Julian Assange Should Not Be Pardoned

COMMENTARY Crime and Justice

Julian Assange Should Not Be Pardoned

Dec 18, 2020 5 min read

Commentary By

Charles “Cully” Stimson @cullystimson

Senior Legal Fellow and Deputy Director, Meese Center

David R. Shedd

Former Visiting Fellow

Klon Kitchen

Former Director, Center for Technology Policy

John Malcolm @malcolm_john

Vice President, Institute for Constitutional Government

A supporter of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange outside the Central Criminal Court as Julian Assange appears in court for full extradition hearing in London on September 7, 2020. Anadolu Agency / Contributor / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

There are some who are urging President Donald Trump to issue a pardon to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.

Suppression of speech, in a free society, is wrong. But Assange is not a free-speech hero. 

To put it bluntly: Julian Assange deserves to face the full legal consequences of his actions and, under no circumstances, deserves to be pardoned.

Every year at this time, presidents issue pardons, and some of the most controversial pardons have been issued when they are leaving office.

For example, President Bill Clinton pardoned Marc Rich, a fugitive from justice who was facing 51 counts of tax fraud and was alleged to have owed $48 million to the IRS. Rich’s former wife, who urged Clinton to issue this pardon, was a substantial contributor to the Clinton Library and to Hillary Clinton’s senatorial campaign.

Clinton also pardoned Susan McDougal for her role in the Whitewater scandal, and commuted the sentences of 15 members of the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Puertorriqueno, a Puerto Rican terrorist organization that set off 120 bombs in New York, Chicago, and elsewhere.  It was rumored that this was also done to help Hillary Clinton’s New York Senate campaign.

As he was leaving office, President Barack Obama granted clemency to Chelsea Manning, who, as discussed below, did incalculable damage to the nation by providing highly classified information to Wikileaks, at the request of Julian Assange. 

Obama also commuted the sentence of Oscar Lopez Rivera, another Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Puertorriqueno member who had refused to accept clemency from Clinton in 1999 because it was conditioned on his renunciation of the use or threat of violence to achieve the that organization’s political objectives. Obama imposed no such condition on Rivera in 2017

This year, there are some who are urging President Donald Trump to issue a pardon to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. Among the people supporting a pardon for Assange are the usual array of Hollywood celebrities and liberal activists—Oliver Stone, Pamela Anderson, Michael Moore, Daniel Ellsburg, Noam Chomsky, among others—and Edward Snowden.

Actually, the fact that Snowden, who leaked highly classified material from the National Security Agency in 2013 and subsequently fled to Russia (with, according to the government, the assistance of Assange and others at WikiLeaks), is supporting a pardon for Assange tells you just about everything you need to know.

Assange is an enemy of the United States who, among other things, deliberately recruited an American soldier to illegally disclose national security secrets and who then released those secrets to the public. Assange is also the creator and manager of a website—Wikileaks—dedicated to repeating this crime over and over again.

A formal government review of Assange’s actions and of their consequences found the following:

  • Multiple lives were lost and others were put at risk.
  • U.S. diplomatic relations were severely harmed.
  • Foreign militaries changed their tactics and procedures—making them more difficult to predict and counter.
  • Key intelligence sources and methods were lost or disrupted.
  • Tens of millions of taxpayer funds were wasted responding to or mitigating the threat posed by these illegal disclosures.

Recall that in April 2019, the United States Department of Justice issued a press release announcing the indictment (which was superseded in June, accompanied by a new press release) against Assange, and indicating their intent to seek his extradition so that he would have to answer for the charges. 

As we wrote here, the charge relates to Assange’s alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.” Unlike other journalists, Assange was not simply a passive recipient of classified information that was obtained by some would-be government whistleblower. Assange, a self-proclaimed “famous teenage hacker in Australia,” has a long history of actively encouraging and recruiting individuals to hack into non-public systems to obtain sensitive classified information, often telling those individuals how to exploit system vulnerabilities and providing those individuals with a list of targets. 

Assange was not subtle about this, publishing a “Most Wanted Leaks” list on the WikiLeaks website, something no legitimate journalist would do. Unfortunately, many, including Chelsea Manning, responded.

According to the superseding indictment, Assange engaged in a conspiracy with Manning, “a former intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, to assist Manning in cracking a password stored on U.S. Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIPRNet), a U.S. government network used for classified documents and communications.” 

The superseding indictment also alleges that “between… January 2010 and May 2010… Manning downloaded four nearly complete databases from departments and agencies of the United States. These databases contained approximately 90,000 Afghanistan war-related significant activity reports, 400,000 Iraq war-related significant activity reports, 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, and 250,000 U.S. Department of State cables.” Manning was convicted at a court-martial for her conduct.

Manning did not act alone. The indictment alleges that Assange tried to help Manning crack a password system that would enable Manning to obtain the information Assange wanted. As the indictment states: “Had Assange and Manning successfully cracked the encrypted password hash, Manning may have been able to log onto computers under a username that did not belong to Manning. Such a measure would have made it more difficult for investigators to identify Manning as the source of unauthorized disclosures of classified information.”

Moreover, it is alleged that Assange had ongoing conversations with Manning, describing the types of documents he wanted Manning to obtain and encouraging him to keep looking for documents to steal by, among other things, telling Manning that “curious eyes never run dry in my experience.” 

A legitimate journalist? A passive recipient of classified information? Hardly.

Even the Washington Post, a recipient and publisher of some of Wikileaks material, editorialized that Assange is “not a free-press hero.” 

According to the Post, “contrary to the norms of journalism… Assange sometimes obtained such records unethically—Including… by trying to help now-former… soldier Manning hack into a classified U.S. computer system.” 

Rebutting the notion that Wikileaks is a journalist, the Post went on to say: “Unlike real journalists, Wikileaks dumped material into the public domain without any effort independently to verify its factuality or give named individuals an opportunity to comment.” 

We support a free and open press. We have defended every right under the First Amendment, and will continue to do so. Suppression of speech, in a free society, is wrong. But Assange is not a free-speech hero. 

To put it bluntly: Julian Assange deserves to face the full legal consequences of his actions and, under no circumstances, deserves to be pardoned. Granting any form of leniency to Assange would not only be a grave insult to the families of  those who died as a direct consequence of his actions, but it would also invite more illegal disclosures that would further erode American security and strength.

If Trump is seriously considering pardoning Julian Assange, we would strongly urge him to reconsider.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal