US 'considering' end to Assange prosecution bid

Cryptic Biden hint came ahead of April 16 deadline for next step in extradition case

The Biden Administration is contemplating Australia's request to end its bid to prosecute WikiLeaker-in-Chief Julian Assange, an Australian citizen.

US president Joe Biden revealed the matter is under consideration when fielding a shouted question in the aftermath of his meeting with Japanese prime minister Kishida Fumio.

Asked "Do you have any response to Australia's request that you end Julian Assange's prosecution?" Biden offered a terse: "We're considering it."

While those three words are far from definitive, they're an advance on the US's previous position – which has seen the Department of Justice pursue Assange for what it describes as his "alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States." That's a reference to WikiLeaks courting former US Army soldier Chelsea Manning to share classified material.

Actually trying Assange on those charges depends on being able to extradite him from the UK.

The most recent hearing in that matter saw UK judges defer their decision, and instead seek "satisfactory assurances" from the US government that Assange:

  • Can rely on the protection of free speech in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, as if he were a US citizen;
  • Is not prejudiced at trial (including sentence) by reason of his Australian nationality;
  • Will not face the death penalty.

Those requirements were delivered on March 26, and the US is required to respond by April 16.

Assange's most recent hearing came after Australia's House of Representatives passed a motion calling for "the UK and US bringing the matter to a close so that Mr Assange can return home to his family in Australia," on February 14. Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese was among the 86 votes in support of the motion (44 voted against – many by not showing up for the vote.

Australia is an ally of both the US and the UK, and plans to acquire its first nuclear-powered submarines with the assistance of both. The Land Down Under's current government is sympathetic to Assange, inasmuch as his legal woes have now run for the five years he's been imprisoned in the UK and the seven years he spent holed up in Ecuador's London embassy.

The motion also noted that in 2011 WikiLeaks won the Walkley Award for Most Outstanding contribution to Journalism – Australia's top journalism prize.

However, Wikileaks has also had some less-than-brilliant journalistic moments. In 2016 its leak of 300,000 Turkish government emails effectively doxxed thousands of women. ®

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