Rep. Rashida Tlaib urges fellow House members to demand DOJ drop charges against Julian Assange

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., is asking her fellow House members to sign a letter calling on the Justice Department to end its prosecution of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is accused of publishing classified documents. The letter, which was obtained by The Intercept, is currently circulating among members as they are urged to sign it and has not yet been sent to Attorney General Merrick Garland. Democratic Reps. Jamaal Bowman, N.Y., Ilhan Omar, Minn., and Cori Bush, Mo., have signed the letter. The office of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said she intends to sign the letter. “I know many of us have very strong feelings about Mr. Assange, but what we think of him and his actions is really besides the point here,” Tlaib’s letter to her colleagues reads. “The fact of the matter is that the in which Mr. Assange is being prosecuted under the notoriously undemocratic Espionage Act seriously undermines freedom of the press and the First Amendment.” The letter comes just ahead of the fourth anniversary of Assange’s April 11, 2019, detention. JULIAN ASSANGE SUPPORTERS GATHER IN LONDON FOR EXHIBITION OF LARGEST PHYSICAL SHOWING OF CLASSIFIED DOCS Assange is facing a legal battle over his potential extradition to the U.S. regarding the publication of classified materials detailing war crimes committed by the U.S. government in the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, detention camp, Iraq and Afghanistan. The materials also expose instances of the CIA engaging in torture and rendition.  If he is extradited to the U.S., Assange would face 17 charges for receiving, possessing and communicating classified information to the public under the espionage act and one charge alleging a conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. He could be sentenced to as many as 175 years in an American maximum security prison. The Wikileaks founder has been held at London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison since he was removed from the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2019 for breaching jail conditions. He had sought asylum at the embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations he raped two women. The investigations into the sexual assault allegations were eventually dropped. Tlaib’s cites last year’s open letter from the editors and publishers of U.S. and European news outlets that worked with Assange on the publication of excerpts from more than 250,000 documents he obtained in the Cablegate leak. “The New York Times, The Guardian, El Pais, Le Monde, and Der Spiegel have taken the extraordinary step of publishing a joint statement in opposition to the indictment, warning that it ‘sets a dangerous precedent, and threatens to undermine America’s First Amendment and the freedom of the press,’” Tlaib wrote to House members. NEW YORK TIMES, GUARDIAN, OTHER MEDIA OUTLETS CALL ON US TO END PROSECUTION OF JULIAN ASSANGE The congresswoman also warned that major news outlets could later be prosecuted for publishing accurate information using classified materials if the case against Assange is successful. “Mr. Assange’s prosecution marks the first time in US history that the Espionage Act has been used to indict a publisher of truthful information,” she wrote. “The prosecution of Mr. Assange, if successful, not only sets a legal precedent whereby journalists or publishers can be prosecuted, but a political one as well. In the future, the New York Times or Washington Post could be prosecuted when they publish important stories based on classified information. Or, just as dangerous, they may refrain from publishing such stories for fear of prosecution.” The Cablegate documents for which Assange is facing prosecution were leaked to WikiLeaks by then-U.S. soldier Chelsea Manning, who was convicted in 2013 of violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses. The Obama administration did not indict Assange over Wikileaks’ publication of the cables in 2010 because it would have also had to do the same to other journalists from major news outlets. But former President Trump’s Justice Department later moved to indict Assange under the Espionage Act, and the Biden administration has continued pursuing his prosecution. The U.S. government has purported that Assange’s publication of classified material put its sources and allies in danger, although this claim is without evidence. And the CIA during the Trump administration, reportedly had plans to kill Assange over the publication of sensitive agency hacking tools known as “Vault 7.” The agency said this publication represented “the largest data loss in CIA history.” According to a 2021 Yahoo report, the CIA had discussions “at the highest levels” of the Trump administration during this time about plans to assassinate Assange in London. Acting on orders from then-CIA director Mike Pompeo, the agency had drawn up kill “sketches” and “options.”  The agency had advanced plans to kidnap and rendition Assange and had made a political decision to charge him, according to the report. Many Democrats still hold a negative view of Assange over publications blamed for hurting Hillary Clinton’s presidential chances in 2016. Wikileaks had published internal communications between the Democratic National Committee and then-presidential candidate Clinton’s campaign. The communications revealed the DNC’s attempts to boost Clinton in that year’s Democratic primary.
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