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Sep 28, 2020 107 tweets 16 min read Read on X
Day 15 of Julian Assange's extradition hearing and the beginning of the last week of testimony. See all of our daily #AssangeCase reports collected here:
Today we expect testimony from Joel Sickler and Yancey Ellis, on the prison conditions Assange would face pre- and post-trial in the United States if he is extradited.
At issue in their testimony is whether extraditing Assange to the U.S. would be "unjust or oppressive" and whether he would be subjected to "torture" or "inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment". From our report on Dr. Kopelman's testimony on day 11:
Up first will be Yancey Ellis, a lawyer in Alexandria, Virginia, the jurisdiction where Assange would be tried and where he would be detained pre-trial if extradited, connected by remote video. #AssangeCase
First the judge addresses the issue of releasing Assange's medical reports to the media (Press Association requests them, defense and prosecution both oppose their release), judge says she'll find in favor of withholding them (except for one which was read out in court last week)
Now Yancey Ellis is sworn in. He made two witness statements for the court. Ellis was a judge advocate in the the US Marines for 5 years, then was a public defender in Alexandria, now has a private practice there.
Ellis is very familiar with the Alexandria Detention Center, where Assange would go -- has many clients there, has visited many times, has been in the admin-segregation units
As a pre-trial defendant, Assange would be detained in the ADC for months or potentially years. Ellis: "I believe it's most likely" Assange would be held in administrative segregation (ad-seg)
Ad-seg in ADC referred to as the 'X Block'. Ellis describing prison cells there, maybe 50' sq, shelf bed, metal toilet. 22-23 hours/day in cell. Sometimes the 2nd hour out of the cell would be in the middle of the night so prisoners can't/don't take it.
"The whole point of this unit is to keep you away from other inmates." Sometimes there's not even other prisoners in the inmate. Very difficult to hear through the doors to speak from one cell to another, would have to scream.
Each inmate on X block gets 1 hour at a time out of the cell and can't communicate with other prisoners.
Prosecution evidence includes an affidavit from AUSA Gordon Kromberg alleging that prisoners in ad-seg can communicate to one another through doors and windows. Ellis says this sounds like a claim from someone who hasn't been there before and tried it.
Especially if he's talking about 2 inmates in their cell at the same time, "I just don't see how that's possible."

Effectively no communication with other prisoners. "That's the point of ad-seg."
Ellis thinks ad-seg on these terms could be called solitary confinement. No redress of your conditions in the courts, they defer to the jail.
These are the basic minimum physical conditions of the unit. Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) impose additional restrictions on communications on top of that.
Medical care for someone suffering a psychological disability? Very limited. They have social workers & counselors on staff but the jail doesn't employ a doctor. They have a contract with a part-time psychiatrist. Some inmates would go many weeks between visits. No psycho-therapy
The extent of mental health care is that a social worker or counselor comes around to check on you every once in a while to ensure basic functioning.
End of defense questioning, now James Lewis cross-examining for the prosecution.
Lewis: In your opinion, Kromberg's evidence is "inaccurate or incomplete"?


How many prisoners at ADC?

I think around it can hold 300 or so, not sure what the number is now
Only room for 4-6 inmates in the X block. United States Marshall service utilizes the ADC for [federal] pre-trial defendants
Lewis establishes Ellis is basing his testimony on his own experience. "You haven't interviewed the warden?" No. "Interviewed the correction staff?" No

"Interviewed the psychiatrist who attends the jail?" Haven't met them

"Interviewed the psychologist?" No
Lewis: So you're giving one side and another side could be given by those individuals?

Ellis: "You're asking if there are 2 sides to every story? Sure"
Lewis establishes that there is a visitation system at the jail. Asks if the Marshall service inspects that system?

"Do they inspect their policy? I'm not sure"

Don't know how often the jail is inspected or who conducts inspections
During last inspection they found no suicides?

"They do have a good track record when it comes to actually completed suicides I believe"
Don't know how Assange would be assessed for housing?

I've requested those records before I've never been able to get a hold of them
Don't know whether he'd be placed in administrative segregation do you?

I can't predict the future but I bet that he would be held in administrative segregation
Lewis: were you asked to put the phrase "solitary confinement" in your statement by the defense?

No, I was asked to talk about the conditions and they constitute solitary
References Eric Lewis saying he spent 6 hours with an inmate, Ellis says that doesn't happen continuously.

Did you exclude interaction with your lawyer in saying this is solitary confinement? Yes, I don't include that, even if they do see lawyer every other day is in isolation
Talking about how the ADC deals with suicide risk. Several clients have been moved to the medical unit or some sent to state psychiatric hospital.
Explains ad-seg units in the ADC. Says he doesn't know if Assane would be considered a security risk.
Ellis: going by the jail's track record, they don't put high profile inmates in general population

Lewis: you're aware Mr Assange's case has attracted huge publicity and public support?

Ellis: I would agree with the publicity
Will he not have a phalanx of lawyers of looking out for him?

I don't know.

If he did wouldn't they be able to make the minutist criticism of every detail of the conditions?

I guess they could, I don't know what it would do
And wouldn't he be able to get special treatment?

Ellis: The ADC doesn't give special treatment
End of cross-examination. Fitzgerald for the defense re-examining. Establishes Ellis' testimony is based on personal experience with the physical regime in X block.
Ellis explaining his basis for believing Assange would be on ad-seg. Very likely for high profile inmate, for pre-trial.

Programs like therapy would not be available in X block? "Contrary to the definition of being in administrative segregation."
Ellis also doesn't believe these kinds of programs exist at the ADC
References Chelsea Manning's attempted suicide in this facility. Ellis says she wouldn't be on this X block, female inmates are housed separately
End of re-examination. Judge is asking Ellis about why he thinks he'd be held in ad-seg, other than that he's a public figure. Mental health aspect combined with the fact that he's a public figure.
Judge says in the UK being a public figure doesn't change your conditions.

Ellis says he doesn't know their exact reasoning but just from his experience, that's been the case here.

End of Ellis testimony.
Recess now for 35 minutes. In an hour we'll have testimony from Joel Sickler. #AssangeCase
Ellis' statement on ADC suicide prevention: Inmates at risk are placed in a "suicide prevention suit that immobilize the arms away from the body, removing shoe strings and sheets, etc. These individuals had access to counsellors, but not increased access to psychiatric services."
Back from recess. Joel Sickler has been sworn in -- an expert on U.S. prison conditions (…)
Sickler has been working in prison advocacy for more than 40 years, founded the Justice Advocacy Group in Virginia, has been to the Alexandria Detention Center (ADC) dozens of times, has many clients detained there.
Sickler: I believe Assange will be assigned to an administrative segregation unit. Agrees with Ellis it's likely to be the X unit
Sickler: national security issues, Assange's notoriety, concerns for Assange's safety, and concerns for self-harm risk all lead him to believe Assange will be held in ad-seg
Ellis called the cells on X block "the size of a parking lot" in his statement and Sickler agrees based on his clients' experience
Sickler: "He absolutely won't have communication with other inmates."

Kromberg says inmates can talk between cells. Sickler: "in practice, that's ridiculous. You have to scream."
Very limited social interaction with others, no access to the outside world except for a rare few monitored phone calls. "You're twiddling your thumbs. You'll have access to reading material, but your whole world is the four corners of that room."
Believes statutorily Assange would "have to be" held under SAMs. Has had clients held in conditions just short of SAMs. Refers to @theCCR report (
Sickler: "Mr. Assange should expect to receive only the most limited medical services at the ADC. Any suggestion to this Court that he will be fully evaluated and assessed for medical or mental health conditions is misleading."
Sickler: if an inmate is intent on committing suicide, they will
Sickler also commenting on the ADX Florence in Colorado, where he agrees it's likely Assange would be sentenced post-trial if convicted. If sent there, he'd likely be held in the H Unit (for SAMs inmates)
Again, would be held in a very small cell, not permitted to interact with other prisoners, "extraordinarily limited" contact with visitors/outsiders, one 15-minute call a month, monitored contemporaneously
Prospects of appealing being subject to SAMs?

It's a well-known fact here that even the most minor administrative appeals by inmates are denied. I've probably filed 1,000 or more appeals, winning a dozen at most. Chances of appealing SAMs are "remote to nil."
Sickler has a client who has been held in solitary confinement for 22 years.
Sickler's statement: "Mr. Assange will be held in solitary confinement at ADX for a prolonged period with little hope of challenging those conditions."
Sickler says in practice, based on his decades of experience, the government's claims about what these prisons are like just don't hold up.
Says reports from the Marshall Project on these conditions are "spot on."

(Marshall Project: "My Life in the Supermax"…)
End of questioning. Now Clair Dobbin cross-examining for the prosecution
Dobbin establishing Sickler's experience. You're not a medical doctor? No but I relied on a medical doctor's assessment of Assange's records in providing my statements
Dobbin notes Sickler's statement includes dealing with inmates under SAMs. He clarifies they weren't ordered as SAMs but SAMs-like conditions.

Dobbin: so did you add that in to make it seem like you know more about SAMs than you do?

Sickler, vexed: No, of course not
Dobbin insinuates Sickler described prison conditions as if he had first-hand experience. He rejects idea he's trying to "pull a fast one" over the court. She says he's basing claims on "hearsay"
Dobbin recounting Kromberg's statement explaining why Assange would be held in ad-seg, would be able to participate in programs with other inmates.

Sickler only agrees if Assange weren't subject to SAMs
Sickler: "Not sure what programs he'd want to avail himself of there," says programs include getting a GED
Dobbin: SAMs in Assange's case could only be imposed on the direction of the Attorney General?

Without a doubt yes

Because the AG deems them necessary to prevent disclosure of national security information?

I believe that'd be the reason yes
Dobbin talking about why people are under SAMs, very few people under SAMs, that it's speculative that it he'd be placed under SAMs. Questions Sickler's use of 'statutorily' in claiming those under SAMs have limited communications. He corrects "by policy, not statute"
Dobbin recounting the case of Wadih el-Hage, former al-Qaeda member, "even he" isn't under SAMs.

Sickler asks, "but what jail was he held in?" Dobbin doesn't answer the question, judge says it probably won't be answered, and we break for an hour for lunch. #AssangeCase
Court resumes for the continuation of Joel Sickler's testimony. Sickler referred to lawyers fearing imprisonment themselves when dealing with inmates under SAMs. References the case of Lynne Stewart (…)
Prosecutor Clair Dobbin now turns to potential pre-trial detention at the ADC. Reading through Kromberg's list of staffers there
Sickler questions Dobbin's use of "sufficient" for mental health care at the ADC. Not exactly talk therapy, he says, inmates are medicated/sent to psych ward
Sickler refers to a client of his who committed suicide, notes he was one of the most guarded inmates. Dobbin notes that the guards on duty are being criminally prosecuted. Sickler says yes they are, but that doesn't bring him back
Sickler: "When you're held in administrative segregation, which AUSA Kromberg says is not solitary confinement -- which is interesting to me -- it's very arduous, almost torturous conditions of confinement." It's going to be "deleterious" on Assange, he says.
Sickler has said he finds the ADC "well-run", Dobbin picks up on that, he says they have a "stellar record" on preventing suicide."

Sickler: "But Mr Assange isn't just at risk at the ADC, what about post-trial?"
Dobbin referencing the case of Ahmad vs UK, where court found being subject to SAMs didn't prevent communications with the inmate's legal team
From Sickler's statement: "I am skeptical about BOP pronouncements that the agency can adequately address the health care needs of even the sickest of inmates."
Sickler's statement cites Chief Judge McMahon in USA v Israel: “I take it as a matter of settled fact that the Bureau of Prisons is not the best place for anyone to receive medical care. ...I’ve made that observation numerous times over the years ..”
Dobbin reads from the rest of the decision where judge says that in this case the claimant hadn't demonstrated that BOP couldn't provide medical care
Sickler says the first part of that quote "speaks volumes", Dobbin says the rest of it is "more weighty." Dobbin wants to establish that it's different dependent on the case, that we don't know where/how Assange would be detained post-trial
Sickler says if he doesn't get SAMs he predicts he'd go to another of the two Communications Management Units
Sickler: the US government considers Assange a risk, he "harbors in his mind" information about the crimes of the US, they're going to restrict his communications without the outside world. He's going to be sent to the ADX or a CMU
Sickler: look, he's going to get a very long sentence. if it's not life it's going to be 30 or 40 years

Dobbin: you would accept that's a very contentious statement?

Sickler: yes
Dobbin notes Sickler was an advisor on the Reality Winner case, notes Winner got 63 months under Espionage ACt

Sickler says yes but is laughing when he says these are "qualitatively different defendants"
Dobbin says Winner was a govt insider, was sent to health care facility, Sickler notes that is because it was in Texas near her family. Dobbin says she was recommended for a mental health evaluation
Sickler: "most clients could use mental health services if they were available, but in most cases they are not available," and he isn't going to disclose more for Winner's privacy
Dobbin suggests it's "astonishing" to claim inmates don't get mental health care when he's also claiming Winner was sent to a mental health facility when she didn't even need it, that it was to be near family. Sickler says it's a medical facility, not a mental health one
Dobbin suggesting that many inmates in Segregated Housing Units are double-bunked, so it's not solitary confinement, Sickler explains why this "doesn't alleviate how difficult it is"
Long back & forth about reviews including medical review that inmates go through before being sent to an ADX -- gist is Dobbin reading what the policies are, Sickler explaining that what's on paper is always different than what happens in reality
Dobbin just trying to establish that Sickler isn't an expert on SAMs, which he readily admits, again references The CCR's report on SAMs (
Sickler getting tired of the way Dobbin is questioning, asks her, "Why don't you inform the court, how often will Mr Assange be able to be visited by his family, under SAMs at the ADX?"

She doesn't answer directly but is reading through other cases
Sickler says Assange would be held "incommunicado" "indefinitely", there won't be a point when the US gov doesn't consider him a security risk. Dobbin says he can't know that, reads through various levels in the ADX's H unit, inmates progress through levels to reduce restrictions
Dobbin had cited the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab saying he was able to get family visits. New York Times 2017: "Underwear Bomber Sues Over Treatment in Supermax Prison"…
Sickler stands by his report that the conditions will be "deleterious" and that the ADX is "torturous." "I don't think there's any argument about that," he said, "even their own warden has said that"
Dobbin cites number/types of mental health staffers at the ADX.

Sickler: I'm aware, I'm sure the need is high given the conditions at the ADX

We can agree it's well-staffed and effective at mental health care?

Agree it's well staffed, I wouldn't say it's effective
Dobbin citing the case of Cunningham et al vs. BOP, settlement was agreed after which mentally ill inmates were moved out of the ADX (…)
Sickler's statement notes that 3 years after that settlement was upheld, "that same Court would find that the health care in ADX failed to meet basic standards of care for inmates"
Sickler: "my experience informs me that a lack of physical
health care always matches a lack of mental health care"
Long exchange continues, boiling down to what the ADX and Bureau of Prisons say are their policies vs what actually happens.

Sickler: "What I see ongoing in practice is entirely different."
Background on the ADX Florence in Colorado, which the prosecution is attempting to argue is a perfectly fine place to go. NYT: "Inside America’s Toughest Federal Prison"…
More background on the ADX from the Marshall Project: "My Life in the Supermax"…
Dobbin wants Sickler to compare federal and state, he says federal prisons certainly are better funded and better resourced, so if all else is equal, better to go there. But that's at minimum security; medium & high-security prisons & ad-seg units, "these are dangerous places"
End of cross-examination. 10-minute break, then defense will re-question for a half hour
Defense re-examination. Sickler stands by his conclusions that Assange would likely be held in solitary confinement in pre-trial confinement, that he would likely be sent to ADX, and that likely would be for a long time.
Sickler sticks by his conclusion that Assange is likely to be held under SAMs.
Sickler: I've had a few clients die after they were denied compassionate release. I've had a handful commit suicide. And I've had hundreds of clients who I have medical reports showing did not receive adequate health care.
Establishes that Assange is at high risk of danger as a high-profile inmate.

End of Sickler's testimony. #AssangeCase
Tomorrow we'll hear testimony from Maureen Baird, a former warden at the Metropolitan Correctional Centre in New York
We'll also hear testimony from Lindsey Lewis.

End of today's proceedings. #AssangeCase

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