Is Assange Coming to America, and Who Even Cares Anymore? 

Karl Nesh /
Karl Nesh /

A court in the United Kingdom has given the United States three weeks to offer assurances that Julian Assange will be protected before they agree to extradite him to America to face charges of willfully leaking classified information to the WikiLeaks website.  

These conditions include assurances that he will have the same rights to free speech as a United States citizen under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Additionally, his nationality will not influence the fairness of his trial or sentencing, and the death penalty will not be considered. 

If the United States does not offer these assurances, Assange can file a new appeal with the U.K. courts to block extradition. 

While he occasionally makes the headlines for his extradition battles, many Americans no longer recall who he is or why he ended up in the U.K. in the first place. Here’s a recap of the Julian Assange story. 

Julian Assange, an Australian editor, publisher, and activist, is best known for creating WikiLeaks, a website that publishes secret information from governments and organizations. In 2010, WikiLeaks released many classified documents provided by a U.S. Army analyst, Chelsea Manning. These documents included videos of a U.S. military attack in Baghdad, reports from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and private messages between diplomats. 

In 2010, he faced sexual assault charges in Sweden, which he says were false and politically motivated. He sought refuge in London’s Embassy of Ecuador in 2012 to avoid arrest. He stayed there until 2019 when his asylum status was revoked. Since then, he has been detained at HM Prison Belmarsh, a high-security prison facility in London, to keep him from skipping out on extradition to the U.S. to face the charges of leaking classified materials on WikiLeaks. 

Assange is currently facing 18 charges in the United States, all connected to his involvement in one of the most significant breaches of classified information in U.S. history. These charges include a range of offenses, like conspiracy to receive national defense information, obtaining national defense information, disclosing national defense information, disclosing communications intelligence information, and unauthorized disclosure of documents related to national defense. 

He faces additional charges of computer incursion for trying to help Manning crack a password stored on U.S. Department of Defense computers linked to the Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIPRNet), a network utilized for classified documents and communications. This attempt, while unsuccessful, would have allowed Manning to gain deeper access to the military computers from which she was already leaking classified materials to Assange.  

If convicted, Assange could face up to ten years in prison for each charge and an additional five years for the computer incursion charges. 

Assange faces more charges than Manning did, despite her being the one who provided the leaked information. Manning was the source of the leak and was charged with violations related to the unauthorized possession and distribution of classified information. Assange, on the other hand, is charged with aiding and abetting Manning in obtaining and disclosing classified documents through WikiLeaks, which had a global reach. His charges involve the Espionage Act. 

The Espionage Act can result in the death penalty If someone is convicted of espionage that results in the death of an individual acting as an agent of the United States or concerns significant elements of defense strategy such as nuclear weaponry or war plans, the death penalty can be imposed even if, like Assange, the person committing the acts is not a U.S. citizen. 

A non-citizen has never been given the death penalty under the Espionage Act. The last executions under the law were in 1953, when Americans Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed over a conspiracy to commit espionage. The U.S. government viewed the Rosenbergs’ actions as a serious threat to national safety because of the sensitive information they passed to the Soviets, including nuclear weapon plans. 

Because of the possibility of execution, Assange’s lawyers have argued that his life is in danger if he is returned to the U.S. While the U.K. is demanding a guarantee that Assange will not face the death penalty, the U.S. has not yet indicated that it is seeking one. However, he faces a maximum of 175 years in prison if extradited to the U.S. and convicted of all charges. 

Some view Assange as a champion of transparency and free speech, while others consider him a threat to national security. But whether he’s a hero or a villain, it appears his time is running out, and he will be hauled to America to answer for his actions. The outcome of these proceedings will have lasting impacts on freedom of the press, public interest journalism, and the handling of classified information.