Biden Considers Australia’s Request to Drop Assange Extradition

President Joe Biden told reporters on Wednesday that he was considering a request made by the government of Australia to drop the extradition case against Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks who is currently imprisoned in the U.K. 

“We’re considering it,” Biden said after a reporter asked him where he stands in regards to Australia’s request. 

“Mr. Assange has already paid a significant price and enough is enough. There is nothing to be gained by Mr. Assange’s continued incarceration,” Anthony Albanese, the current Prime Minister of Australia, told. Assange is an Australian citizen, and in February, calling for his release.  

Assange was arrested in London on April 11, 2019—exactly five years ago on Thursday—for failing to appear in court after his Ecuadorian asylum status was revoked. Since then, the U.S. government has requested that the British government extradite him to the U.S., where he would face charges under the Espionage Act. Assange helped obtain and publish thousands of confidential U.S. military documents related to the Iraq war, which the U.S. says endangered its national defense. Assange’s defense argues that publishing the documents helped serve the public interest because they exposed war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan that were previously unknown to the American public.

In 2021, a Justice Department spokesman under the Biden Administration had said that it would continue to pursue extradition, .

If Biden goes through with Australia’s request, it would indicate a dramatic reversal of policy, says Professor Charlie Beckett, a professor of media studies at the London School of Economics and the author of the book WikiLeaks: News in the Networked Era. 

“Him even considering it is an absolutely fascinating change of tone,” says Beckett. When Assange was arrested, many prominent Democrats initially pressed for his extradition. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Assange should “answer for what he has done” while Chuck Schumer, the current Senate Majority leader tweeted that he hoped Assange would “soon be held to account for his meddling in our elections on behalf of Putin and the Russian government.”

However, increasingly, progressive groups have pushed for Assange’s release, saying that to prosecute the man would be a violation of his freedom of speech as a journalist. “The indictment of Mr. Assange threatens press freedom because much of the conduct described in the indictment is conduct that journalists engage in routinely—and that they must engage in in order to do the work the public needs them to do,” Human Rights Watch . 

So far, Assange has yet to be extradited because he has appealed his case numerous times to British courts. Last month, that the U.S. cannot extradite Assange unless it can guarantee that Assange will be provided with First Amendment rights, will not be prejudiced due to his nationality, and will not receive the death penalty. If the U.S. is able to prove that it can meet these three criteria then Assange may be extradited within this year. 

Assange has spent approximately 12 years in some form of confinement, seven in the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he was granted asylum, and another five in a London prison trying to avoid extradition via appeals cases. His co-conspirator, former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, spent seven years in an American prison but was released in May 2017 after her sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama. 

“​​The irony is that it’s possible.. that had he come to the U.S. and had he been convicted he may have already served a sentence and he may already be freed,” says Ross. “But because of his self-isolation and his fighting the extradition now he is still at the point where he has to come back and face the charges.”