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WikiLeaks Assange still at embassy in London; U.S. soldier awaits trial

By NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International   |   Dec. 25, 2012 at 4:01 AM   |   Comments

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It was a story that spanned three continents and an ocean and remains unresolved as 2012 draws to a close. And the multifaceted storyline involving the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks doesn't show signs of abating any time soon.

WikiLeaks burst into the headlines in 2010 after it published hundreds of thousands of confidential and sensitive U.S. military and diplomatic communications and documents.

Its founder, Australian Julian Assange, was thrust into the spotlight as well after two Swedish women accused him of sexual assault, which he denied. Swedish prosecutors said they wanted to question Assange in the matter; he said he feared Sweden would turn him over to the United States for prosecution if he returned to the Scandinavian country.

After a months-long appeal, Assange, 41, lost his battle against extradition.

In June, he fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and has been holed up there since.

Now, however, his health is being affected, Ecuadorian officials said. The country's ambassador to Britain, Ana Alban, said Assange was suffering from living "in a confined space," the BBC recently reported.

When Ecuadorian officials previously sought assurances Assange would not be arrested if he were hospitalized, British officials had said they wouldn't prevent "any medical care that he requires."

When Assange first fled to the embassy, an international incident was brewing between Britain and Ecuador, with Britain reportedly threatening to yank Ecuador's diplomatic status under the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act of 1987.

And while the offer of asylum is out there, Assange can't leave the embassy compound for the airport because Britain has refused to give him safe passage, The Guardian said.

Assange, 41, who was granted asylum by Ecuador in August, violated terms of his bail by staying at the diplomatic compound and faces arrest if he leaves the premises.

Across the Atlantic, the military trial of U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, accused of providing sensitive documents to WikiLeaks, could begin early next year. The judge is to decide by Jan. 16 whether to recommend a court-martial.

During a recent pretrial hearing at Fort Meade, Md., military prosecutor Joe Morrow said the U.S. government will prove at Manning's court-martial in the WikiLeaks case he knowingly helped the enemy.

Morrow said prosecutors would show Manning, now 25, knowingly "aided the enemy" when he transferred hundreds of thousands of sensitive U.S. diplomatic cables and other documents WikiLeaks.

"Manning had a key to the house, but he used a bulldozer to access the information, thus exceeding his authorized access," Morrow said during one hearing.

Manning faces 22 charges that include aiding the enemy, violating the Espionage Act, exceeding access to his computer, stealing documents, and conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline in the armed forces for providing sensitive information to the whistle-blowing website.

Manning has been in military detention for more than two years since his arrest at Forward Operating Base Hammer outside Baghdad.

Manning attorney David Coombs has accused his client's jailers of treating Manning harshly while he was incarcerated at the Marine Corps' detention facility in Quantico, Va., by putting him on unnecessary suicide watches, stripping him, not allowing him to rest during the day and maintaining a well-check schedule that was disruptive.

Officials said they took the measures to protect Manning but his lawyers said the brig staff defied a clinical diagnosis and treated him punitively.

Manning was transferred to a medium-security facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., in April 2011. He declined to enter a plea when arraigned at Fort Meade in February 2012.

If Col. Denise Lind finds Manning was subjected to "unlawful pretrial punishment," the military judge can reduce or reject the charges against him.

In November, Lind approved a deal in which Manning would plead guilty to lesser charges, The Washington Post reported. Her ruling leaves open the question of whether Manning will be court-martialed on more serious charges, including violating the Espionage Act and aiding the enemy.

The agreement calls for Manning to accept responsibility for having turned over classified information to WikiLeaks.

If Manning accepts the terms of the agreement, he could be sentenced to 16 years in prison, the Post reported. Legal analysts say the more serious charges would be difficult to prove.

Manning supporters have praised him for exposing military and diplomatic malfeasance. Readers of the British newspaper The Guardian voted him "Person of the Year."

In a rare public appearance after he fled to the embassy, Assange told a group of supporters, "The U.S. war on whistle-blowers must end. ... As WikiLeaks stands under threat, so does the freedom of expression and the health of all our societies."

Assange also called on the United States to release Manning.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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