Ten years have passed since WikiLeaks published the largest leak of diplomatic cables shedding light on US foreign policy's lowdown, with the website's founder, Julian Assange, still imprisoned in the United Kingdom, facing the risk of extradition to the United States to spend the rest of his life behind bars
MOSCOW (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 28th November, 2020) Ten years have passed since WikiLeaks published the largest leak of diplomatic cables shedding light on US foreign policy's lowdown, with the website's founder, Julian Assange, still imprisoned in the United Kingdom, facing the risk of extradition to the United States to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
On November 28, 2010, the website released more than 250,000 leaked classified cables of US embassies in a publication that became known as Cablegate. That same year, WikiLeaks published several more portions of leaks exposing the atrocities committed by US troops during military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"It has transformed journalism in the digital age. The cables have contributed significantly to public and political conversations all around the world, they became valuable reference resource to researchers, universities, investigative journalists, human rights advocates and lawyers," Don't Extradite Assange (DEA), a public organization advocating the whisteblower's release, said in a statement marking Cablegate's 10th anniversary.
According to DEA, the cables also made it clear that governments "overclassified information and kept secrets that should have been subject to public scrutiny and debate."
The United States has claimed that Assange obtained the documents by conspiring with former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning (born male, Bradley Manning) to hack a classified government computer an allegation Assange has denied.
Manning was arrested in May 2010 on 22 charges, including "aiding the enemy," punishable by death. The analyst agreed to a deal with the court, pleading guilty on 10 of 22 charges, and was sentenced to 35 years. While in prison, Manning completed the gender change.
In January 2017, Manning's defense requested pardon from US President Barack Obama and got a reduction of the sentence to a total of seven years. The analyst was released in May of that year. Manning was later summoned to the court to testify against WikiLeaks and Assange, which she refused to do, ending up in prison twice more. It was not until the analyst attempted suicide this March that the court left her alone.
He requested and was granted asylum at the embassy in 2012 after exhausting all legal avenues to avoid extradition to the US. Prior to that, both his native Sweden and the UK where he was residing, had not explicitly pledged protection from extradition.
Assange's asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy was approaching its seventh year when in January 2019 he was advised to surrender to the UK police by Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Jose Valencia, who said that it was the more preferred option for the jaded journalist than staying at the embassy indefinitely.
By that point, Assange had already been living under a set of strict house rules for about a year. On top of the limitations on who could visit him and when, he was told to pay for his food and maintenance, to clean his bathroom and take better care of his cat, otherwise he'd lose the pet. Most importantly, though, the embassy told him to avoid politics-related comments on the internet. The breach of the latter rule was what Ecuador later cited as a reason to suspend Assange's asylum.
The UK police arrested Assange on April 11, 2019. The journalist was sentenced to 50 weeks behind bars for breaching bail. People who visited him in jail described the conditions as extremely strict to the point of being harmful for his physical and psychological health. WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson, who was Assange's first social visitor, said the conditions were "worse than for terrorists."
Even before the pandemic, Assange was frequently kept in solitary confinement and only allowed to appear before the court remotely. In mid-November, the journalist was locked down in his cell completely after a COVID-19 outbreak began in his prison.
The extradition hearings ended at London's Old Bailey court on October 1 and the judgment will be handed down on January 4, but depending on the outcome, it is possible that the case will go before several UK courts before it is concluded.
The US Department of Justice is seeking the extradition of the WikiLeaks founder on 17 espionage charges and on one count of computer misuse, which carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.