Julian Assange, a Free Man

June 25, 2024   |   Tags: , ,
Julian Assange making a peace symbol in a car | News Licensing/Mega/Newscom

Free at long last: Yesterday, news broke that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange would be released from Belmarsh Prison, the maximum security facility he's been kept at in the U.K. for the last five years, and would be free to go home.

Assange, who has been at risk of being extradited to the U.S. and prosecuted under the Espionage Act for publishing documents—an activity protected by the First Amendment—that the government says contain classified national security information, will plead guilty to a single felony count and return to his native Australia. Prior to reaching this deal with the U.S. Department of Justice, Assange could have faced up to 170 years in prison if extradited to America.

From 2012 to 2019, Assange had been living at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, caught in legal limbo and fearing extradition by British authorities. In 2019, Ecuador's president was angered by allegations of corruption made public via WikiLeaks and pulled Assange's asylum protections. The British authorities rounded Assange up and put him in Belmarsh.

To plead guilty and end his legal ordeal, Assange will appear at the courthouse in Saipan, the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands (technically part of the U.S.), and then fly to Australia immediately after.

Though Assange's case has been closely followed by advocates for press freedom, who are thrilled to see him walk free, some also caution that this is "an Espionage Act conviction for basic journalistic acts," according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation's David Greene, who told The New York Times that "these charges should never have been brought."

"WikiLeaks published groundbreaking stories of government corruption and human rights abuses, holding the powerful accountable for their actions," wrote the organization on X (formerly Twitter). "As editor-in-chief, Julian paid severely for these principles, and for the people's right to know."

In 2010, WikiLeaks published a video called "Collateral Murder," which showed a 2007 U.S. airstrike in Baghdad in which several civilians, including two Reuters journalists, were killed. The organization, which received leaks from various government and military personnel, including the now-famous whistleblower Chelsea Manning, received retribution from the U.S. government for publicizing possible violations of military rules of engagement and showing the extreme brutality of war, including the massive civilian death toll in Iraq at the hands of the U.S. Army.

For more than a decade, Assange was not treated like a journalist, but like a criminal. Now, his ordeal will finally come to a close.

For more on Assange's case, watch this episode of my show with Zach Weissmueller, Just Asking Questions, in which we interviewed Julian's wife, Stella.

International aid money allegedly went to Hamas: One hundred Israeli plaintiffs filed suit Monday in federal court in Manhattan, accusing seven United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) officials (both current and former) of "knowing that Hamas siphoned off more than $1 billion from the agency to pay for, among other things, tunneling equipment and weapons that aided its attack on Israel on Oct. 7," per The New York Times. 

UNRWA is generally regarded as a humanitarian aid organization that helps build hospitals and schools for Palestinians. Other lawsuits have accused the agency of being deeply enmeshed with Hamas, but none have been so specific as to the mechanisms by which the United Nations money ends up in the hands of Hamas officials.

"The suit says that in Gaza, unlike other places the agency operates, UNRWA pays its 13,000 local employees in U.S. dollars that must be changed into shekels, the Israeli currency that is used in Gaza, by Hamas-affiliated money-changers who take a cut for the organization," reports the Times. 

It's not clear what legal battle may lie ahead. "The United Nations, including UNRWA, enjoys immunity from legal process, as do United Nations officials, including those serving with UNRWA," said agency spokeswoman Juliette Touma.

"UNRWA is the backbone of the humanitarian response in Gaza," said Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner-general of the agency, quite pointedly in a statement issued yesterday. "In the wake of the allegations against individual staff members, 16 Member States temporarily suspended funding to the Agency, amounting to half the expected funding for the year.…UNRWA lacks the resources to deliver its mandate."


Scenes from New York: OK, this might be a stretch, but I can think of nothing more New York than the smoking vs. vaping discourse. Nothing repulses an Angeleno (or, worse, a Denverite) quite like clouds of smoke outside a bar, billowing toward them. For New Yorkers, that's simply a Monday night. God bless The Free Press for giving us the showdown we truly deserve: cigarettes (defended by Nellie Bowles) vs. vapes (defended by Michael Moynihan).


QUICK HITS

  • "On paper, New York's 1st Congressional district reads like a winner for Democrats. For one, it's home to more of them than registered Republicans. And its voters favor abortion access for women, care deeply about the environment and boast high levels of union membership," reports Bloomberg. "Yet the Long Island district—spanning most of Suffolk County to the Hamptons—has eluded the grasp of Democrats for a decade. It's a failure critics chalk up to the party's inability to field a candidate appealing to independents, who make up 30% of the electorate."
  • There's been major, life-threatening flooding in parts of Minnesota, Iowa, and South Dakota this week.
  • The IRS and hedge fund manager Ken Griffin just reached a settlement in a lawsuit brought by Griffin related to the IRS' improper handling of his confidential financial information.
  • It is fascinating how much of the late aughts and early '10s internet has gone dark:

The post Julian Assange, a Free Man appeared first on Reason.com.


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