A cross-party delegation of Australian lawyers said Tuesday they met with US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and called on her to help drop the charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for the publication of classified US military documents.
The “Bring Julian Assange Home Parliamentary Group” said it told the US Kennedy about the “widespread concern” in Australia about the ongoing arrest of Assange, who they hope to bring home to Australia.
Assange is in the midst of a legal battle over his potential extradition to the US over Wikileaks’ 2010 publication of top secret cables detailing war crimes committed by the US government in the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention camp, Iraq and Afghanistan. The materials leaked to him by a whistleblower also expose instances of the CIA engaging in torture and rendition.
Last month marked 13 years since Wikileaks published a video showing the US military gunning down civilians in Iraq, including two Reuters journalists.
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The meeting with the US envoy comes nearly a month after the four-year anniversary of Assange’s detention in London. The Australian journalist has been held at London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison since he was removed from the Ecuadorian Embassy on April 11, 2019, for breaching jail conditions. He had sought asylum at the embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations he raped two women. The investigations into the sexual assault allegations were eventually dropped.
Assange wrote a letter ahead of the coronation of King Charles III last week inviting him to visit Belmarsh Prison.
US President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Australia later this month for the Quad leaders’ summit.
“There are a range of views about Assange in the Australian community and the members of the Parliamentary Group reflect that diversity of views,” the Australian lawyers said in a statement Tuesday after the Kennedy meeting in Canberra. “But what is not in dispute in the Group is that Mr. Assange is being treated unfairly.”
Assange would face 17 charges for receiving, possessing and communicating classified information to the public under the espionage act and one charge alleging a conspiracy to commit computer intrusion if he is extradited to the US, and could be sentenced to as many as 175 years in an American maximum security prison.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said in an interview last week he was “frustrated” there has yet to be a diplomatic solution to Assange’s continued detention and that he was concerned about the Wikileaks founder’s mental health.
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“I can’t do more than make very clear what my position is and the US administration is certainly very aware of what the Australian government’s position is,” Albanese said. “There is nothing to be served by his ongoing incarceration of him.”
Last year, the editors and publishers of US and European news outlets that worked with Assange on the publication of excerpts from more than 250,000 documents he obtained in the Cablegate leak — The Guardian, The New York Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and El País — wrote an open letter calling for the US to end its prosecution of Assange.
The Cablegate documents Assange is facing prosecution over were leaked to WikiLeaks by then-US soldier Chelsea Manning, who in 2013 was convicted of violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses.
The Obama administration decided not to indict Assange after Wikileaks published the cables in 2010 because it would have had to do the same to journalists from major news outlets. Former President Trump’s Justice Departmenthowever, later moved to indict Assange under the Espionage Act, and the Biden administration has continued to pursue his prosecution.
Assange’s case has received the attention of some lawyers on Capitol Hill, with Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., writing a letter to the Justice Department demanding it drop the charges against him. The other signatures on the letter are Democratic Reps. Jamal Bowman, NY; Greg Casar, Texas; Cory Bush, Mo.; Ilhan Omar, Minn.; Ayanna Pressley, Mass.; and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, NY
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Under the Trump administration, the CIA reportedly had plans to kill Assange over the publication of sensitive agency hacking tools known as “Vault 7,” which the agency said represented “the largest data loss in CIA history,” according to a 2021 Yahoo report. The agency had discussions “at the highest levels” of the administration about plans to assassinate Assange in London. Following orders from then-CIA director Mike Pompeothe agency had also drawn up kill “sketches” and “options.”
The CIA had advanced plans to kidnap and rendition Assange and had made a political decision to charge him, according to the report.
Wikileaks has also published internal communications in 2016 between the Democratic National Committee and then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The communications revealed the DNC’s attempts to boost Clinton in that year’s Democratic primary.
Reuters contributed to this report.