
He said that anyone making that the assertion that prisoners could communicate with each other either had not tried it, or did not have familiarity with the conditions there.
“Especially if he [Kromberg] is referring to two inmates talking to each other, I don’t see how that would be possible,” he said.
Prisoners under Special Admirative Measures (SAMS), would face additional restrictions on prison visits and phone calls.
Questioned by Edward Fitzgerald QC for the defence, Ellis said that medical care at the jail is “very limited”.
“They have some social workers and professional counsellors on staff. The jail does not employ a doctor and the contractor they use gives part time access to a psychiatrist,” he said.
He said that prisoners he acted for in the jail would not see a psychiatrist for several weeks which meant their was no close monitoring of the medication they received.
No special treatment
James Lewis QC for the prosecution asked Ellis whether he had interviewed the governor or the warden of Alexandria Detention Centre, the medical staff in the prison, the detention staff or the psychiatrist who attends the jail.
“You have given a one-sided picture,” said Lewis.
The lawyer questioned whether Ellis was aware of inspection reports of the prison conducted for the federal government by the US Marshalls Service, and state inspectors from Virginia, including a report from 2017 which had found no completed suicides at the prison.
“They have a good record when it comes to [preventing] completed suicides,” said Ellis.
The court heard that Chelsea Manning, who leaked hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, attempted suicide at the jail.
Lewis argued that Assange would have a “phalanx of lawyers” looking out for him, who would be able to make the “minutest criticism” if he did not receive the proper care.
Ellis disagreed, “to my knowledge the Alexandria jail does not give special treatment.”
Under questioning from Fitzgerald, Ellis said that Assange would be held in administrative segregation [ADSEG] in the “X block” and would not be allowed to take part in prison educational programmes.
“Based on my experience with Alexandria jail, I believe he would be placed in administrative segregation in the ‘X block.’”
Judge Vanessa Baraister asked Ellis why he believed Assange would be held in administrative segregation.
“The primary reason is that he is a public figure,” he said. “It would be the mental health aspect combined with the high profile.”
As a public prosecutor, Ellis represented people who were held at the Virginia jail, including several who had spent time in the administrative segregation [ADSEG] unit of the jail.
Under administrative segregation Assange would not be permitted access to a computer or the internet, but would be allowed to see lawyers for up to 3 hours a day.
The jail is frequently used for high profile defendants, Ellis told the court.
They have included Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for president Trump, Maria Butina, a Russian Agent operating in the US, and former soldier Chelsea Manning.
The case continues.