News and Commentary

United States Formally Submits Request To Extradite Julian Assange

Overnight Monday, the United States finally filed the paperwork necessary to request the United Kingdom extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange so that he can stand trial for conspiracy and mishandling false information in America.

CNN reports that the U.S. barely made the June 10 deadline, submitting its full paperwork just under the wire. It’s unlikely that the United States forgot about Assange until last night, of course, and more likely that U.S. officials wanted to keep the details of their extradition request confidential for as long as possible.

For now, Assange, if he were to be sent to the United States as opposed to any of the other countries requesting extradition, including Sweden, which has an open warrant for Assange on a sexual assault case, would stand trial on one charge of “computer intrusion” and at least 17 additional charges of “encouraging, receiving and publishing national defense information in concert with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.”

If the request is granted, prosecutors would be limited to those 18 counts, meaning that the United States is choosing to go after Assange only for his collaboration with the former Bradley Manning, who broke into classified U.S. military files and stole thousands of documents Manning believed would convince Americans to put an end to the Iraq War, apparently as part of a revenge plot for the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Assange accepted and published Manning’s material, which included audio and video files and, according to the charging documents, encouraged Manning to find more classified material. The U.S. government says Assange’s actions bypassed the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of the press because he openly assisted Manning in committing a criminal act (hacking into the classified files).

Manning, of course, was convicted of espionage for the same event and served several years in prison before being granted leniency by then-President Barack Obama. Manning is now in prison again, being held on contempt of court charges for refusing to testify in front the grand jury that ultimately issued the additional counts against Julian Assange.

As of right now, Assange’s extradition looks likely. Although Sweden has filed an extradition request in the United Kingdom, a judge in Sweden ruled last week that the country cannot hold court against Assange in absentia, barring Sweden’s ability to get an official charging document against Assange from the European Union.

The EU, the judge said, requires that a criminal be served with charges in person, and Sweden, which is part of the EU, cannot “arrest” Assange and issue a warrant against him since he is already being held in an EU country.

That leaves the United States with the only complete extradition request in front of a U.K. judge.

Wikileaks and others have tried to involve the United Nations, but according to Yahoo News, the U.N. doesn’t want to be involved and is willing to allow Assange to face justice.

“Julian Assange is someone who is alleged to have committed some very serious crimes, alleged to have led to people’s deaths,” a U.N. official told the outlet. “And so it is absolutely right that he faces justice, and he has no more reason to escape justice than anyone else who is alleged to have committed crimes.”

For now, though, Assange remains in a U.K. prison where he ended up after being turned out by Ecuadorian authorities. Assange had been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for years, avoiding extradition to any number of countries burned by Wikileaks. Late last year, the Wikileaks founder’s antics apparently began to wear on Ecuadorian officials, who accused Assange of living in filth and refusing to follow the basic edicts of personal hygiene.

Early in 2019, Assange apparently ran afoul of his official asylum treaty with Ecuador when Wikileaks published materials designed to interfere in South American politics — something Assange was supposed to avoid as a condition of his remaining in hiding in London. The Ecuadorians finally turned Assange out last month.