Assange breathes free air but rumours of US legal bid persist

Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks
Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks

By Ian Dunt

Julian Assange enjoyed his first night's sleep outside of a jail cell last night, as rumours of US indictment reached fever pitch.

Reports suggest that US authorities are offering Bradley Manning, the soldier allegedly responsible for passing on confidential information to Mr Assange, a plea bargain if he names the Australian as a fellow conspirator.

"We have heard today from one of my US lawyers that there may be a US indictment for espionage for me coming from a secret grand jury investigation," the Wikileaks founder told Sky News.

"There are obviously serious attempts to take down the content by taking us down as an organisation and taking me down as an individual."

Further rumours suggest that a grand jury has been secretly assembled in Virginia to consider an indictment.

It is thought that authorities would struggle to extend the use of the Espionage Act 1917 or the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act 1986 from Pte Manning to Mr Assange, as it would come up against the firmly entrenched rights to free speech in the US Constitution.

Without any evidence of him having instigated Pte Manning's activities, Mr Assange would be under a similar legal category as the New York Times, experts say. The thought of a legal fight with the newspaper would be unthinkable for the White House.

Mr Assange appears to believe that the Swedish sexual coercion case is connected to US efforts to have him indicted, although observers point out that it would be easier to extradite him to the US from Britain than it would from Sweden.

"My feeling is in fact that there's a number of different interests - personal, domestic and international - that are all feeding from this process and encouraging it and pushing it along," Mr Assange told Newsnight.

"But it is revealing some important things. It's revealing some disturbing aspects of Europe.

"For example, that any person in any European country can be extradited to any other European country without the provision of any evidence whatsoever."

The transparency campaigner promised that Wikileaks revelations would not step up following his arrest.

"Now that I am back to assist the directing of our ship, our work will proceed in a faster manner," he continued.

"But as we have seen with my absence, things are well set up to proceed even without my direct involvement."

Mr Assange is staying with Vaughan Smith, owner of the war reporters' Frontline Club in London, where the Wikileaks founder stayed before handing himself in to police.


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