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Much support for Assange deal in the USA

For years, US governments had been demanding Assange's extradition. In the country itself, opinions were divided even within political camps. So how are politicians and activists there reacting to the unexpected turn of events?

Claudia Sarre

There has been no political outcry in the USA following the surprising deal between WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and the US Department of Justice. Only Mike Pence, the former Vice President, was outraged on Platform X and described the deal as a “miscarriage of justice” that dishonours the commitment and sacrifices of the men and women of the armed forces.

Other Republicans, however, were happy about the sudden turn in the Assange saga. Protests against a possible extradition of Assange to the USA had become louder in recent months, particularly among MPs on the right, but also on the left.

Remembering Edward Snowden

Trump supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene called Assange's possible release as astonishing news and said he had been held for years for the “crime” of being a journalist. She and other lawmakers had already written a letter to President Joe Biden months ago.

Republican Thomas Massie also called Assange's release great news. But he said it was a farce that he had already spent so much time in prison. Massie also said that whistleblower Edward Snowden, who lives in exile in Russia, should be allowed to live in freedom. This demand was also made by independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who believes in conspiracy theories.

Former FBI director Andrew McCabe believes that the agreement between Julian Assange and the American justice system was the right step, even if he believes the Australian violated the Espionage Act. He told CNN that Assange had acted wrongly. He had damaged the US government and put the lives of troops and Iraqis at risk.

It started with Chelsea Manning

The US accuses Assange of, together with whistleblower Chelsa Manning, stealing classified material from military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2010 onwards, publishing it on WikiLeaks and thereby endangering the lives of US informants. For years, the US government has therefore been demanding the extradition of the 52-year-old with demonstrative severity.

One reason for this may also have been that WikiLeaks published emails from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election campaign, which damaged her at the time. This still upsets some Democrats today. Assange certainly has no friends in the State Department or the Justice Department, explains long-time Assange expert Carrie Johnson on the radio station NPR.

The Assange case and press freedom

Human rights and journalists' organizations, on the other hand, celebrated the deal. Because, according to Johnson, they argue that extradition could have had far-reaching consequences. It could have allowed a future US Department of Justice to prosecute journalists for publishing national secrets. Johnson alludes to the fact that Trump – if he becomes president – may want to take action against journalists he doesn't like.

Biden's comments hinted at a turnaround

For years, Australia had campaigned to drop the charges against Assange. US President Biden looked favorably upon Australia's request – after all, Australia is a close ally of the USA. In mid-April, the US President commented that the matter was being considered, which gave hope to many Assange supporters at the time.

Now the US is dropping several of the charges against Assange. The Australian has already served his sentence for the remaining charge – violation of the US Espionage Act – in Great Britain.

Precedent avoided

The US government probably wanted to avoid setting a precedent for global media freedom, explains former FBI deputy Andrew McCabe on CNN. That is why it decided not to extradite him.

If this prosecution had gone ahead, there would have been a risk that similar cases would be handled in the same way in the future. This could have an impact on the entire news business and on freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

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