Apr 10, 2024 - World

Biden says he's "considering" Australia's call to end prosecution of Assange

President Biden in the Oval Office on April 10.

President Biden in the Oval Office on April 10. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden said on Wednesday his administration is "considering" Australia's request for the U.S. to end its effort to prosecute Wikileaks founder Julian Assange for one of the largest classified intelligence leaks in U.S. history, according to pool reports.

Why it matters: Australia, where Assange was born, has for years called on the U.S. to drop its decades-long case against the 52-year-old, who faces life in prison if convicted.

  • Biden made the comment as he was hosting Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for a formal visit at the White House.

Context: Assange was indicted on 17 counts of espionage and one court of misusing a computer over WikiLeaks' publication of a trove of classified material almost 15 years ago about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and diplomatic cables.

  • Assange and his supporters have argued his work was protected by the First Amendment and was in the public's interest, while prosecutors have said his actions put U.S. agents' lives at risk.
  • He has been in prison in the United Kingdom since he was arrested in 2019 for breaching bail conditions for unrelated charges.

Zoom in: Assange narrowly avoided extradition from the U.K. to the U.S. late last month.

  • A U.K. court ruled Assange could appeal the extradition if the U.S. doesn't give him assurances on his First Amendment rights. As part of the ruling, the U.S. must also guarantee he won't get the death penalty.
  • The court gave the U.S. until April 16 to offer Assange those assurances.

The big picture: Australia's parliament last month approved a motion calling for Assange to be allowed to return to his home country, saying the U.S.' case against him has gone on for too long.

  • Australian officials have argued the U.S. has treated Assange harsher than it has former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who stole the documents that Wikileaks later published.
  • She was originally sentenced to 35 years in prison but her sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama, allowing her to be released in 2017.
  • Prosecutors have alleged that Assange helped Manning break a password to the U.S. military's classified internet system, which allowed Manning to obtain the documents.

Go deeper: Ex-CIA hacker who leaked secrets to WikiLeaks gets 40 years in prison

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