The Ecuadorian embassy in London has finally given Julian Assange the boot.
After seven years providing sanctuary to the co-creator of WikiLeaks, the notorious secret-leaking website, the government of Ecuador—and its tortured embassy staffers—gave him up. They allowed British police to remove Assange, forcibly, on Thursday morning. Now, in the custody of the UK, the polarizing malcontent awaits his fate.
There are two likely outcomes. Assange could face extradition to Sweden where prosecutors may reopen an investigation into rape allegations made against him. (Assange originally sought asylum in the embassy to avoid a transfer to Sweden, which he claimed might send him to the U.S.; there, he feared he might be put on trial for leaking state secrets.) Thence option two: Assange is sent to the United States to face justice.
With Assange’s fate hanging in the balance, supporters and critics are at loggerheads. Assange’s proponents have painted him as a free speech hero. They have cast his persecution as an affront to the First Amendment. They have even questioned whether his potential prosecution spells trouble for journalism. Ben Wizner, a director at the American Civil Liberties Union, said trying Assange “would be unprecedented and unconstitutional and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations.”
Assange’s arrest has little to do with the First Amendment. He has been charged with conspiracy to hack computers under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. That law, while certainly not perfect, is law, and Assange’s alleged actions, as described in an indictment, are in clear breach of that rule.
What separates Assange from a journalist or publisher is specific. Assange allegedly attempted to crack a “hashed” password which protected a classified Defense Department network. According to the court filing, Assange encouraged his source, Chelsea Manning, then an intelligence analyst with the U.S. Army, to steal classified information, and then he actively participated in attempts to hack deeper into U.S. systems. That is not journalism; it is, by law, criminality.
Whether one agrees with the CFAA or not, them’s the breaks. If extradited and found guilty, Assange had better be prepared to do the time. Given his years-long elective confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy, surely he has prepared well.