The announcement of what could be Julian Assange’s final hearings – on 20 and 21 February before the British High Court – has sparked a flurry of speculation about what could be the final fate of the now 52-year-old Australian journalist and publisher, who has been imprisoned in London for four years while awaiting extradition to the United States where 175 years of supermax almost certainly await him.

This coming 20 and 21 February 2024 could be our last chance to stop his extradition, exclaimed Stella Assange on Substack, adding: “So please gather on both days outside the courthouse at 8.30am. It’s now or never.” 

But how is it possible that Assange can be jailed for 175 years, just for doing what any responsible journalist and editor should always do – that is, disclose war crimes and other wrongdoings he or she learns about by way of spontaneous witnesses?  Especially since the US Supreme Court ruled in 1971 that it is permissible to reveal state secrets if it is in the public interest to do so?

All this is possible because, in 2019, the Trump administration wanted to set a precedent, in defiance of the Supreme Court’s ruling, precisely to be able to imprison any journalist who, in any country in the world, reveals embarrassing secrets about the US administration.  If that sounds like the end of investigative journalism, it’s because it is: “journalists are the enemies of the people”, Trump often repeated.  This is why major national and international journalists’ associations have issued documents calling for Julian Assange’s freedom precisely to protect freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

But let us consider what could be Julian Assange’s final fate as will be determined by the London High Court ruling scheduled for 20-21 February?  The following are three hypotheses, starting with the most pessimistic and ending with the most optimistic.

1. EXTRADITION.  The Court could dismiss Julian’s request – that of being able to appeal against the High Court ruling of 6/6/2023 that confirmed the extradition order.  In that case, having exhausted all avenues of appeal in the UK, Julian could be sent the next day to the United States where a trial awaits him with an outcome that is surely already written.

Of course, at least in theory, Julian could always appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, thereby triggering an article (No 39) that prohibits extradition while the case is being heard.  But precisely in order to do away with the ECHR and assert British independence, David Cameron’s government and then Boris Johnson’s government have prepared a bill creating a “British Charter of Human Rights” and simultaneously removing the UK from Strasbourg’s jurisdiction in human rights issues.  That law has not yet come to a vote, however the current Prime Minister Sunak has it in his drawer as a secret weapon to nullify Article 39 of the ECHR.

2. NO EXTRADITION, BUT NO FREEDOM.  As a second hypothesis, the Court could accept Julian’s request to appeal against the High Court ruling of 6 June, automatically suspending the extradition order.  Would this be a victory?  Yes, but only a partial one.  Julian would still remain locked up in complete isolation in a tiny cell, 3 meters by 2 meters, for the duration of his new appeal – which could take years.  And according to the UN rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer, prolonged incarceration in those conditions – which Julian has already undergone for four years – amounts to a form of psychological torture.

But on what grounds would Assange remain locked up?  In Italy, the practice of ‘pre-trial custody’ exists, but always with a time limit.  In fact, there are well-known cases of mafia bosses released from pre-trial custody after a relatively short time in prison precisely because the time limit expired before the trial could take place.  The problem, in Assange’s case, is that the judge who ordered his pre-trial detention did not set any time limit: therefore, in theory, so-called British “Justice” could allow Julian’s appeal to drag on indefinitely, in practice imprisoning him for life while pending trial and thus without any conviction.

3. FREEDOM (more or less conditional).  There is a third hypothesis for the outcome of the 20-21 February hearings: Joe Biden could grant Assange a presidential pardon in January, with the simultaneous withdrawal of the US request for extradition and, on 20-21 February, the consequent annulment of the extradition order.

What could support such a seemingly fanciful hypothesis?

Biden, of course, was Barack Obama’s vice-president and Obama had constantly refused to prosecute Assange precisely because of the damaging consequences this would have on investigative journalism – and thus on the country’s democratic fabric – the very reasons illustrated above.  So far, Biden has left it to his hawks (particularly those linked to the CIA) who want Assange’s head not so much for his revelations of US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, as for his revelation of the illicit methods used by the CIA to spy indiscriminately on us all.  Asssange has shown the CIA for what it is: an organ for spying not only on criminal suspects but also, and above all, on ordinary citizens, which is exactly what takes place in all overtly or covertly authoritarian regimes – and for this, the CIA has never forgiven him.

