Saga Ends: WikiLeaks Founder, Human Rights Darling Julian Assange Takes Plea Deal/Time-Served

By Crescenzo Vellucci

The Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON, DC – In a plea deal with the U.S. government that covers a decades-long dispute, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange reportedly has accepted an offer, according to NPR News and other news outlets Monday.

Bruce D. Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said, “The Justice Department argued that the sole act of publishing government secrets violates the Espionage Act. The Reporters Committee would have vigorously contested that reading of the statute had Assange been put on trial in the U.S. But with this reported plea agreement, a potentially dangerous precedent for national security journalism would be avoided.”

According to NPR, court documents reveal Assange will plead guilty to one count of “conspiring to obtain and disclose information related to the national defense in a U.S. federal court in Saipan, in the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth in the Pacific.”

Assange will be sentenced to time-served/62 months that he’s already spent in a United Kingdom prison as he has fought extradition to the U.S., said NPR, adding as early as next week, Assange – who has become a hero to some in the human rights and anti-war movements – could be released and sent back to his home country of Australia.

“Australian leaders have been lobbying the Biden administration to drop the criminal case for years. President Biden confirmed at a news conference in April that American authorities had been ‘considering’ such a move,” reported NPR.

A federal grand jury in Virginia indicted Assange on espionage and other charges in 2019, said NPR, “in what the Justice Department described as one of the largest compromises of classified information in American history.”

The indictment said Assange conspired with then-military Private Chelsea Manning to obtain and then publish secret reports about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and sensitive U.S. diplomatic cables that embarrassed the U.S. government.

“Prosecutors said Assange published those materials on his site WikiLeaks without properly scrubbing them of sensitive information, putting informants and others at grave risk of harm,” wrote NPR.

“No responsible actor, journalist or otherwise, would purposefully publish the names of individuals he or she knew to be confidential human sources in a war zone, exposing them to the gravest of dangers,” said former Assistant Attorney General John Demers, said NPR.

Manning was arrested in 2010 and served seven years in prison before President Barack Obama commuted her sentence.

“Assange’s case attracted support from human rights and journalism groups including Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists, fearing the Espionage Act case against Assange could create precedent for charging journalists with national security crimes,” NPR reported.

Assange spent seven years holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London after Swedish officials accused him of sexual assault, an arrangement that appeared to frustrate both Assange and his hosts, said NPR, and Swedish police withdrew the accusations.

Authorities in the U.K. jailed him for allegedly violating bail, while the U.S. government “sought to extradite him, a process that limped through the courts for years. The plea deal averts more legal proceedings over the extradition that had been set for early July,” NPR reported.

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