Biden Considering Dropping Criminal Charges Against Julian Assange

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced he was weighing a request from Australia to drop the U.S. push to prosecute Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, for publishing a huge trove of classified documents.

Those efforts have spanned for about a decade now, and nearly the entire time, Australia has pushed the U.S. to drop its efforts. Assange is a citizen of Australia who has consistently fought extradition to the U.S.

He’s currently being held in a prison in the UK. British courts haven’t determined whether they would definitively hand Assange over to America yet or not.

Biden was asked about Australia’s request as he was hosting Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for an official visit. The president responded:

“We’re considering it.”

The U.S. indicted Assange on 17 different charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse. All of this revolves around his website, Wikileaks, publishing a huge trove of classified documents nearly 15 years ago.

U.S. prosecutors have alleged that Assange, who is 52 years old now, not only encouraged but also helped Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst with the U.S. Army, to steal military files and diplomatic cables that Wikileaks ultimately published.

Prosecutors allege that the publication of those documents put many lives at risk.

Yet, Australia says that there has been a big disconnect between how the U.S. has treated Manning and Assange. In 2017, former President Barack Obama commuted the 35-year sentence Manning was handed down to seven years, allowing her to be released from prison.

Assange has many supporters, many of whom say that as a journalist, he’s protected by First Amendment rights. He was working to expose wrongdoing by the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq, all of which was in the public’s interest.

Stella Assange, his wife, has said her husband “is being persecuted because he exposed the true cost of war in human lives.”

She further said that her husband’s health is continuing to decline while he’s spending time in prison, and she has great fears that he’ll ultimately die in prison.

Following Biden’s comments, Anthony Albanese, the prime minister of Australia, said he was encouraged. Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corp. this week, he said:

“I have said that we have raised, on behalf of Mr. Assange, Australia’s national interests that enough is enough and this needs to be brought to a conclusion and we’ve raised it at each level of government in every possible way.

“Mr. Assange has already paid a significant price, and enough is enough. There’s nothing to be gained by Mr. Assange’s continued incarceration in my very strong view, and I’ve put that as the view of the Australian government.”

Kristinn Hrafnsson, who serve as the current editor-in-chief at Wikileaks, issued a statement this week in response to Biden’s comments that said:

“It is not too late for President Biden to stop Julian’s extradition to the U.S., which was a politically motivated act by his predecessor.”