Trumpist Republicans, left-wing Democrats unite to lobby to free Assange11/15/2023
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A bipartisan group of US congresspeople has written to US President Joe Biden warning that he risks damaging the US-Australia alliance and weakening press freedom unless his administration abandons its pursuit of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
In a letter sent to Biden on November 8, the 16 Democratic and Republican members of Congress call for the president to withdraw the US extradition request against Assange and to drop all prosecutorial proceedings against him as soon as possible.
Julian Assange’s allies from the far-right and far-left of American politics.Credit: Nathan Perri
The eclectic group of signatories includes left-wing champion Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and chair of the Democratic progressive caucus Pramila Jayapal, as well as libertarian Republican senator Rand Paul and pro-Trump congresswoman Marjorie Taylor-Greene.
Assange’s supporters believe his case has reached a crunch point, with his legal avenues to avoid extradition from the United Kingdom set to run out and the US about to enter a presidential election year that could see Donald Trump return to the White House.
“The clock is really ticking now,” said Assange’s brother Gabriel Shipton, who helped organise the signatures during a recent trip to Washington.
The US is seeking to extradite Assange from London’s Belmarsh prison to face 17 counts of breaching the US Espionage Act plus a separate hacking-related charge. Ten Democrats and six Republicans signed the letter, which was also sent to US Attorney-General Merrick Garland.
“The United States must not pursue an unnecessary prosecution that risks criminalising common journalistic practices and thus chilling the work of the free press,” the members of Congress write.
“We urge you to ensure that this case be brought to a close in as timely a manner as possible.”
In the letter, the members of Congress say they are “well aware that should the US extradition and prosecution go forward, there is a significant risk that our bilateral relationship with Australia will be badly damaged”.
“We believe the Department of Justice acted correctly in 2013, during your vice presidency, when it declined to pursue charges against Mr Assange for publishing the classified documents because it recognised that the prosecution would set a dangerous precedent,” the letter states.
“We note that the 1917 Espionage Act was ostensibly intended to punish and imprison government employees and contractors for providing or selling state secrets to enemy governments, not to punish journalists and whistleblowers for attempting to inform the public about serious issues that some US government officials might prefer to keep secret.”
The signatures were gathered during Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s trip to Washington at the end of October, where he raised the Assange issue in a meeting with Biden and repeated his call for the president to bring the matter to a close.
A bipartisan delegation of Australian politicians, including Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce and independent MP Monique Ryan, travelled to Washington in September to raise the profile of Assange’s case in the US capital.
Shipton said it was an impressive feat to gain 16 signatures at a time when Congress was focused on the appointment of a new House of Representatives Speaker and Israel’s war against Hamas.
Albanese raised Assange’s case during his October trip to Washington.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen/AP
He noted the ideological diversity of those who signed the letter, saying there were few other issues they would agree on.
Taylor-Greene this week led efforts to censure another signatory, Palestinian-American Democratic congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, for Tlaib’s comments about the Israel-Hamas war.
The fact the congresspeople had written directly to Biden showed that Assange’s case was a political and diplomatic issue rather than a purely legal matter for Department of Justice prosecutors, despite repeated Biden administration claims to the contrary, Shipton said.
He called for Albanese to be more vocal in his advocacy for Assange, saying: “American congresspeople are willing to address the president directly, formally and publicly by asking him to drop the prosecution.
“So should the prime minister.”
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