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Julien Assange finally free

Julien Assange finally free

Shouts of “welcome home” greeted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as he stepped off a chartered plane in the Australian capital, Canberra. He was a free man, having pleaded guilty to a single US espionage charge and been sentenced to serve time already served.

The shocking scene on June 26 ended a 12-year legal ordeal that began when Assange released secret documents detailing U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, including video footage from 2007 showing a U.S. military Apache helicopter killing 12 civilians in Baghdad, including two Reuters journalists, Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen. WikiLeaks titled the video “Collateral Murder.”

After Chmagh survives the initial attack, the video shows him trying to crawl away as the helicopter flies overhead. U.S. troops open fire again when they see a van pull up to evacuate the wounded Chmagh. Soldiers chat and laugh at the carnage in their sights.

“People are going to the scene, it looks like they’re picking up bodies and weapons,” says one soldier. “Let me engage in combat. Can I shoot?” asks another. They get permission and shoot.

“There should be a van in the middle of the road with about 12 to 15 bodies,” a soldier concludes. “Oh yeah, look at that. Right through the windshield! Haha!” his colleague replies.

When Assange landed in Australia, he kissed his wife Stella and lifted her off the ground, then hugged his father as his legal team looked on. He did not speak to the media.

“Julian wanted me to thank everyone sincerely,” Stella Assange told reporters. “He wanted to be here, but you have to understand what he went through. He needs time. He needs to recover.”

Assange has spent the past five years incarcerated in London’s tough Belmarsh Prison, facing up to 175 years in the US if he is extradited and convicted of all 18 charges. Before that, he spent seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy, ​​where he was granted political asylum.

Meanwhile, the US government’s increasing use of the Espionage Act to prosecute and silence whistleblowers continues to cast a shadow over national security journalists, whose work includes what Assange was accused of: “obtaining and disseminating classified information.”

For more than a decade, press freedom groups have been part of a grassroots campaign to force successive US administrations to release Assange. Assange also published the Afghan war logs on WikiLeaks in 2010 and shared them with The Guardian, The New York Times and the German weekly Der Spiegel. The Biden administration appears to have taken the final steps of the settlement as it struggles to win over anti-war voters ahead of the November election.

“It’s important to recognize that Julian’s release and the breakthrough in the negotiations came at a time when there was a breakthrough in the legal case in the UK, in the extradition, where the Supreme Court had granted leave to appeal,” Stella Assange noted. “There was a hearing scheduled for July 9-10, an upcoming hearing where Julian would be able to make the First Amendment argument to the Supreme Court. And it’s in that context that things finally started to move. I think it showed how uncomfortable the US government actually is with these arguments being aired, because this case – the fact is that this case is an attack on journalism, it’s an attack on the public’s right to know, and it should never have been brought. Julian should never have spent a day in jail.”

Meanwhile, the US government’s increasing use of the Espionage Act to prosecute and silence whistleblowers continues to cast a shadow over national security journalists, whose work includes what Assange was accused of: “obtaining and disseminating classified information.”

“This deal means that Assange will serve five years in prison for activities that journalists engage in on a daily basis,” said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.

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