Following Julian Assange’s arrest on April 11, after seven years of hiding within the U.K. Ecuadorian Embassy, decisions can finally be made concerning his extradition to the United States. Some believe he is a ‘criminal hacktivist’ who must be put before the law; others view him as a beacon for free speech and prosecuting him would set a dangerous precedent. I certainly argue in favour of the latter.
Assange was not wrong to release the footage he did back in 2010, mainly on US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as it was in the public interest. To prosecute him for this would imperil the First Amendment and how journalists work with their sources. Yet, this isn’t just about the U.S. There is another extradition bid on the table: Sweden, where Assange has evaded justice by avoiding being put on trial for the suspected rape of a WikiLeaks volunteer. So, no matter what side of the debate you are on in terms of U.S. extradition, Assange is still a criminal. Albeit a common criminal, with less pizazz and scandal as its political cousin.
Showing up the world’s superpower for it’s injustices is not a crime, it is a democratic right
So far, the indictment appears to only focus on how Assange ‘conspired’ with Chelsea Manning back in 2010 to hack a military computer to obtain the footage, but the language within the indictment tests this. It included lines on how Assange had the ‘manners and means of conspiracy’ and that ‘Assange and Manning took measures to conceal Manning as the source.’ Yet, it is commonplace for journalists to assure the confidentiality of their sources. Further, stating that Assange and Manning ‘conspired’ is laughable. They are not a terrorist organisation trying to compromise national security; they were simply exercising the journalist procedures that propagate free speech and hold the government to account.
Showing up the world’s superpower for its injustices is not a crime, it is a democratic right. His actions helped illuminate how the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984 is not as fictional as we would like to hope. Executive Director of the Henry Jackson Society, Alan Mendoza said on Newsnight: ‘it is about hacking into a military computer, at the end of the day.’ However, the actual footage that Assange leaked proves that it is much more than this. One piece of footage captured U.S. aircrew laughing whilst slaughtering dozens of innocent civilians in Iraq- two of which were Iraq employees for Reuters. Footage of U.S. forces killing hundreds of civilians of Afghanistan was also published. It is unsurprising then, with this indictment, that Trump is taking a U-turn from the Obama administration’s position on Assange where they felt they could not prosecute without it undermining freedom of speech.
Trump stands to benefit from such a prosecution and how it sets a dangerous precedent for prosecuting other journalists that expose his wrongdoings. For instance, he recently signed an executive order to cover up the rise in civilian deaths by drone strikes in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan. The Democrats share a similar stance to their rivals. Hilary Clinton stated that ‘Assange must answer for what he has done,’ most likely because Wikileaks published emails that undermined her presidential bid back in 2016.
It is a matter of urgency that he is put on trial for suspected rape before the same statute comes into effect next year
With both the Republicans and Democrats in a rare consensus, it even more imperative that the U.K. government extradites Assange to Sweden and not the U.S. Even more so considering that being suspected of rape was the first reason behind Assange entering the Ecuadorian embassy. Assange has already been granted impunity for the 2010 allegation of molesting another Wikileaks volunteer due to the statute of limitations. It is a matter of urgency that he is put on trial for suspected rape before the same statute comes into effect next year. As stated by Elizabeth Massi Fritz, the lawyer representing the woman accusing Assange of rape, states that it was a ‘scandal that a suspected rapist can evade the law and therefore escape trail by court’.
Thus, Assange’s many fans viewing him as an angelic figure promoting public-interest journalism and free speech is extremely blinkered. Assange proves that perfection does not exist. The Swedish case can no longer be put on the back burner and Assange must answer for that he has done. He may not be a political criminal, but he’s not out of the woods yet.