Assange Reprieve and Why the Biden Administration Should Negotiate a Plea Deal

The recent decision of the High Court of Justice in London to grant WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange a possible reprieve from extradition to the United States was a surprising development in the ongoing legal proceedings. After presiding over an extradition hearing that revealed startling new information about the Obama administration's efforts to charge Assange, the court gave him a significant shot at averting extradition.

The court, however, did not rule out the possibility of granting him permission to appeal the extradition order, subject to assurances from the United States that Assange would not be denied freedom of speech or receive the death penalty. This decision creates a potentially appealing opportunity for both sides to end their long-standing legal battle.

While the Biden administration's Department of Justice (DOJ) is unlikely to be able to satisfy the court's conditions, appealing the case will take a year or more. The Biden administration could avoid potential humiliation and prevent Assange from filing an appeal by negotiating a plea deal with Assange. Moreover, there are good reasons for the administration to pursue such a course.

First, avoiding a First Amendment catastrophe is a top priority for the Biden administration. The prosecution of Assange under the Espionage Act marks the first time a publisher of truthful information has been charged. If the prosecution is successful, it will set a dangerous precedent and may lead to journalists refraining from publishing important stories for fear of prosecution.

Second, the case is pretty weak. The government's argument that Assange conspired with Chelsea Manning to hack military computers is rooted largely in a few offhand remarks in chat logs between the two. Moreover, Manning had authorized access to the documents she leaked.

Third, dropping the Espionage Act charges would be consistent with Obama-era policy not to indict journalists for publishing classified information.

Fourth, Assange deserves credit for the time he has already served. Being imprisoned for fourteen years, seven of which were spent in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, is sufficient punishment.

Fifth, resolving the case would boost the administration's political image and enhance its tarnished human rights reputation.

In conclusion, whether the decision to negotiate is driven by politics, morality, or law, a deal to release Assange is the right move to make and now is the right time to make it.

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