While Matt DeHart appeared briefly inside a Buffalo courtroom after his deportation from Canada where he had sought political asylum, outside, a prominent international whistleblower support group hailed him for his courage.
Mr. DeHart, 30, was turned over to U.S. authorities by Canada Border Services Agency on Sunday and on Monday he was named the third beneficiary of the Courage Foundation, an international organization.
Mr. DeHart joins two previous beneficiaries, both well-known newsmakers: Edward Snowden, the former U.S. National Security Agency analyst who leaked documents revealing large-scale global surveillance, and Jeremy Hammond, serving 10 years in a U.S. prison after hacked email from security think-tank Stratfor was published through WikiLeaks, the whistle-blowing organization.
“Canada’s actions are shameful. It may as well not have a border,” said WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in a statement. (WikiLeaks started the Courage Foundation and its acting director, Sarah Harrison, is also a WikiLeaks editor.)
“The abuse of the law in DeHart’s case is obvious, shocking and wrong,” said Mr. Assange.
In a tweet, WikiLeaks referred to Mr. DeHart as an “alleged WikiLeaks middleman.”
Mr. Assange remains in exile in Ecuador’s London embassy where he took refuge against extradition to Sweden where he is wanted for questioning on sex-crime allegations.
Serious questions about Mr. DeHart’s treatment and prosecution were revealed in a long investigation by the National Post in May.
Mr. DeHart is a former American serviceman in the Air National Guard, where he trained in the secretive drone program. While in the military he was also involved in Anonymous, the global hacktivist group.
He fled to Canada ahead of a criminal trial on child pornography charges that he insists were laid as leverage to further a probe into Anonymous and his operation of a secret Internet server used to leak a classified U.S. government document, likely destined to WikiLeaks.
While in custody in the United States, he alleges he was tortured and interrogated.
His bid for political asylum as a refugee was denied in Canada.
After Mr. DeHart’s forced removal from Canada, he made a brief appearance in Buffalo court, where he was ordered transferred to Tennessee, the jurisdiction where his criminal charges were laid, said his New York-based lawyer Tor Ekeland. Mr. Ekeland was able to participate in the appearance over a telephone speaker.
“Matt said he was being treated OK,” Mr. Ekeland said.
Ms. Harrison said the treatment of Mr. DeHart is unjust and his case is an important one.
“It raises important legal questions, including the behaviour of the Canadian asylum system in relation to the United States, the status of ‘data couriers’ to WikiLeaks and other publications, the status of Anonymous ‘members,’ the limits of state power during espionage investigations, the abuse of medical procedures, the use of deportation instead of extradition, the exploitation of the mentally vulnerable by investigators and the use of unrelated charges of a taboo nature during a national security investigation,” Ms. Harrison said.
“The FBI has ruined Matt’s life to cover up what he knew and to punish his support of WikiLeaks and Anonymous.”
Jesselyn Radack, a prominent U.S. national security and human rights attorney who represents Mr. Snowden, slammed the decision of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board to deny Mr. DeHart asylum.
“While the U.S. government has yet to file an indictment under the Espionage Act in this case, it is obvious that the flimsy child pornography charges are a pretext to punish DeHart and force him to return to the U.S.,” she said.
“The Obama administration has aggressively used the Espionage Act as its weapon of choice to punish national security whistleblowers, in any case that even remotely involved disclosure of allegedly-classified information.”
The Courage Foundation supports people “who risk life or liberty to make significant contributions to the historical record,” the organization said in a statement.
It may take several weeks for Mr. DeHart to be transferred from prison to prison on his way to Tennessee.