WikiLeaks Founder Walks Free After Agreeing to US Plea Deal

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has left the UK after reaching a plea deal with US prosecutors, ending a 12-year saga since he sought refuge in Ecuador’s embassy to evade a sex crime investigation.

Assange, pursued for over a decade for allegedly hacking the US government and revealing footage of US army war crimes, was released from HMP Belmarsh in London and departed the UK, according to WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks released footage showing Assange being transported from Belmarsh jail in London, where he had been detained for five years, to Stansted Airport. He then boarded a private jet, which subsequently landed in Bangkok, Thailand for refueling.

WikiLeaks announced “After more than five years in a 2×3 meter cell, isolated 23 hours a day, he will soon reunite with his wife Stella Assange and their children, who have only known their father from behind bars.”

He is reportedly allowed to return to his home country, Australia, although his release has not been officially confirmed by British authorities.

A document from a US federal court notes that Assange is due to appear in Saipan, the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands, at 9am local time on Wednesday. The islands, part of the US commonwealth, are closer to Assange’s native Australia than to the US mainland.

Matthew McKenzie, deputy chief at the US Department of Justice, and Shawn Anderson, the US Attorney for Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, anticipate Assange’s return to Australia post-proceedings.

Assange’s wife, Stella, who married him during his imprisonment, expressed on X: “Julian is free!!!! Words cannot express our immense gratitude to YOU—yes YOU, who have all mobilized for years and years to make this come true. THANK YOU. THANK YOU. THANK YOU.”

His departure follows the US prosecutors initiating legal actions against him, a common precursor to a plea agreement.

The proposed plea includes a 62-month prison term, equivalent to the time already served by Assange in London while contesting extradition to the US.

While the plea agreement awaits a federal judge’s approval, if sanctioned, it will account for his time already served.

Recently, President Joe Biden indicated a potential deal, promoted by Australian officials, to facilitate Assange’s return to Australia.

The plea agreement involves a single charge related to the conspiracy to obtain and disclose classified US defense documents, as detailed in the filings at the US District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands.

In 2010, WikiLeaks disclosed numerous classified US military and diplomatic documents pertaining to conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, marking the most significant security leaks in US military history.

Originally facing 18 charges in a 2019 indictment linked to the leaks, Assange could have faced up to 175 years, though a maximum sentence was improbable.

Assange was charged during the Trump administration in connection with WikiLeaks’ extensive publication of confidential US documents, initially disclosed by Chelsea Manning, a former US military intelligence analyst who was similarly prosecuted under the Espionage Act.

US officials claimed that Assange incited Manning to secure thousands of pages of unedited US diplomatic communications.

The prosecution in the US argued that the disclosed documents were not only humiliating but also posed significant risks to confidential informants. Included were classified details about operations related to the Iraq war and detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

The disclosed collection, exceeding 700,000 documents, encompassed diplomatic communications and military reports, featuring a 2007 incident recorded on video where a US Apache helicopter engaged suspected insurgents in Iraq, resulting in the deaths of twelve individuals, including two journalists from Reuters. This video was publicly shared in 2010.

Assange was initially apprehended in Britain in 2010 following a European arrest warrant issued by Swedish authorities who sought to interrogate him regarding allegations of sexual misconduct, which were later dismissed.

After nearly a decade of investigation, Swedish prosecutors concluded in 2019 that the alleged rape Assange was accused of in 2010 could no longer be pursued because the evidence had substantially weakened over time.

Eva-Maria Persson, then deputy director of public prosecution, stated in 2019, “The complainant has provided a plausible and detailed account of the events. Although her testimony was consistent and comprehensive, the overall quality of evidence has diminished to the point where continuing the investigation is unwarranted.”

Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy for seven years to evade extradition to Sweden.

After deteriorating relations with embassy staff, Assange was compelled to leave; an official even alleged he vandalized the premises with feces, a claim vehemently denied by his supporters.

Throughout his embassy stay, his team claimed he endured deplorable conditions.

Dr. Sondra Crosby, a Boston University associate professor specializing in medicine and public health, evaluated Assange in 2018, highlighting the severe mental and physical challenges posed by his indefinite, uncertain confinement which she claimed surpassed the adversities faced in standard imprisonment.

Despite allegations of mistreatment while in the Ecuadorian embassy, British police forcibly removed him in 2019 during Operation Pelican for bail violation and he was subsequently imprisoned in Belmarsh, a high-security London facility, where he has been contesting US extradition attempts for nearly five years.

While confined in the Ecuadorian embassy, he married Stella, with whom he fathered two children; Stella has been actively campaigning for his release for several years.