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Assange be Wary: The Dangers of a US Plea Deal

At every stage of its proceedings against Julian Assange, the US Imperium has shown little by way of tempering its vengeful impulses. The WikiLeaks publisher, in uncovering the sordid, operational details of a global military power, would always have to pay. Given the 18 charges he faces, 17 fashioned from that most repressive of instruments, the US Espionage Act of 1917, any sentence is bound to be hefty. Were he to be extradited from the United Kingdom to the US, Assange will disappear into a carceral, life-ending dystopia.

In this saga of relentless mugging and persecution, the country that has featured regularly in commentary, yet done the least, is Australia. Assange may well be an Australian national, but this has generally counted for naught. Successive governments have tended to cower before the bullying disposition of Washington’s power. With the signing of the AUKUS pact and the inexorable surrender of Canberra’s military and diplomatic functions to Washington, any exertion of independent counsel and fair advice will be treated with sneering qualification.

The Albanese government has claimed, at various stages, to be pursuing the matter with its US counterparts with firm insistence. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has even publicly expressed his frustration at the lack of progress in finding a “diplomatic solution” to Assange’s plight. But such frustrations have been tempered by an acceptance that legal processes must first run their course.

The substance of any such diplomatic solution remains vague. But on August 14, the Sydney Morning Herald, citing US Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy as its chief source, reported that a “resolution” to Assange’s plight might be in the offing. “There is a way to resolve it,” the ambassador told the paper. This could involve a reduction of any charges in favour of a guilty plea, with the details sketched out by the US Department of Justice. In making her remarks, Kennedy clarified that this was more a matter for the DOJ than the State Department or any other department. “So it’s not really a diplomatic issue, but I think there absolutely could be a resolution.”

In May, Kennedy met members of the Parliamentary Friends of Julian Assange Group to hear their concerns. The previous month, 48 Australian MPs and Senators, including 13 from the governing Labor Party, wrote an open letter to the US Attorney General, Merrick Garland, warning that the prosecution “would set a dangerous precedent for all global citizens, journalists, publishers, media organizations and the freedom of the press. It would also be needlessly damaging for the US as a world leader on freedom of expression and the rule of law.”

In a discussion with The Intercept, Gabriel Shipton, Assange’s brother, had his own analysis of the latest developments. “The [Biden] administration appears to be searching for an off-ramp ahead of [Albanese’s] first state visit to DC in October.” In the event one wasn’t found, “we could see a repeat of a very public rebuff delivered by [US Secretary of State] Tony Blinken to the Australian Foreign Minister two weeks ago in Brisbane.”

That rebuff was particularly brutal, taking place on the occasion of the AUSMIN talks between the foreign and defence ministers of both Australia and the United States. On that occasion, Foreign Minister Penny Wong remarked that Australia had made its position clear to their US counterparts “that Mr Assange’s case has dragged for too long, and our desire it be brought to a conclusion, and we’ve said that publicly and you would anticipate that that reflects also the positive we articulate in private.”

In his response, Secretary of State Blinken claimed to “understand” such views and admitted that the matter had been raised with himself and various offices of the US. With such polite formalities acknowledged, Blinken proceeded to tell “our friends” what, exactly, Washington wished to do. Assange had been “charged with very serious criminal conduct in the United States in connection with his alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of our country. The actions that he has alleged to have committed risked very serious harm to our national security, to the benefit of our adversaries, and put named sources at grave risk – grave risk – of physical harm, and grave risk of detention.”

Such an assessment, lazily assumed, repeatedly rebutted, and persistently disproved, went unchallenged by all the parties present, including the Australian ministers. Nor did any members of the press deem it appropriate to challenge the account. The unstated assumption here is that Assange is already guilty for absurd charges, a man condemned.

At this stage, such deals are the stuff of manipulation and fantasy. The espionage charges have been drafted to inflate, rather than diminish any sentence. Suggestions that the DOJ will somehow go soft must be treated with abundant scepticism. The pursuit of Assange is laced by sentiments of revenge, intended to both inflict harm upon the publisher while deterring those wishing to publish US national security information. As the Australian international law academic Don Rothwell observes, the plea deal may well take into account the four years spent in UK captivity, but is unlikely to either feature a complete scrapping of the charges, or exempt Assange from travelling to the US to admit his guilt. “It’s not possible to strike a plea deal outside the relevant jurisdiction except in the most exceptional circumstances.”

Should any plea deal be successfully reached and implemented, thereby making Assange admit guilt, the terms of his return to Australia, assuming he survives any stint on US soil, will be onerous. In effect, the US would merely be changing the prison warden while adjusting the terms of observation. In place of British prison wardens will be Australian overseers unlikely to ever take kindly to the publication of national security information.


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  1. Douglas Pritchard

    I would not trust the justice department in America any further than we could throw it.
    We see examples on a daily basis. In fact we spend a disproportionate amount of time, and energy, simply observing and wondering how much further from the meaning of the word justice can they go.
    At the moment our “friends” are obsessed with at least 2 crime families using the justice department to score the top job, and therefore what they describe as immunity from prosecution.The depths of the crimes are deliberatly distorted for the public.
    While Assange, who is the freedom fighter, and one of ours, remains incarcerated, with no hope of real justice.
    Surely we must have an act tucked away somewhere which is our own “Espionage Act” requiring us to reset our relationship with a country which is clearly a bunch of cowboys taking it out on one of ours.
    And Blinkins recent performance says it all about the standing between our two countries.
    I would like to see us sever all ties with USA while they continue to behave as simply thugs.

