National Security

Assange to seek US presidential pardon

June 28, 2024

Friday 28 June 2024
Dana Daniel
The Canberra TImes

 AFTER securing Julian Assange's freedom, his supporters have launched the  next stage of a campaign to enable the WikiLeaks founder to fully embrace  civilian life.
 A pardon from the United States President is the final prize sought on behalf  of Mr Assange, who returned to Australia after a 14-year legal saga as a  convicted spy.
 Fronting the media on Thursday, flanked by members of the Bring Julian  Assange Home Parliamentary Group, Stella Assange said her husband had  effectively pleaded guilty "to journalism" rather than espionage.
 But the US Justice Department has said in a statement that, unlike news  organizations, WikiLeaks had published classified documents without removing  identifying information, creating "a grave and imminent risk to human  life".
 A spokeswoman for the US embassy declined to comment when asked if Mr Assange  or his lawyers had sought a meeting with officials in Canberra.
 Asked about the campaign for a presidential pardon, Mr Assange's US lawyer,  Barry J Pollack, said he hoped, in time, "the same support that he  received when he was in prison will again gather steam".
 "The President of the United States has absolute pardon power," Mr  Pollack told reporters in Parliament House.
 "President Biden, or any subsequent president, absolutely can - and, in  my mind, should - issue a pardon to Julian Assange."
 He said there was "no evidence that any harm has befallen any individual  anywhere in the world as a result of Mr Assange's publications".
 Mr Assange was convicted of conspiracy to obtain and disclose national  defence information under the US Espionage Act on Wednesday, after pleading  guilty in a deal that sentenced him to time served.
 His wife would not be drawn on whether, if he was given access to classified  documents again in future, Mr Assange would "do it all again".
 "Julian just got back from a 72-hour-long flight to freedom and five  years of incarceration in a high-security prison and seven years before that  arbitrarily detained in the Ecuadorian embassy," she said.
 "He needs time to rest and recover and he is just rediscovering normal  life."
 Ms Assange met with Foreign Minister Penny Wong on Thursday morning, when she  had been expected to raise her wish for Mr Assange to be pardoned.
 Asked about the meeting, Senator Wong told reporters it had been "a  private conversation" and was tight-lipped on the question of a  presidential pardon.
 "That is a matter for Mr Assange and his legal team, and the decision on  that is a matter for the United States," she said.
 Earlier, the minister told Channel 7's Sunrise when asked if the Albanese  government would support the push for a pardon: "We would respect US  processes".
 She told the ABC that while freedom of the press was "a key principle of  our democracy", so too was the protection of national security  information.
 In a post on X on Wednesday afternoon, US ambassador to Australia Caroline  Kennedy expressed gratitude to the Australian government for "their  commitment and assistance in this process".
 "The return of Julian Assange to Australia brings this long-standing and  difficult case to a close," the statement said.
 Mr Assange flew into Canberra on a charter flight accompanied by US  ambassador Kevin Rudd and UK high commissioner Stephen Smith, who were  instrumental in securing his freedom along with Prime Minister Anthony  Albanese and Senator Wong.
 The WikiLeaks founder entered a plea deal with the US Department of Justice  at hearing on the Pacific island Saipan on Wednesday, with Mr Rudd by his  side, after seven years holed up in London's Ecuadorian embassy and five  years in Belmarsh Prison in the UK.
 On Thursday evening, Mr Rudd appeared on the ABC and spoke with reporters in  the press gallery.
 He made no mention of any discussion about a presidential pardon.
 Asked by ABC host David Speers if he had "a good chat" with Mr  Assange on the flight to Canberra, Mr Rudd said: "Well, on an aircraft  such as that, you're not gonna sit quietly in the corner and do the cryptic  crossword."
 Later, Mr Rudd told reporters when asked if the Australian government had  overstepped given Mr Assange's polarising reputation that his assistance was  simply a matter of consular assistance.
 "It doesn't matter which Australian citizen finds themselves in  difficulty abroad, the responsibility of any Australian government is to deal  with it as a consular case," he said.
 "That's what we've been doing. Same thing about [Australian journalist]  Cheng Lei, same thing about others. Each of the circumstances are different.
 "But as I said, just you never know when someone is going to, a friend  of yours, a relative, is going to end up in a pickle somewhere in the  world."
 Opposition Home Affairs spokesperson James Paterson said while the Coalition  "has welcomed his decision to plead guilty so that he can be  released", Mr Assange was not an innocent man.
 Senator Paterson said the "very serious national security offences"  Mr Assange had pleaded guilty to "are not just offences against the  United States".
 He said it was "a mistake ... to make comparisons between Julian Assange  and Cheng Lei, Sean Turnell and Kylie Moore-Gilbert."
 "These were Australians who were innocent, who were persecuted for other  reasons by authoritarian powers ... That is very different to what Mr Assange  has done," he told Sky.
 "They're offences against the Five Eyes intelligence gathering alliance,  including Australia, because they put the sources of that alliance at grave  risk."
 Earlier, Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesperson Simon Birmingham said there  would be "many Americans who think that it's inappropriate for the  Australian Prime Minister to provide that type of homecoming welcome to  Julian Assange".
 Mr Pollack was asked about a clause in Mr Assange's plea deal requiring him  to instruct the editor of WikiLeaks to destroy any classified US information  still in its possession.
 "The materials that we are talking about are now more than a decade  old," he said.
 Nonetheless, he said, Mr Assange had complied with the clause.

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