Julian Assange’s strange seven-year residence in Ecuador’s London embassy has ended, and Assange, thanks to the American president he helped elect, is now in British custody facing a US extradition request. The question now is what the freshly unsealed Trump Justice Department indictment against him means, and doesn’t mean—for Assange, for the British courts, which must decide whether to hand him over, and for American press freedom.
Compared with the worst that Assange and his supporters have always feared—black-hooded rendition, indictment under the Espionage Act, the death penalty—the indictment, filed under seal in 2017, may seem like good news. It’s brief—six pages. He is accused of conspiring with Chelsea Manning to hack one password on a classified government database. There’s no criminal allegation of spying, nothing touching Russia or the DNC, no broader list of WikiLeaks co-conspirators. As for punishment, while hacking a government password is a felony, the charge carries a maximum prison term of five years—less time than Assange’s voluntary confinement in his diplomatic London quarters.