US prosecutors have requested that Julian Assange be extradited to the United States to be tried on suspicion of having prepared a data breach in the Pentagon Defense Headquarters. As the founder of the Wikileaks site, Assange in the spring of 2010 published hundreds of thousands of secret defense documents that intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning had leaked to the platform. Assange is suspected to have helped Manning crack a code she needed to log into a Pentagon database under another identity.
Julian Assange risks five years in prison in the US because he “conspired” with Manning. The leak to Wikileaks was then the largest in the American state history and contributed to changing the image of US warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq and embarrassing the country’s diplomats and their international partners, as the leak also contained thousands of diplomatic telegrams.
Many regarded Assange and Manning as freedom of expression heroes. Since then, Assange has become , not least because during the US presidential election in 2016 he published emails from the Democratic Party headquarters. Emails – that according to some sources – Russia had provided to Wikileaks. Assange has continues to deny that the e-mails came to him through the Kremlin, but Russian investigator Robert Mueller persists that so is the case.
Chelsea Manning was punished with a 35-year prison sentence for the leak that Wikileaks published, but Barack Obama released her early in May 2017. Manning, who came out as a transsexual when she was arrested, tried to take her life twice in prison. She was recently sent to prison again, and then sat two months to refuse to testify against Julian Assange in an American jury.
Now, when at least two countries compete for Assange, it is up to the UK, where he is detained, to decide which judicial system is given priority. Ultimately, the British Interior Minister is making the decision. A British lawyer specializing in extradition cases tells the New York Times that Sweden is likely to be the first to go.
- One can argue that rape charge weighs heavier, says lawyer Michael O’Kane.
Although the United States’ extradition claim predates the resumed preliminary investigation in Sweden – Assange was accused of rape and sexual harassment in Sweden already in August 2010. The preliminary investigation was closed in May 2017, but has now been reopened.
Assange’s lawyer in Sweden, Per E Samuelsson, says that the Swedish authorities’ decision to resume the case is unreasonable considering what awaits the client in the US.
- That I should sit there in a detention center in London and prepare him, go through this old preliminary investigation, while serving a punishment, at the same time as he risks being extradited to the United States when the reason why this has not been done properly in Sweden from the beginning, the prosecutor’s fault. I think it is unreasonable, disproportionate, says Per E Samuelsson.
But Wikileaks chief editor Kristinn Hrafnsson says that Sweden’s decision to reopen the rape case will give Assange an opportunity to cleanse himself before the US legal process.
- This investigation has been closed earlier and the opening will give Julian an opportunity to cleanse himself, says Hrafnsson.
In fact, it may take years before Julian Assange is actually brought to justice in the United States, and a possible presidential change in the White House after the November 2020 elections may affect the way the case is run. Wikileaks argues that the publication of the defense documents in the spring of 2010 was a journalistic act motivated by the public interest. An acclaimed video shows how US military kills innocent people from a helicopter. In a future legal process, Assange’s US lawyers would probably argue that Wikileak’s publications are within the scope of US press freedom. It is not unlikely that such a case would be settled in the Supreme Court, whose members appoint the president (for life).
Sweden’s decision to resume the preliminary investigation can thus have consequences for how Julian Assange is treated when he is extradited to the United States.