Resolution In US Congress Calls For End To Assange Case As Extradition Nears

Resolution In US Congress Calls For End To Assange Case As Extradition Nears
United States House of Representatives (Government work and in the public domain.)

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A resolution in support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on December 13.

Cosponsored by eight representatives, it states that “regular journalistic activities are protected under the First Amendment,” and the U.S. government should “drop all charges against and attempts to extradite Julian Assange.”

The resolution [PDF] introduced by six Republican and two Democratic representatives marks the second time that representatives have used the legislature to try and mobilize support for Assange and freedom of the press. (One was previously sponsored in 2020 by Republican Representatives Thomas Massie and Justin Amash and Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard.)

For over four and a half years, Assange has been jailed at His Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh. The facility is a high-security prison typically reserved for individuals accused or convicted of violent offenses.

Assange faces 17 charges of violating the Espionage Act and one count that alleges conspiracy to commit a computer crime. Each charge criminalizes Assange for publishing classified documents from the U.S. in 2010 and 2011.

A paltry number of representatives and senators in the U.S. Congress have shown interest in the Justice Department’s unprecedented prosecution of Assange. Fewer have raised their voice to oppose the political case against him.

Yet as Chip Gibbons covered for The Dissenter, there have been several letters issued to demand that President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland drop the charges.

Republican Representative Paul Gosar sponsored the House resolution, and Republican Representatives Eric Burlison, Jeff Duncan, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Anna Paulina Luna, and Massie signed on as cosponsors.

Democratic Representatives Jim McGovern and Ilhan Omar both signed on as cosponsors as well.

The list of cosponsors is missing many of the representatives, who previously backed letters demanding that Biden and Garland end the prosecution. 

“In 2010,” the resolution recalls, “WikiLeaks, a media organization established by Julian Assange, published a cache of hundreds of thousands of pieces of information including Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, State Department cables, rules of engagement files, and other United States military reports.”

“The disclosure of this information promoted public transparency through the exposure of the hiring of child prostitutes by Defense Department contractors, friendly fire incidents, human rights abuses, civilian killings, and United States use of psychological warfare,” it adds.

Where it references “child prostitutes,” the resolution is referring to a published cable that revealed that U.S. military contractor DynCorp had trained police in Afghanistan who had paid for “dancing boys.”

The reference to “psychological warfare” is unclear, however, it may be referring to military incident reports from Iraq. Those reports that became known as the Iraq War Logs contained details of “friendly fire incidents,” “human rights abuses,” and “civilian killings,” including by Iraqi security forces that were trained by the U.S. military.

Where the resolution mentions the computer crime offense under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), it notes that U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning “already had access to the mentioned computer, that the purported breaching of the Defense Department computers was impossible, and that there was no proof Mr. Assange had any contact with said intelligence analyst.”

The fact that the “purported breaching of the Defense Department computers was impossible” was affirmed by the testimony of Patrick Eller, a digital forensic expert who worked at U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command. He was a defense witness in the extradition trial that unfolded in September 2020.

As far as the lack of evidence that Assange communicated with Manning, there are chat logs that appear in the indictment against the WikiLeaks founder. However, it has never been proven by any military prosecutor or British prosecutor that Assange was in fact using the account that the Justice Department claims was associated with him.

The resolution acknowledges the unprecedented Espionage Act charges and how Assange could serve a lengthy sentence that would amount to a “death sentence,” especially since he is 52 years old.

It further recognizes, “The successful prosecution of Mr. Assange under the Espionage Act would set a precedent allowing the United States to prosecute and imprison journalists for First Amendment protected activities, including the obtainment and publication of information, something that occurs on a regular basis.”

The broad support of human rights, press freedom, and privacy rights advocates and organizations are noted in the resolution, along with the vast political support in Australia among “70 senators and members of Parliament.”

Australia is described as a “a critical United States ally and Mr. Assange’s native country,” and the country’s support for allowing Assange to return home is treated as crucial to bringing the case to an end. 

The resolution concludes by stating that the U.S. government should abandon its effort to extradite Assange and put him on trial. It should also allow Assange to return home to Australia “if he so desires."

Whether the resolution will pass in the House or not, the resolution shows the potential for making the Assange case a political issue for President Joe Biden. In a year where Biden will be campaigning for re-election, that may prove to be crucial in freeing Assange.