  2. Clakka

    One can imagine that the plight of David Hicks in his wrangling with detention and the US and UK legal circus would be a walk in the park compared to the strangulations Assange is going through and the prospect of any plea deal.

    Ms Kennedy might obtain the commission of:

    DOJ to draft a suite of plea options detailing probable penalties / orders / outcomes
    CIA to review and ratify the DOJ plea options
    British judiciary to review and ratify the above
    British Home Office to review and ratify the above
    Oz govt genuflexion

    Easy, but then what?

  3. Andrew Smith

    Hopefully there will be some sentencing deal whereby he can serve time in Oz in a open prison, get some sunlight by working in the veggie patch, and eat some too, run the library, and have his sentence quietly commuted; not sure keeping the US and Oz govts under external pressure is a solution.

    Especially on this ‘vengeful impulses’, according to Corn in Mother Jones, that was Assange’s own motivation…..

    ‘The Senate report notes that Assange’s group “timed its document releases for maximum political impact.” That is, WikiLeaks wasn’t acting in a noble information-sharing manner. It sought to weaponize the information pilfered by Vladimir Putin’s operatives to cause harm to candidate Hillary Clinton, whom Assange and WikiLeaks had disparaged as a “sadistic sociopath” and a threat to the world. (“We believe it would be much better for [the] GOP to win,” WikiLeaks had tweeted.)…..

    ….WikiLeaks behaved more as a political hit squad than a media organization. For example, when the Washington Post on October 7, 2016, published the Access Hollywood video showing Trump bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy,” half an hour later WikiLeaks began releasing emails Russian hackers had swiped from John Podesta, the chair of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. This was a counterblow, an attempt to rescue Trump with a distraction. And to inflict the most pain it could on the Clinton campaign’

    Denounce Julian Assange. Don’t Extradite Him.

  4. A Commentator

    It’s always timely to remember that we can (to a very significant degree) thank Assange for his role in helping Trump into the Whitehouse
    ***I think he has suffered enough , but in no way should be be feted

  5. Douglas Pritchard

    We could, as a project, and a venture into Justice, kidnap Bush and his close Neo-cons mates, and clap them in one of our prisons.
    We can arrange a trial as war criminals due to their pushing us into the illegal invasion of Iraq.
    Some torture can be part of the scheme.
    Then we arrange a prisoner swap after he and his buddies are suitably health compromised.
    Im sure other ideas would come forward, but what we are doing now is getting him nowhere, and this country is looking just that bit more ineffective each time we raise the subject.

  6. Clakka

    Indeed, the guile, concealment, corruption and treasonous criminality involved in the wreckage that is US party politics and democracy has been underway since way before wikileaks.

    The operations of the CIA, particularly focused on all US’s own citizens without exception is testimony to the state’s ability to manipulate in a covert or overt manner the proceedings of politics and democracy, à la police state.

    Following years of corruption and criminality in US politics, its hugely expensive false ‘policeman’ wars, and dysfunctional commerce and the GFC, in 2009, the US folk were thralled by the Democrats, and elected their great hope, Barack Obama, at the same time the GOP swung the other way via the incorporation of the Tea Party. Whilst Obama’s Democrats made excellent reforms over his two terms, the US imperium remained in full swing.

    Inevitably there would be Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, make America straight vs make America great. Bernie was gaining much traction, particularly with the young and various disenfranchised, including numerous unions. But of course the corporate knob-polishers and the conspiring Ms Clinton were having none of that. Embedded corruption in both camps would win out, and Uncle Sam got the GOP and trumped.

    Perhaps Uncle Sam needed Trump as a mirror to its own corruption and stupidity, as a lesson about its own demise, and its utterly dysfunctional party political system, and corporate greed and self-interest.

    With Uncle Sam on the nose around the world, under Trump the corruption skyrocketed, the folk were learning. Thank goodness the Democrats and old Joe Biden remained cool. The pustular Trump’s head ultimately burst. Joe’s running with the pivot the west so desperately needs, and the DOJ et al are skimming the swamp. A long way to go.

    Although Oz a few years behind Uncle Sam, and not quite as systemically wretched, it’s no small irony that the last decade or so in Oz has been remarkably similar.

    Like those of Uncle Sam, it appears the pub-test folk of Oz don’t really want to know about its internecine operations, as long as they can find (be fed) a convenient enemy, and a convenient folk hero. She’ll be right.

  7. Steve Davis

    Clakka, beautifully put.

    I cannot comprehend the thinking of those who continue to support the US as some light on the hill.

  8. New England Cocky

    Why worry about enemies when you have the USA as an ally?


  9. Douglas Pritchard

    I was fortunate over the w/e to come across a comedy sketch by George Carlin explaining how USA manages to find such unfortunate candidates, and actually put them in power.
    He is not nice about describing his fellow Americans, not nice at all.
    But his argument holds up.
    He does not vote for them, and neither does any American with a brain between their ears.
    They have contempt for the whole red/blue fight between 2 fellas trying to keep ahead of the law..
    His reasoning is powerful, and this does make me wonder if compulsory voting is something to be proud this country.
    So often we enter the ballot box knowing that there is no box for the stuff I want fixed.
    Next time, I am inclined to take Georges advice, and hold back my endorsement of unsuitable candidates.

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