Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan, is requesting that her colleagues sign a letter urging the Justice Department to cease its prosecution of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is suspected of disclosing sensitive documents.
The letter, obtained by The Intercept, is currently being circulated among members, who are being encouraged to sign it, although it has not yet been forwarded to Attorney General Merrick Garland. Reps. Jamaal Bowman of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and Cori Bush of Missouri have signed the letter. The office of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said she intends to sign the letter.
Tlaib’s letter to her colleagues states, “I realize that many of us have very strong sentiments regarding Mr. Assange, but what we think of him and his activities is actually irrelevant here.” “The manner in which Mr. Assange is being tried under the infamously undemocratic Espionage Act harms journalistic freedom and the First Amendment in a significant way.”
The letter arrived soon before the fourth anniversary of Assange’s arrest on April 11, 2019.
Assange faces a legal battle about his probable extradition to the United States in relation to the publishing of classified documents alleging war crimes done by the U.S. government in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The documents also reveal incidents of torture and rendition by the CIA.
If extradited to the United States, Assange would face 18 accusations of receiving, possessing, and disseminating sensitive information to the public in violation of the espionage act, in addition to a single charge alleging a conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. He might be sentenced to up to 175 years in a maximum security US prison.
Since being expelled from the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2019 for violating jail conditions, the Wikileaks founder has been incarcerated at London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison. He had applied for refuge at the embassy in London in order to avoid extradition to Sweden on charges of raping two women. The sexual assault claims investigations were finally dismissed.
Tlaib’s letter cites the open letter published by the editors and publishers of U.S. and European news sites that collaborated with Assange on the publication of portions from more than 250,000 documents seized in the Cablegate leak.
Tlaib wrote to House members, “The New York Times, The Guardian, El Pais, Le Monde, and Der Spiegel have taken the extraordinary step of publishing a joint statement in opposition to the indictment, warning that it’sets a dangerous precedent and threatens to undermine the First Amendment and press freedom in America.'”
If the prosecution against Assange is successful, the congresswoman also warned that major news sites might be jailed for reporting truthful information utilizing classified materials.
She noted that Mr. Assange’s indictment is the first time in U.S. history that the Espionage Act has been utilized to charge a publication of honest material. “If successful, the prosecution of Mr. Assange will not only establish a legal precedent for prosecuting journalists and publishers, but also a political one. The New York Times or the Washington Post could be punished in the future if they publish significant articles based on sensitive material. Instead, they may stop from publicizing such stories out of fear of prosecution, which is equally as hazardous.”
The Cablegate papers for which Assange is being prosecuted were given to WikiLeaks by former U.S. soldier Chelsea Manning, who was convicted of Espionage Act violations and other felonies in 2013.
The Obama government did not indict Assange for Wikileaks’ disclosure of the cables in 2010 because it would have also been required to indict other prominent journalists. Nonetheless, the Justice Department under former President Trump attempted to indict Assange under the Espionage Act, and the Biden administration has maintained his prosecution.
The United States government asserts, without evidence, that Assange’s revelation of secret information endangered its sources and allies.
During the Trump administration, the CIA purportedly planned to assassinate Assange for leaking “Vault 7,” a collection of classified agency hacking tools. According to the agency, this revelation represents “the biggest data loss in CIA history.”
According to a 2021 Yahoo article, the CIA discussed plots to assassinate Assange in London “at the highest echelons” of the Trump administration at this time. At the direction of former CIA director Mike Pompeo, the agency drew prepared “kill drawings” and “options.”
According to the allegation, the agency had advanced plans to kidnap and extradite Assange and had made a political decision to accuse him.
Many Democrats continue to maintain an unfavorable opinion of Assange due to his alleged role in damaging Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Wikileaks had released internal conversations between the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign for president. The messages exposed the DNC’s efforts to aid Clinton in the Democratic primary of that year.