Sunday, July 14, 2024

Julian Assange freed after plea deal agreed with US DOJ

A deal between the UK and US has seen Wikileaks founder Julian Assange freed from a British jail. A plea deal was agreed with the US Department of Justice which will see him serve no prison time in the US …

The lengthy saga

Back in 2006, Julian Assange founded Wikileaks, an organization which believes that citizens have the right to know what is done in their name by governments. The site published many secret documents, in particular relating to war activities.

In 2010, Wikileaks released a video taken from on board a military helicopter which showed that a US attack in Iraq targeted and killed civilians – including two Reuters journalists. Subsequent leaks suggested that the US military had killed hundreds of civilians during the Afghanistan war, and failed to report these.

The US said that these leaks had placed at risk the lives of US military personnel. Many of them came from former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who was subsequently convicted of espionage. She was sentenced to 35 years, but had her sentence commuted by President Obama some seven years later.

The US said that Assange had actively assisted Manning in obtaining unauthorized access to the documents, and sought to extradite him to the US to face conspiracy charges there. These could potentially have seen him face life imprisonment or even the death penalty.

Assange later faced a rape charge in Sweden, which sought to extradite him to face trial there. Assange denied the charge, but said he would not return to the country to face trial as he feared that he would be subsequently extradited from there to the US. He was then offered asylum by the Ecuadorean government, and spend seven years living in the country’s UK embassy, where he could not be arrested.

Reported anti-social behavior saw the Ecuadorean government eventually withdraw his asylum, with British police given permission to enter the embassy to arrest him. Assange subsequently spent five years in jail in the UK while court hearings were held to determine whether or not he could be extradited to the US.

Julian Assange freed after plea deal

BBC News reports that a plea deal has now been agreed. Assange agreed to plead guilty to one conspiracy charge in return for prosecutors recommending that he be sentenced to time served in the British prison.

In London, the High Court has published more details of Julian Assange’s case. The High Court document says:

Assange was granted bail to allow him to travel to the “US District Court in Saipan, pursuant to a plea agreement signed by the parties on 19 June 2024.” The deal agrees “a plea of guilty to one count on the indictment with a proposed sentence of time served.”

Assange left the UK at 18:36 on Monday. It is “anticipated that a plea will be entered and accepted on Wednesday 26 June 2024, after which the United States have undertaken to withdraw the extradition request.”

The deal needs to be approved by a US judge, but this is likely a formality. Assange has been flown to the Northern Mariana Islands, a US territory. After the hearing, he is expected to return to his native Australia as a free man.

9to5Mac’s Take

After such a long-running saga, and neither the US nor UK happy with the diplomatic strain placed on an otherwise good relationship between the two countries, it’s likely that both sides simply wanted the matter resolved for good.

The compromise allows both sides to claim victory. The US obtains a conviction, while Assange goes free.

Photo: Wikimedia/CC2.0

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