A long battle surrounding Julian Assange has finally come to an end. Founder of divisive group, Wikileaks, Julian would gain popularity in 2010 when helping former US soldier, Chelsea Manning uncover and spread evidence that the United States and Australia committed war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Julian would also be charged with sexual assault by Sweden in 2010, a charge which would be disputed and later dropped. In 2012, following this charge, Assange fled Sweden and sought asylum in Ecuador. The Ecuadorian authorities gave Assange up to the United Kingdom in 2019 where he had been in prison since. Throughout 2019 and 2020 the United States would indict Assange on multiple charges ranging from conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, violating the Espionage Act, and conspiring with hackers. These charges would eventually total 18 before being reduced in a plea deal. In June of 2024 Assange agreed to a plea deal which would entail him pleading guilty to a charge related to violating the Espionage Act with the sentence being 62 months, time served.

While the charge is significant, what Assange helped to expose is just as important. In 2010 Wikileaks exposed footage which showed the United States killing 18 Iraqi civilians in 2007. In 2010 Wikileaks released a large cache of documents related to the Iraq and Afghan wars. These documents contained damning information which exposed more accurate numbers of civilian casualties, incidents of friendly fire, and even evidence suggesting that Department of Defense contractors hired local child prostitutes. Assange also held and would facilitate part of the release of a series of diplomatic cables which showed that American diplomats helped to spark aspects of the Arab Spring. Wikileaks has also published documents related to Syria, Saudi Arabia, Guantanamo Bay, and the 2016 presidential election. Most of these documents were considered classified and likely would not have seen the light of day if it were not for the actions of Wikileaks.

Because of his actions, Assange has experienced brutal persecution. His exposing of the CIA in several documents greatly angered then-CIA director, Mike Pompeo. Pompeo’s CIA allegedly drafted plans to kidnap Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy, with reports that included a potential assassination as well. After being released to authorities in the United Kingdom, he went through what is essentially torture in a high security prison. In 2019 a UN independent expert reported that Assange showed clear signs of experiencing extensive physical and psychological torture while there. After many threats of extradition to the United States and failed appeals, the Assange team saw a victory with the United States allowing Assange to be released under conditions of a plea bargain.

While his release is certainly deserved, the deal may set a dangerous precedent for prosecuting journalists under the Espionage Act. The Espionage Act was created in 1917 to restrict America’s enemies from inhibiting the war effort after the US entered World War I. The Supreme Court unfortunately ruled in 1919 that it did not violate the first amendment. The vagueness of the act and its scope would begin to be seriously questioned in 1971 in New York Times Co. v. United States when the United States charged journalists for publishing classified documents eventually labeled as the “Pentagon Papers.” The case would be dismissed because of the mishandling of evidence and irregular activities on the part of the prosecution. Throughout the 80s and 90s charges related to the Espionage Act were given almost exclusively to those who were suspected spies or other actors from enemy governments. Every indictment under the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations charged individuals who shared classified documents to which they had access due their previous or current employment within the US government or DOD.

Assange’s charges mark a serious change as Assange was a journalist who was successfully charged in the 21st century. Rather than sharing classified documents as a DOD or State Department employee, Assange was charged for attempting to gather and spread documents which were already obtained by Chelsea Manning and other actors. What is worse is the fact that Assange is not a United States citizen and did not commit his actions while on US soil, thus asserting that the whole world may be subject to American law. The potential ramifications may crucially curtail journalistic activity in the future. Assange was essentially given a five-year sentence for conducting normative journalistic activities. He leveraged good contacts, spread released documents, and facilitated the exposure of critical information to the public, most of which surely would still be unreleased to this day. Let us hope and pray that the vague, unconstitutional Espionage Act be at the very least greatly revised in the near future.

Originally Posted at https://mises.org/

By Mises