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Wikileaks founder Julian Assange reaches plea agreement with US

Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks and an Australian journalist, has entered into a plea agreement with the United States, according to court filings. It's a deal that allows him to sidestep additional prison time, after fighting extradition to the U.S. and living for seven years in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

He then spent five years in a UK prison, HMP Belmarsh, described by some as "the Guantanamo Bay of Britain."

Under the terms of the agreement disclosed Monday, June 23, Assange would plead guilty to a felony charge stemming from his organization's extensive disclosure of classified information, which many considered U.S. war crimes.

The agreement proposes a sentence of 62 months, equivalent to the duration Assange spent detained in the London prison while contesting extradition to the U.S. He would be permitted to return to his home country of Australia.

This plea deal comes as a significant development given that Assange was potentially facing up to 175 years in prison if convicted on all charges. Journalists around the world, amongst themselves, and at conventions, have been keeping the conversation alive regarding Julian Assange and his fight with the U.S., with little support from their national news networks.

Other journalists have described Assange as the most effective journalist in the English-speaking world. The Guardian reported that during the seven-year detention in London's Ecuadorian embassy, the CIA plotted his assassination.

Reuters reported that a group of journalists and lawyers sued the CIA and its former director Mike Pompeo over allegations the intelligence agency violated their Constitutional rights by spying on them when they visited Assange, as Western governments denied him due process.

Assange has been a controversial figure in global politics and media since his organization began releasing classified documents in 2006. Here's an overview of his involvement in exposing government secrets and his legal battles:

Early WikiLeaks activities

WikiLeaks, founded by Assange in 2006, gained international attention in 2010 when it released a series of leaks provided by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. These leaks included:

• Collateral Murder video (April 2010): Footage from a 2007 U.S. military helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed 12 civilians, including two Reuters journalists. The gunmen are heard celebrating.

• Afghanistan and Iraq War logs (July and October 2010): These documents detailed civilian casualties and unreported incidents of Afghan and Iraqi civilian deaths.

• U.S. State Department diplomatic cables (November 2010): Known as "Cablegate," the release of these documents embarrassed the U.S. government by exposing the blunt assessments of foreign leaders and candid views on international affairs.

Legal issues and asylum

The release of these documents led to U.S. authorities opening an investigation into WikiLeaks and Assange. Fearing extradition to the U.S., Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in June 2012 after a UK court ordered his extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations, which he denied and the charges were eventually dropped. The charges were reported to be highly suspect at the time. Assange remained in the Ecuadorian embassy until April 2019, claiming that the charges were a pretext for him to be transferred to the U.S.

2016 U.S. Election and DNC Leaks

During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, WikiLeaks released emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign manager. These emails revealed aspects of the DNC's handling of the primary contests, leading to accusations of bias against Bernie Sanders and resulting in the resignation of several DNC officials.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russian intelligence had hacked the DNC and provided the emails to WikiLeaks, an assertion that Assange repeatedly denied. This situation significantly raised the stakes, with accusations that Assange and WikiLeaks were abetting Russian interference in the U.S. election.

Assange told NBC News that "there is no proof whatsoever" that his organization got almost 20,000 hacked Democratic National Committee emails from Russian intelligence – adding it's what's in the emails that's important, not who hacked them.

Other reports included that the hack was suspected to come from within the DNC.

Arrest and extradition battles

Assange was dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy by British police in April 2019 after Ecuador revoked his asylum. He was arrested for breaching UK bail conditions and also on a U.S. extradition request. The U.S. indicted him on 17 counts of espionage and one count of computer misuse, related to WikiLeaks' publishing of classified documents.

Since then, Assange has fought extradition to the U.S., citing risks to his health and the potential for a harsh sentence under U.S. prison conditions. As of mid-2024, he reached a plea deal with the U.S. that could allow him to serve a 62-month sentence, recognized as time already served in the UK, with a possible return to Australia.

Impact and controversy

Assange's activities with WikiLeaks have sparked a global debate on the balance between government transparency and national security. His supporters view him as a champion of free speech and transparency, while his critics accuse him of endangering individuals and national security without sufficient regard for the consequences.

While the Assange case remains a pivotal example of the complexities in dealing with the publication of classified information in the digital age, it highlights the intersection of law, ethics, and technology. Free speech is not for easy discussions, as much as protections for exposing hard truths and untangling nuanced situations.


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