Justice at Last for Assange and Manning?

On Friday, Swedish prosecutors halted the investigation of rape charge against Wikileaks-founder Julian Assange. It was too difficult to proceed with the investigation as the prosecutors were not allowed to interview Assange, who took refuge to the Ecuadorian embassy in London five years ago. The incidents leading to four criminal investigations – three of lesser sexual crimes have been dropped as prosecution deadlines expired – happened during a visit by Assange to Sweden in August 2010. It was during the euphoria of Wikileaks, before the site became a funnel for Russian fake news. Julian Assange was a superstar of free speech, full of confidence and even looked like a rock star. The leak of a video of US Army helicopters firing at civilians in Baghdad made headlines and the media loved Julian Assange. In the aftermath, many have confused the man with the deed. Of course the same person can be both a voice for free speech and a rapist. Now, in the words of the alleged rape victim’s attorney Claes Borgström, Assange will not get a chance to clear his name, like a trial would have provided. Assange always said he wanted guarantees against extradition from Sweden to the US.

Since 2010, the idea of radical information freedom has been questioned. Both by the military, which has tried to silence the leaks and by the general public, which has learned the hard way about hate speech and surveillance. Assange’s problems with the law also did not help, but again: that would be confusing the individual with the cause.

Wikileaks most important source, the person who leaked the Iraq video and who may have paid a much higher price than Assange, is Chelsea Manning. She was released on Thursday, the day before Assange, having spent almost seven years in prison and in the end pardoned by former US-president Barack Obama as one of his last decisions before leaving office.

What can we learn from this story? First, things change fast. The spell of Assange’s charisma went away almost instantly with the rape charges. Second, it’s difficult to keep a secret, more than ever. That is true for all involved: Assange, Manning and the US Army. And third, maybe that justice comes in all shapes and sizes: yes, the punishment of Manning was too harsh, but the pardon made it less harsh. And while Assange will not see court over the rape charge, he has spent five years in a prison of sorts. It’s a peculiar coincidence that both Assange and Manning were cleared right after one another.