December 5th, 2011, 03:30 PM ET, Post by: CNN’s Ashley Fantz
In the past few days, the WikiLeaks saga has taken two sharp turns.
On Thursday, 287 documents appeared on the WikiLeaks site about the global surveillance and arms industry. The dump provided many documents to mine, and it’s still unclear what they might all mean. The Washington Post and other outlets called it a comeback for the site and for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
And on Monday, Assange won the right to fight his extradition from the United Kingdom to Sweden on sexual assault allegations. This is the latest (and last) chance Assange will get to avoid answering allegations made by two women in 2010 that he forced them to have sexual relations. Assange has not been charged with a crime. Sweden is seeking him for questioning.
Swedish officials have said that the sex crime case has nothing to do with WikiLeaks or anything published on the site, including a trove of classified American intelligence in 2010 and early 2011. But Assange has repeatedly said that he believes the Swedish case is a ruse, and that if he is extradited to Sweden he’ll be more vulnerable to extradition to the U.S., where he could be prosecuted in relation to WikiLeaks’ release of classified U.S. information.
U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-New York, has said that Assange should be prosecuted for espionage. He also has said that the U.S. should classify WikiLeaks as a terrorist group so that “we can freeze their assets.” King has called Assange an enemy combatant.
In less than two weeks, starting on December 16, the U.S. military will begin its case against Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier suspected to have leaked classified information that appeared on the WikiLeaks site. Who is Manning?
The soldier, in his early 20s, will face a military trial in Maryland on a range of charges that could send him to prison for life. It’s been more than a year since the Swedish case first hit the news.
Here’s a look at what has transpired since then.
In December 2010, Assange was detained in England on a Swedish arrest warrant. Two women were accusing Assange of sexual assault. Assange spent 10 days in jail in England (inspiring a “Saturday Night Live” spoof). He was released on $315,000 bail and placed under electronically monitored house arrest. Since that time, Assange has been living at a mansion in the British countryside, where he did an interview with “60 Minutes” in September.
In February, a British court ordered Assange extradited to Sweden for questioning in relation to the sexual assault allegations. He appealed, while his lawyers publicly challenged Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny to go to London to defend her handling of the case against Assange. “Today, we have seen a Hamlet without the princess – a prosecutor who has been ready to feed the media within information, but has been unwilling to come here,” Assange attorney Mark Stephens told reporters outside a south London courtroom.
In November, an appeals court denied his appeal against extradition. The decision sparked different reactions from key WikiLeaks players. It left Assange with one last option: Great Britain’s Supreme Court.
On December 5, Assange got approval from the British courts to proceed with an appeal to the highest court.
Assange addressed reporters Monday, saying that his case will benefit other cases involving extradition.
“The long struggle for justice for me and others continues,” he said.
In 2010 WikiLeaks posted 77,000 classified Pentagon documents about the Afghanistan war and 391,832 secret documents on the Iraq war. It also published a quarter million diplomatic cables — daily written correspondence between the State Department’s 270 American outposts around the globe. The cables were released in batches for several months, until September of this year when they were released in total. U.S. officials called the release of the cables “dangerous” and “illegal.”
An unauthorized biography of Assange, which he has fiercely criticized, was also released in September. According to several reports, British newspaper The Independent published what it said were portions of the book. In one section of the book, Assange is quoted as saying, “I did not rape those women.”
Since Assange’s Swedish case began, WikiLeaks has struggled. The website, launched in 2006, has had financial problems. In October, Assange said that it would stop publishing until the group could raise more money. In February, former WikiLeaks spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg released a tell-all book about what it was like to work with Assange and for WikiLeaks. He blasted Assange, calling him a “paranoid, power-hungry, meglomaniac.” Several articles, from CNN.com to the New York Times, have wondered whether Assange’s legal problems and WikiLeaks’ internal strife would kill the site. Perhaps reports of WikiLeaks’ demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Last week’s new release, which WikiLeaks is calling “The Spy Files,” could mean that the site is far from doomed.
A few days before The Spy Files hit, on November 28, Assange addressed journalists at a News World Summit in Hong Kong via a video link from England. For at least 30 minutes he went on a rant criticizing Washington, mainstream media, banks and others, while accepting an award from a noted journalism group, the Walkley Foundation of Australia.
CNN.com was at the event.
Among other statements in his acceptance speech, Assange said a federal grand jury in Washington is investigating WikiLeaks and that people and companies around the world have been or are being coerced to testify against WikiLeaks. He accused banks of blockading WikiLeaks. He also said that journalists have become ladder climbers and must be held to greater account, and that there is a “new McCarthyism” in the United States. Assange vowed that WikiLeaks’ next “battle” would be to make sure governments and corporations cannot use the Web as a surveillance tool.