That is why Biden has not been able to free Assange, especially with next year’s elections at the door.  To do so would antagonize not only the CIA, but also his own party’s hawks, conservative Americans in general and, worst of all, the Trumpians, who would use that pardon as proof of Biden’s ‘un-American tendencies’.

But this reasoning assumes that Biden will actually be running for the White House in 2024, while many signs suggest that he may be dropping out of the race.

A delegation of influential Democratic congresspeople has gone to the White House in recent days to formally ask Biden to withdraw: his polls do not allow him to win.  Biden himself admitted a fortnight ago that he would not run again if Trump were not the Republican nominee; and, lo and behold, two days ago the Colorado Supreme Court, applying the 14th Amendment, ruled that Trump could not run for president because he had participated in an insurrection (the one on 6 January 2021).  We still have to wait for confirmation by the Federal Supreme Court, but the elimination of Trump has become a real possibility.  Goodbye Trump could therefore mean goodbye Biden.

Indeed, if Biden does withdraw, he would have the possibility of pardoning Assange and putting up with the hawks’ harmless thunderbolts, leaving the new Democratic candidate for the White House unscathed. That person could be Kamala Harris, the vice president; Gavin Newsom, the governor of California; or – if we really want to fantasize – Michelle Obama, who could come out of the shadows like a Ninja fighter.

Perhaps not coincidentally, an important grouping of congresspeople, both Democrats and Republicans, introduced a resolution on 13 December (H. Res. 934) calling on the federal government to drop all charges against Julian as well as the request to extradite him.  This seems like a typical Biden move, i.e., to pave the way for a controversial gesture by first obtaining bipartisan support among Democratic and Republican leaders.

Mere speculation?  Of course.  But speculation that is consistent with the glaring (and inexplicable) fact that, despite all the declarations of wanting to extradite Julian Assange at all costs, the United States has not exerted any pressure on the British authorities to liquidate Assange’s appeals with swift and, above all, definitive sentences.  Four years of dallying.  True, an attempt was made to liquidate Assange’s appeal in short order on 6 June, but had there really been a will to extradite him, that ruling would have been followed immediately by the hearing that will, instead, take place only on 20-21 February, more than eight months later.  Evidently, there was not such a big hurry.  Perhaps something is brewing underneath? Perhaps negotiations with Assange had to be concluded?

Finally, as we just said, if Biden announces his withdrawal from the race for the White House next January, he will allow the Democrats to upset Trump’s electoral propaganda cart, centered on “Old Joe” and focus on a new face: Harris or Newsom or especially Michelle Obama could get the nod and run unscathed so far.  Of course, there could be complications due to the regulations of many primaries – the deadline to run in most of them is next February. The time frame is therefore tight.  But this is not a serious problem because, if necessary, the Democrats, by statute, will be able to skip the primary elections all together and choose their candidate at their Convention to be held later on next year.

Three hypotheses, then, and three very different outcomes: immediate extradition to that living hell which is a US supermax prison; or, alternatively, the continuation of current British supermax imprisonment for an indefinite period (assuming the ECHR is swept away with a special law); or, last hypothesis, Jullian’s much yearned-for freedom at last.

But freedom to do exactly what?

Would the freedom granted to Assange be the absolute freedom that would allow him to revive WikiLeaks and reveal other documents embarrassing to the Powers That Be?  Unlikely.  We are not in a real democracy, alas: the Powers That Be would never allow Assange to continue as before. We know that, if necessary, they would resort to assassination to stop him.

Are we talking, then, about a conditional freedom?  That is, by accepting a presidential pardon, would Julian agree to ‘exile’ himself to his own country, Australia, along with his family, in a remote village with no internet? Renouncing, therefore, becoming the editor of WikiLeaks again?  This appears to be a solution that a Biden might approve of, but we need to understand how to regulate it and, above all, whether Julian would accept it.

Or are we talking about a freedom of yet another kind that, perhaps, in all these months of inexplicable waiting, Julian has been able to work out with those who keep him imprisoned?

In the meantime, let us prepare to demonstrate on 20 and 21 February, either in London in front of the High Court, or (in Italy) in front of the UK/US diplomatic representations.  For up-to-date and detailed information see: