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Assange lawyers raise specter of Guantanamo Bay

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Assange extradition hearing begins
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Assange says hearing is lifting the lid on false allegations
  • NEW: Second defense witness says alleged victim changed her story
  • Assange faces questions about sexual misconduct allegations
  • He has denied the allegations, and is free on 200,000 pounds ($310,000) bail

London (CNN) -- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said Monday a two-day hearing on whether to extradite him to Sweden is finally lifting the lid on sexual misconduct allegations he says are false and have blighted his reputation for months.

Assange was at Woolwich Crown Court in south London, where celebrities watched as Assange's lawyers argued against his transfer to Sweden.

Assange has not been charged with a crime, but Swedish prosecutors want to question him in connection with sexual misconduct allegations related to separate incidents last August.

"For the past five and a half months, we have been in a condition where a black box has been applied to my life," Assange told the media in a brief statement after the day's session. "On the outside of that black box has been written the word 'rape.' That box is now, thanks to an open court process, being opened, and I hope over the next day we will see that that box is, in fact, empty and has nothing to do with the words that are on the outside of it."

Assange thanked his supporters and lawyers and said the process "surely lets you understand who your friends are."

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His lawyers argue Assange could ultimately end up at Guantanamo Bay or be executed if he is extradited to Sweden, according to papers they released Monday.

While the sexual misconduct allegations are apparently unrelated to Assange's role as head of the WikiLeaks site, his lawyers say Sweden could send him to the United States to face espionage charges related to the site's disclosure of thousands of secret U.S. military and diplomatic documents.

Assange has denied the sexual misconduct allegations and is free on 200,000 pounds ($310,000) bail while he fights extradition.

Prosecutor Clare Montgomery, representing Sweden, dismissed the defense claim that Sweden would hand Assange over to the United States.

The "suggestion that Sweden provides no protection against human rights violations is unfounded," she argued, adding that Britain would have the right to intervene if Washington asked Sweden for Assange.

The British courts are requiring Assange to stay at the mansion of a supporter outside London each night and check in daily with police. He is also required to wear an electronic tag that monitors his location.

Assange looked relaxed as proceedings opened in the hearing. Celebrity supporters including campaigner Bianca Jagger and former lawmaker Tony Benn sat in the public gallery.

During the morning session, the defense called expert witness Brita Sundberg-Weitman, a retired judge on the Swedish Court of Appeals. She criticized the fact that Assange's confidentiality as a man accused of rape had been breached when the story reached the press.

Sundberg-Weitman said the attitude toward Assange in Sweden is "hostile," with most people taking it for granted that he has raped two women.

The retired judge was harshly critical of Marianne Ny, the Swedish prosecutor who issued an arrest warrant for Assange in the case. Sundberg-Weitman said Ny has a "rather biased view against men," being preoccupied over the years with battered women and having "lost balance" on sexual offenses.

Sundberg-Weitman said Ny could have pursued more straightforward approaches, such as questioning by telephone, for the preliminary investigation.

The defense also called Swedish national Bengt Goran Rudling, an activist for legal reform, especially with regard to sexual offenses. He campaigns for a law based on consent and told CNN he is not an Assange supporter.

Rudling testified he approached Swedish police about the case because he felt there was something about the story from one alleged victim, dubbed Miss A, that was not right.

Specifically, Rudling said Miss A made Twitter postings 20 hours after the alleged offenses that described being positive and happy in Assange's company. Rudling said Miss A erased the postings when she reported the alleged crime; prosecutors said Miss A told Rudling she deleted them to avoid a media storm.

Rudling also said that two days after the alleged crime, Miss A wanted to become Assange's personal press liaison officer.

Assange's lawyers argue Britain cannot extradite Assange without violation of his human rights, because doing so puts him at risk of execution, according to an outline of their defense published on their website.

"There is a real risk he could be made subject to the death penalty," Assange lawyers say, citing British media reports that U.S. Republican politicians Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee have called for him to be executed.

They also say he should not be sent to Sweden because rape trials there are held behind closed doors, while British trials are open.

The Swedish prosecutor who issued an arrest warrant for Assange did not have the power to do so, Assange's lawyers will also argue.

Additionally, his lawyers will say, it's improper to issue an arrest warrant when a suspect is wanted only for questioning, not prosecution.

Ny, they say, "went from informal discussions about arranging an interview of Mr. Assange straight to the issuance of" a European arrest warrant without "formally summoning him for an interview or formally requesting his interrogation," they will argue.

British prosecutor Montgomery rejected all those arguments in her opening statement.

CNN's Richard Allen Greene and Andrew Carey contributed to this report.

 
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