A lawyer for the United States yesterday accused WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange of risking the lives of intelligence sources by publishing classified US government documents, as his extradition hearing opened in a London court.
Assange faces charges under the US Espionage Act for the 2010 release by his whistleblowing website of a trove of files detailing the realities of US military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Assange spent much of the past decade holed up in Ecuador's London embassy to avoid separate legal proceedings in Sweden, but Washington is now seeking his transfer from Britain to stand trial.
Making the US government case on the first day of the extradition hearing in London, lawyer James Lewis denied the prosecution was motivated by embarrassment over the WikiLeaks release.
"It is solely where risk of harm is caused," he told Woolwich Crown Court as Assange, who is being held in the high security Belmarsh prison next door, listened attentively in the dock.
"The United States is aware of sources whose unredacted names and /or other identifying information was contained in classified documents published by Wikileaks who subsequently disappeared."
WikiLeaks initially worked with a string of high-profile newspapers to publish details from the leaked State Department and Pentagon files, which caused a sensation -- and outrage in Washington.
One video from 2007 showed an Apache helicopter attack in which US soldiers gunned down two Reuters reporters and nine Iraqi civilians in broad daylight in Baghdad.