Biden faces growing pressure to drop charges against Julian Assange

Biden faces a renewed push, domestically and internationally, to drop charges against Assange, who is languishing in a UK jail. The Biden administration has been saying all the right things lately about respecting a free and vigorous press, after four years of relentless media-bashing and legal assaults under Donald Trump. The attorney general, Merrick Garland, has even put in place expanded protections for journalists this fall, saying that “a free and independent press is vital to the functioning of our democracy”.

But the biggest test of Biden’s commitment remains imprisoned in a jail cell in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been held since 2019 while facing prosecution in the United States under the Espionage Act, a century-old statute that has never been used before for publishing classified information. Whether the US justice department continues to pursue the Trump-era charges against the notorious leaker, whose group put out secret information on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, American diplomacy and internal Democratic politics before the 2016 election, will go a long way toward determining whether the current administration intends to make good on its pledges to protect the press.

Now Biden is facing a re-energized push, both inside the United States and overseas, to drop Assange’s protracted prosecution. Almost all of the 18 charges brought against Assange in the 2019 indictment center on the actual publication online of secret military and government material by WikiLeaks, much of it garnered from former US military whistleblower Chelsea Manning. Only one of the charges accuses Assange of actively working to help Manning secure the classified information. In that instance, prosecutors charged that Assange offered to help Manning to crack the password for one classified military system – an attempt that failed.

Manning was ultimately sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking government secrets before President Barack Obama commuted the remainder of her sentence in 2017. At a court-martial hearing in 2013, Manning insisted that there was never pressure from WikiLeaks to seize any secret material from the military’s computer systems. “The decisions that I made to send documents and information to (WikiLeaks) and the website were my own decisions, and I take full responsibility for my actions,” Manning said.


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