EDITORIAL: He’s no hero, but Julian Assange’s release ends a tawdry saga

The Nightly
His lengthy incarceration has made unlikely allies of many on opposite sides of the political spectrum. 
His lengthy incarceration has made unlikely allies of many on opposite sides of the political spectrum.  Credit: AAP

Julian Assange’s expected guilty plea to charges of espionage brought against him by the US will bring an abrupt end to a legal saga that has lasted the better part of a decade and a half.

His lengthy incarceration has made unlikely allies of many on opposite sides of the political spectrum.

There were those on the left who lauded the Australian as a warrior for truth and justice, committed to exposing the misdeeds of the powerful — even the most powerful institution to ever exist, the United States Government.

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Then there were those on the right who lobbied for Assange’s freedom because they were concerned about the precedent the pursuit of espionage charges against him would set. Even if Assange himself wasn’t a journalist, what he had done in publishing information the US wanted to remain secret was not all that different to what real national security journalists do every day.

Others questioned the US’s right to pursue Assange, given he had broken no Australian laws and was not on US soil at the time of the documents’ release.

Assange is no hero. He is a reckless, attention-seeking, self-aggrandiser who willingly endangered the lives of countless Iraq and Afghan citizens who were working with coalition forces, as well as intelligence agents from nations including Australia.

Julian Assange heading to board a plane at Stansted airport, London
Julian Assange boarded a flight at Stansted Airport in he UK to head to a hearing in Saipan. Credit: AAP

Their lives, particularly those of the locally engaged employees and informants, were simply collateral damage to Wikileaks. In exposing some US abuses in those conflicts, Assange also exposed those people — among them true heroes — to the very real risk of deadly reprisal from the Taliban.

Assange’s commitment to the truth — so absolute when it relates to others — is fickle when it is his own neck on the chopping block. His seven-year-long isolation in London’s Ecuadorian embassy came as he sought to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex crime charges, which he said had been trumped up in a conspiracy to have him eventually sent to the US.

Sweden dropped those charges in 2019, despite the nation’s deputy chief prosecutor maintaining his accuser’s evidence was reliable and credible.

Assange’s refusal to cooperate with authorities means that the woman has been denied the chance to have her allegations tested in court, and for justice to be done, whichever way the outcome may have fallen.

That said, that this saga is nearing an end is welcome. It had dragged on too long. Assange has been in a maximum-security prison in the UK since April 2019. His expected release on Wednesday as part of a plea deal will reflect that there’s nothing to be gained by keeping him incarcerated any longer.

It comes after lobbying from Australian politicians, including Anthony Albanese, for a resolution to the case. That his advocacy has resulted in Joe Biden agreeing to cut Assange a deal is a significant political win for the Prime Minister, both in demonstrating his sway internationally and in appealing to the potential Greens voters who mistakenly consider Assange a hero.

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