WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange pleads guilty to conspiracy after 5 years in prison

June 26, 2024 in News by RBN Staff



WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange pleads guilty to conspiracy after 5 years in prison


WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defense information, ending a yearslong legal battle and allowing him to return home a free man for the first time since 2012.

He entered the plea at a court in Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth north of Guam, on Wednesday morning, The Associated Press reported around 9:45 a.m. local time (7:40 p.m. ET Tuesday).

The U.S. Department of Justice has said Assange is expected to travel to Australia, where he was born, after the hearing.

The concession from Assange, who published a trove of classified documents that embarrassed several governments and which the U.S. government says threatened national security and aided adversaries, comes as part of a plea deal that was expected to sentence him to 62 months — time he has already served.

A plane carrying Assange landed around two hours before the scheduled plea hearing, the AP reported from the Northern Mariana Islands.

Assange arrived in a white vehicle, wearing a dark suit with a tie loosened at the collar, and was briskly escorted into the courthouse while ignoring questions from reporters, according to the news agency.

Assange and his website WikiLeaks is responsible for leaking classified U.S. military documents and videos from the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including video of an Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed civilians.

The website also published around 250,000 State Department diplomatic cables, and in 2016, released stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton aide John Podesta before the presidential election.

Assange was arrested in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2019, where he had spent years seeking asylum after the Swedish government issued arrest warrants for him in a sexual assault investigation. In 2012, courts in the U.K. determined he must be extradited, and Assange subsequently sought refuge in the embassy.

Although the Swedish case was dropped because so much time had passed, Assange was arrested for skipping bail. At the same time, federal prosecutors in the U.S. revealed a computer hacking charge against Assange and issued a request to extradite him.

Assange spent five years in a high-security Belmarsh Prison in east London while fighting the extradition.

The U.S. Department of Justice has accused Assange of conspiring with whistleblower and former military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning beginning in 2009 to obtain confidential documents.

Assange then used the WikiLeaks website to disclose hundreds of thousands of reports regarding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The leaks also included State Department cables and assessment briefs of detainees at the U.S. detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

In 2019, when the Department of Justice charged Assange in a superseding indictment, it accused him of “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.”

Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison, but then-President Barack Obama commuted her sentence in 2017. Her refusal to cooperate with a grand jury in 2019 led to her being held in contempt for almost a year.

Assange isn’t expected to serve any more time in custody following the plea. His wife and lawyer, Stella, told Reuters she plans to seek a full pardon for him on the premise of journalistic integrity.

“The fact that there is a guilty plea, under the Espionage Act in relation to obtaining and disclosing National Defence information, is obviously a very serious concern for journalists and national security journalists in general,” she said.

She also said that she would have to raise funds to repay the Australian government for his travel home. The couple have two children together, whom Assange fathered while living at the Ecuadorian Embassy.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Tuesday before Parliament that Assange deserves to return home to Australia. Albanese called the legal proceedings between Assange and the U.S. “a welcome development.”

“Regardless of the views that people have about Mr. Assange’s activities, the case has dragged on for too long. There is nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration, and we want him brought home to Australia,” Albanese said.

WikiLeaks on social media platform X said before the court proceedings that Assange was on Saipan “to formalise the plea deal that should never have had to happen.”

It said Assange would take a flight from there to Canberra, Australia.

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