Now that President Barack Obama has commuted much of whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s prison sentence, will Wikileaks founder Julian Assange follow through on his promise to accept extradition to the US?
On Tuesday, Obama announced that he was granting clemency to Manning, along with 208 other people.
The former US Army intelligence analyst will be freed on May 17, rather than in 2045 as originally intended by his conviction under the Espionage Act.
Five days before, Wikileaks tweeted that Assange was willing to make a deal if Manning was granted clemency.
Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012.
The Australian has previously fought extradition to Sweden over accusations of rape, which he denies.
If Obama grants Manning clemency Assange will agree to US extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ case https://t.co/MZU30SlfGK
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) January 12, 2017
He has claimed the Swedish effort is a way to have him transferred to the US, which, as of May 2016, was actively investigating WikiLeaks’ activities.
WikiLeaks and Assange released a statement in reaction to the announcement by the Obama administration, thanking “everyone who campaigned for Chelsea Manning’s clemency.”
Assange: "Thank you to everyone who campaigned for Chelsea Manning's clemency. Your courage & determination made the impossible possible."
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) January 17, 2017
“Your courage & determination made the impossible possible,” WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange tweeted.
“Ms. Manning is a hero, whose bravery should be applauded,” Assange said in the statement.
“Journalists, publishers, and their sources serve the public interest and promote democracy by distributing authentic information on key matters such as human rights abuses and illegal acts by government officials. They should not be prosecuted.”
Assange urged Washington to “immediately end” its war on “whistleblowers and publishers, such as WikiLeaks and myself.”
Although Assange did not immediately specify whether or not he will honor his promise and risk potential extradition to the US, where he could face possible espionage charges, his lawyer Melinda Taylor confirmed that “everything that he has said he’s standing by.”
— Melinda Taylor (@theMTchair) January 18, 2017
The US authorities consistently affirmed there is an ongoing national security prosecution against Assange, but refused to confirm or deny whether they had sent an extradition request, she added.
Meanwhile the UK also refuses to affirm or deny that they have received an extradition call, which is “not the same thing as there being no extradition request.”
Some believe the move to free Manning could serve as a trap to lure Assange out of the safety of the Ecuadorian compound in London.
The US State Department’s spokesman, John Kirby said Tuesday that Washington used a variety of channels over the years to remind the international community about the “harm that continues to come from the information that Wikileaks obtains and Wikileaks then publishes” to US security interests.
Kirby called Wikileaks activities a “problem”.
“You can safely assume that on many levels here at the State Department, and I would venture to say across the interagency, there are constant ongoing discussions about…the harm that continues to come from the information that this organization gets and then publishes.”
“It is not that we aren’t frustrated by the ability of this organization to leak harmful information, information that not only hurts our national security interests, but in some cases the national security interests of our allies, friends, and partners,” Kirby explained.
It is highly unlikely that Assange will pack his bags and leave London while Barack Obama is still in office. Assange’s fate will most likely be decided during the term of Donald Trump who will become the 45th US president on January 20.
Trump has expressed skepticism over allegations that the Russian government was somehow involved in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee servers and the private email of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and passing info to the WikiLeaks.
Assange criticized the US intelligence community saying that “any 14-year-old” could have been the hacker. Both Trump’s and Assange’s rejection of “Moscow’s hand” claims infuriated the White House, which urged Trump and his administration to choose sides.
“On one side you’ve got the men and women of the intelligence community. You’ve got Democrats in Congress, you’ve got Republicans in Congress, who are concerned deeply about the way that the Russian apparatus sought to call into question legitimacy and stability of our democracy,” Josh Earnest, White House spokesman said Tuesday.
“On the other side, you’ve got WikiLeaks and the Russians. And the incoming administration is going to have to decide which side they are going to come down on.”