I’ve been wondering how the entire Julian Assange case was going to play out once Joe Biden was in charge and now we’re seeing some indications of what we should expect. Supporters of Assange were no doubt disappointed when Donald Trump failed to include the Wikileaks founder in the pardon parade as he was preparing to leave office. They may have been hoping that a Democratic administration would look a bit more kindly upon Assange, but Biden seemed to dash those hopes this week. A spokesman for the Justice Department announced yesterday that the Biden administration would continue to challenge the decision by a British court to block the extradition of Assange and seek to bring him to the United States to face trial. (Reuters)
President Joe Biden’s administration plans to continue to seek to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from the United Kingdom to the United States to face hacking conspiracy charges, the U.S. Justice Department said.
Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi on Tuesday said the U.S. government will continue to challenge a British judge’s ruling last month that Assange should not be extradited to the United States because of the risk he would commit suicide.
In a Jan. 4 ruling, the judge, Vanessa Baraitser, said, “I find that the mental condition of Mr. Assange is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”
Believe it or not, I do try to stay on the lookout for some good news coming out of the Biden administration and this might be one of the admittedly few early examples. A lot of questions remain as to what involvement (if any) Julian Assange had in the massive leak of military intelligence documents by Chelsea Manning and the hacking of Hillary Clinton’s emails. It would have been truly disappointing if Biden decided to let Assange off the hook just because it would be the opposite of what Donald Trump would have done.
At the heart of the case is the question of whether Assange is “just a journalist” or if he was far more intimately involved in the processes leading up to those documents showing up on his website. While it pains me to say it, if someone just handed the files to Assange without his knowing their provenance and he published them, there’s probably not a lot that the courts in the United States could (or should) do to him. He would have been acting in the capacity of a publisher, and no matter how much damage was done to our national security as a result, locking him up for that would send a chilling message to journalists.
If, on the other hand, Assange played an active role in helping Manning smuggle out the files or the hacking of the Clinton emails, then he engaged in breaking the law and should be held accountable. Chelsea Manning could have helped clear these questions up by agreeing to provide testimony to the Virginia grand jury that was considering Assange’s case. Her refusal to do so has led to multiple stays behind bars.
The British judge who denied the United States’ extradition request has said that we have until Friday to appeal her ruling. She apparently bought into the defense’s claims that Assange has become mentally unstable and might commit suicide if he’s imprisoned in America while awaiting trial. We’d probably be able to make a better case against that argument if it weren’t for, well… Epstein. Rather than a question of guilt or innocence, the judge pretty much has a free hand in making this decision. Both sides have presented testimony from mental health experts arguing for or against Assange’s physical well being if he’s extradited. Assange still has a large, vocal following of supporters in the UK, and we can’t rule out the possibility that they may influence the judge’s decision.
For the time being, Assange remains behind bars. But his defense team has already filed a motion to have him released once the extradition issue is settled. If that happens, I’ll be deeply surprised if he doesn’t show up in Russia within a month or two. Perhaps he can share an apartment with Edward Snowden.