Julian Assange, an Australian national and the founder of Wikileaks, was arrested in London last week after Ecuador revoked his asylum privileges. Assange is best known for leaking a trove of documents incriminating the United States military of war crimes in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. He first moved into the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012 while attempting to avoid extradition to Sweden for the alleged sexual assault of two women. The charges have since been dropped, but there was always an expectation that Sweden would then extradite him back to the States for his actions with Wikileaks.
His arrest on Thursday did not come as a surprise to those familiar with his situation. He was first offered asylum by then leftist Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa. Since Lenin Moreno took office in 2017, things have shifted for Assange. His eight-year stay at the embassy in London has cost the country millions of dollars in security, and his relationships have since soured. An office which was converted into a small apartment for him was fit with security cameras and microphones. At one point Assange joked that he was living in the Truman Show. Several accounts of odd and inappropriate behavior have been reported, including physical and verbal altercations with the staff, and poor hygiene. These actions, along with a literal changing of the guard, translate to Assange’s current state of incarceration in London’s most notorious prison.
The termination of Assange’s asylum has been in the works for quite some time. The new Ecuadorian president realized in 2017 that protecting Assange was damaging Ecuador’s economy. Knowing that ending his asylum would put the country in good standing with the US government, Moreno recently stated, “We’ve ended the asylum of this spoiled brat. From now on we’ll be more careful in giving asylum to people who are really worth it, and not miserable hackers whose only goal is to destabilize governments.”
Assange was technically arrested by UK authorities for skipping bail for a previous offense, but will likely be extradited to the US for an indictment from 2018 that was unsealed just last week.
He is charged with conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for purportedly attempting to crack a password for Chelsea Manning in 2010. The problem with trying to charge him with hacking to attain classified information, in this case, is that Manning already had access to the data through her government clearance. She was only attempting to access it from the administrator’s account on her computer so that the leaked documents would be harder to trace. His attempts to gain access to the password would’ve likely been done only to best protect his source.
Love him or hate him, Assange has been behind the release of countless government documents. Wikileaks first began in 2006 by publishing a script discussing an attempted assassination of a Somali politician. It grew in notoriety in 2007 when it released a copy of the US military’s “Standard Operating Procedures for Camp Delta” which detailed protocols at the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison. It also leaked notes from the church of Scientology, the contents of Sarah Palin’s Yahoo account, and over 400,000 files related to the Iraq War in collaboration with Chelsea Manning — the most massive leak in government history.
Potentially the most damaging release was in 2017 when Wikileaks trickled out emails and other documents from Hillary Clinton, her campaign manager John Podesta, and the Democratic National Committee. While Assange claims he is not a Russian agent, the Mueller investigation has charged several Russian nationals with hacking into the servers of the DNC, the likes of which were disseminated by Wikileaks. Assange, on many occasions, has noted his disdain for Clinton, and it’s not hard to see that the timing of these leaks coincides with critical moments in the 2016 presidential election.
While it’s likely that the Department of Justice may attempt to charge Assange with other crimes, the Obama Administration never did… but that’s not for lack of trying. Chelsea Manning is currently sitting in jail because she refused to testify in front of a grand jury about Wikileaks, stating she objects to the secretive methods of the grand jury process. Manning is to remain in jail until she testifies, or until the grand jury completes its work.
These new demands from a grand jury show that the Trump Administration is actively working to build a case against Assange. After slowly wilting in the Ecuadorian embassy for eight years one wonders how different prison would be for the politician. The extended asylum feels a bit like he delayed the inevitable. Regardless of what happens, he hasn’t made friends with either side of the American government and may face years in prison for a charge that might not even hold up in court.
Ann Lewis is an artist, activist, and writer based in Detroit. Her artwork reflects upon social and environmental justice issues.