For Assange, the Process Was the Punishment

Reprinted from the Cato Institute.

Monday evening (June 24), news broke that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, under indictment by the United States government since 2019 on Espionage Act charges related to his role in the exposure of US war crimes during the Iraq War, had reached a plea deal with American authorities. In return for pleading guilty to one count of Conspiracy to Obtain and Disclose National Defense Information (18 U.S.C. § 793(g)), Assange will be sentenced to time served in Belmarsh Prison, United Kingdom, where Assange has been held for over five years.

As I wrote last month when fresh chatter about a possible end to the Assange prosecution bubbled up from various sources inside and outside the federal government:

American national security bureaucrats and prominent political figures have never forgiven Assange and WikiLeaks for exposing clear‐​cut war crimes committed by US forces in Iraq during the George W. Bush administration. The US government used its own document classification system and policy to conceal those war crimes, which included the murder of journalists and Iraqi civilians caught on video from a U.S. Army helicopter.

Yet the coverage of the High Court’s most recent decision in Assange’s favor by outlets such as the BBC, the Associated Press, ABC, and The New York Times includes no reference to that fact. There’s no mention of how the “leader of the free world” used patently undemocratic methods not only to hide criminal conduct by its military but also to politically and legally destroy Assange and Chelsea Manning – the whistleblower who leaked the helicopter murder video to WikiLeaks.

Once again, Justice Department and US Intelligence Community (USIC) officials have succeeded in punishing a whistleblower for daring to expose the federal government’s own criminal conduct during wartime.

Assange may soon return to freedom in Australia, but he will no doubt arrive a broken man from the experiencephysically and psychologically. The US government’s successful multi‐​year pursuit of Assange was meant to send a message to any others considering exposing federal government wrongdoing in the national security arena: we will make the story about you, not our crimes, and we will get you, one way or another.

Former CIA analyst and ex-House senior policy advisor Patrick G. Eddington is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.