On Wednesday, Julian Assange’s lawyer said the WikiLeaks founder was backing away from his offer to accept extradition to the United States if WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning went free.
Outgoing President Barack Obama did indeed commute Manning’s sentence and arrange a May release, but Julian Assange’s American lawyer, Barry Pollack, said that was not good enough.
“Mr. Assange welcomes the announcement that Ms. Manning’s sentence will be reduced and she will be released in May, but this is well short of what he sought. Mr. Assange had called for Chelsea Manning to receive clemency and be released immediately,” Pollack said.
The Hill notes WikiLeaks repeated the extradition offer on Twitter in just those words last week: “If Obama grants Manning clemency Assange will agree to US extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DOJ case.”
There was speculation that one of the reasons Obama commuted Manning’s sentence was to take Assange up on his offer, although the White House has denied this. Critics naturally accused Assange of splitting hairs by declaring the Manning deal did not meet his conditions.
On Thursday, however, Assange gave an online news conference in which he split those hairs even finer and said the Manning commutation was good enough for him. He is just going to stay put at the Ecuadoran embassy in London until Manning is actually freed.
“I stand by everything I said including the offer to go to the United States if Chelsea Manning’s sentence was commuted. It’s not going to be commuted (until) May. We can have many discussions to that point,” he said, as quoted by Reuters.
He also welcomed the early release for Manning, telling supporters their “courage and determination made the impossible possible,” according to the UK Guardian. He called Manning “a hero, whose bravery should have been applauded, not condemned.”
Adding to the confusion is that no one knows for sure if Assange actually faces charges in the United States. He’s hiding out at the Ecuadoran embassy because Sweden wants him on sexual assault charges. Assange has said he believes there are sealed indictments against him in the U.S. The only thing known for certain is that the FBI has an ongoing investigation of WikiLeaks over the publication of U.S. national security information.
“For many months, I have asked the DoJ to clarify Mr Assange’s status. I hope it will soon. The Department of Justice should not pursue any charges against Mr Assange based on his publication of truthful information and should close its criminal investigation of him immediately,” Assange’s lawyer Pollack said in a statement quoted by the Guardian.