Should Julian Assange be pardoned?
- Born in Australia in 1971, Julian Assange hacked into the master terminal for telecommunications company Nortel at only 16 years of age.
- Assange founded WikiLeaks in 2006 with the intention of it being a “clearinghouse for sensitive or classified documents.” Its first post was a “message from a Somali rebel leader encouraging the use of hired gunmen to assassinate government officials.”
- In an effort to influence Assange’s US extradition case in England, Stella Moris, a South African lawyer part of Assange’s legal team for a decade, came forward in 2020, revealing that she and Assange were engaged and had two small children together.
- The Ecuadorian Embassy in London spent nearly $10 million on Julian Assange during his seven-year stay there, the majority of which was spent on security to keep Assange safe.
Broken laws call for punishment in every instance, and this is especially true when the broken law can be proven with evidence and poses a threat to national security. When Julian Assange published classified US documents and committed computer intrusion, he violated the Espionage Act and proved that he is a threat to the United States. Pardoning someone who so willingly and easily committed this crime would only serve to provide him with the opportunity to do it again.
According to BBC News, when Assange was accused of multiple counts of sexual assault in Sweden, he avoided facing judgment for the charges out of fear that he would be extradited to the United States. If he believed he deserved to be pardoned, he would have willingly returned to the United States to be represented by a lawyer and argue his position. However, Assange chose to flee and seek asylum instead, hinting at the possibility that he didn't believe he would be pardoned because he doesn't deserve to be.
In addition to breaking the law and intentionally avoiding extradition, he conspired with Chelsea Manning to release the classified information--an act that Manning is currently serving a sentence for. According to Elias Groll of Foreign Policy, there is evidence, such as chat log documentation, that proves Assange and Manning worked together. Pardoning Assange for a crime that Manning is currently serving time for and which there is evidence of would only belittle the importance of national security and fail to set an example of how offenders will be treated. Assange committed a serious crime and should be dealt with as such.
The British judge who recently ruled on Julian Assange's extradition case said the WikiLeaks founder would be at an 'extreme risk of suicide' if handed over to the United States and therefore blocked the action. Although seen as a 'major victory,' the ruling was based solely on Assange's potential for suicide, as the judge rejected the argument by the defense that the case was politically motivated and threatens press freedoms. A letter signed by more than 160 world leaders and other dignitaries seems to disagree with the judge's assessment, as have many lawyers.
The Espionage Act under which Assange was charged has been criticized by human rights experts and described as 'extraordinarily broad.' Assange was accused of putting lives at risk, but John Sloboda of Iraq Body Count notes that 'WikiLeaks was careful to ensure names were removed before publication.' Further, journalist Craig Murray has pointed out that the Assange case amounts to the US government explicitly saying that journalists reporting revelations from whistleblowers 'could and should' be prosecuted as criminals, which is a massive threat to freedom of the press. The US prosecution has attempted to characterize Assange's actions as hacking; however, as Murray also explains, what Assange did was 'not materially different' from that of other journalists, which counters the prosecution's claim.
Sweden's sexual assault allegations against Assange, which led to him seeking refuge in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy, also appear to have been politically motivated. Swedish authorities refused good-faith efforts by Assange and his lawyers to clear up the cases, and evidence later surfaced that the investigations had been manipulated.
Pardoning Assange would ensure that he gets the freedom he deserves.