Julian Assange to Plead Guilty in Deal to Avoid U.S. Extradition

Julian Assange | Source: commons.wikimedia.org


Julian Assange has reached a plea agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, allowing him to avoid extradition and serve no additional time beyond what he has already spent in British custody. This development marks a significant turn in the long-running legal saga involving the Wikileaks founder.

Why It Matters

The resolution of Assange’s case has implications for national security, freedom of information, and the legal consequences of exposing classified information.

Who It Impacts

This decision affects government transparency advocates, national security personnel, and those concerned with the protection of whistleblowers and journalists.

Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, has entered into a plea agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), permitting him to plead guilty to a conspiracy charge. This agreement enables Assange to avoid extradition to the United States and effectively walk free after serving time in British custody. According to court documents, Assange will make his plea at the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth in the western Pacific Ocean.

The plea deal specifies that Assange will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defense information. A letter from DOJ official Matthew J. McKenzie to Judge Ramona V. Manglona of the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands confirmed Assange’s scheduled court appearance on June 26 in Saipan. McKenzie, deputy chief of the counterintelligence and export control section of the DOJ’s National Security Division, indicated that Assange would return to Australia following his plea.

“We appreciate the Court accommodating these plea and sentencing proceedings on a single day at the joint request of the parties, in light of the defendant’s opposition to traveling to the continental United States,” McKenzie wrote, noting the geographical proximity of the court to Australia, Assange’s home country.

Under the plea agreement’s terms, Assange will serve no additional prison time beyond the 62 months he has already spent in a British jail. Before his incarceration, Assange spent seven years in asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London until his asylum was revoked, leading to his arrest.

Assange has been fighting extradition to the United States for over a decade. The charge he is pleading guilty to stems from his role in one of the largest leaks of classified information in U.S. history. He was accused of aiding U.S. Army analyst Bradley Manning in obtaining classified documents, which were later published on the Wikileaks platform.

Wikileaks released a substantial cache of documents regarding U.S. military activities in the Middle East, including a controversial 2007 video showing a U.S. Apache helicopter attack that killed two Reuters journalists and several civilians in Iraq. The release also included unredacted names of human sources, raising significant security concerns.

“Assange’s actions risked serious harm to United States national security to the benefit of our adversaries,” the DOJ stated in 2019, emphasizing the danger posed to named human sources.

Supporters of Assange view him as a champion against governmental abuses, arguing that his actions exposed critical issues within the U.S. government. Manning, who now identifies as Chelsea, received a 35-year prison sentence for charges related to the leak, though her sentence was commuted by former President Barack Obama in 2017, a decision that was met with Republican criticism.

Efforts to extradite Assange to the U.S. had persisted for years. In recent months, President Joe Biden considered ending Assange’s prosecution, a sentiment echoed by former President Trump and independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has pledged to pardon Assange if elected.

Assange’s guilty plea and potential return to Australia represent the culmination of a prolonged and highly contentious legal battle. This outcome could influence future cases involving the disclosure of classified information and the protection of those who reveal governmental misconduct.