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Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange Pleads Guilty, Set to Return Home to Australia

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LONDON, UK – Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information, concluding a protracted legal battle and enabling him to return home to Australia for the first time since 2012.

According to The Associated Press, Assange entered his plea Wednesday morning, June 16, 2024, at a court in the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth north of Guam.

WikiLeaks announced that Assange is expected to fly to Australia, where he was born and holds citizenship.

Assange, known for publishing a vast array of classified documents that embarrassed multiple governments and allegedly threatened U.S. national security, reached a plea deal resulting in a 62-month sentence, time he has already served.

“I believe the First Amendment and the Espionage Act are in contradiction with each other, but I accept that it would be difficult to win such a case given all these circumstances,” Assange stated in court.

Assange did not respond to reporters’ questions as he entered and exited the courthouse.

The Justice Department has maintained that Assange and WikiLeaks endangered the lives of individuals aiding the U.S. through their leaks.

Barry Pollack, Assange’s U.S. attorney, criticized the prosecution as “unprecedented” under the Espionage Act.

“Mr. Assange revealed truthful, important, and newsworthy information, including revealing that the United States had committed war crimes,” Pollack said outside the court. “Assange should never have been charged.”

Assange and WikiLeaks are infamous for leaking classified U.S. military documents and videos, including a notorious Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad that resulted in civilian casualties.

The website also released 250,000 State Department diplomatic cables and, in 2016, stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s aide John Podesta.

In 2019, Assange was arrested in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London after seeking asylum there for years to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges.

He spent five years in high-security Belmarsh Prison in east London while contesting extradition to the U.S.

The Justice Department accused Assange of conspiring with former military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to obtain confidential documents.

The leaks included reports on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, State Department cables, and briefs on detainees at Guantánamo Bay.

In a 2019 superseding indictment, the Justice Department called Assange’s actions “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States,” emphasizing that the release of unredacted information put lives at risk.

“Assange’s decision to reveal the names of human sources illegally shared with him by Manning created a grave and imminent risk to human life,” the Justice Department stated after the guilty plea.

Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison, but her sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama in 2017. In 2019, her refusal to cooperate with a grand jury led to almost a year of contempt imprisonment.

Despite Assange’s plea, his wife and lawyer, Stella Assange, plans to seek a full pardon, arguing it is crucial for journalistic integrity.

“The fact that there is a guilty plea under the Espionage Act in relation to obtaining and disclosing national defense information is obviously a very serious concern for journalists and national security journalists in general,” she said.

She also mentioned the need to raise funds to repay the Australian government for Assange’s travel expenses. The couple has two children, born while Assange was in the Ecuadorian Embassy.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese expressed his support for Assange’s return, stating, “Regardless of the views that people have about Mr. Assange’s activities, the case has dragged on for too long. There is nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration, and we want him brought home to Australia.”

WikiLeaks indicated on X that Assange would take a flight from Saipan to Canberra, Australia.

As part of his plea deal, Assange is barred from returning to the U.S. without permission, according to the Justice Department.

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