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Julian Assange Has Been Inside for a Year

And he's gearing up to stay for another five.

by Daniel Stuckey
Jun 18 2013, 5:45pm
Image via Flickr

Today, Julian Assange's first year at the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge, London comes to an end. Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the Wikileaker's arrival last June.

Uninterested in facing US justice, Assange said he's prepared to spend five years living there. If he goes out for a walk, he'll be extradited to Sweden to answer rape accusations—after which he has no promise from Sweden to deny further extradition efforts to America, where a grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks awaits.

This also means that London's Metropolitan Police have been devoting their resources to keeping tabs on Assange for a year. Yesterday, a spokesperson explained the updated costs of guarding the embassy over the phone: 

"From July 2012 through May 2013, the full cost has been £3.8 million ($5,963,340)," he said. "£700,000 ($1,099,560) of which are additional, or overtime costs."

Julian has a treadmill, a SAD lamp, and a connection to the Internet, through which he's been publishing small leaks and conducting interviews. The indoor lifestyle has taken its toll on Julian, and it led to his contracting a chronic lung condition last fall.

"A sad occasion that Julian could not follow me out the door," filmmaker Oliver Stone tweeted after he visited Assange earlier this year. "He lives in a tiny room with great modesty and discipline... " One of several public figures that have rallied behind Assange, Stone's support was little surprise. 

Of course, it's impossible to discuss Assange's solitary year at the embassy without considering the confinement of the man whose secrets he helped leak. It's a sort of absurdist parallel narrative to the trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning. The two figures are inextricably linked, and together, their saga reads like Miltonic poetry. Or a blockbuster film.

Indeed, in Alex Gibney's recent documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, Assange's character is projected as a villainous, cowardly, sex-symbol. In an earlier interview, Gibney told me Assange's speeches from the embassy's balcony were "Evita-like." While Assange has struck back at Gibney, claimed the film contained multiple discrepancies, and criticized its large budget, it's hard to shake the top-down, rockstar image we're left with.

He may be confined to staying indoors, but Assange lives in one of London's most exclusive neighborhoods. He's just around the corner from one of the most expensive apartment buildings in the world. On the other hand, Bradley Manning's pre-trial confinement in a military prison lasted over 1,100 days. He was often placed in solitary, and given orders to stay awake between 5am and 8pm.

Manning's charge of "aiding the enemy," punishable by death or a life sentence garnered a New York Times op-ed outcry, "[W]hat could be more destructive to an informed citizenry than the threat of the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole for whistle-blowers?"

That question is more important now than ever. After all, now there's a brand new individual for the world to mythologize and for the authorities to attempt to confine. With Edward Snowden's recent  blow of the whistle, he's assured that he'll be the next free information advocate to be paralyzed in one sort of amber or another. Snowden is likely to participate in his own fight for amnesty, unless he decides to head for the Hunan hills or sell out to Russia.

But will big-picture developments in whistle-blowing cases ever affect the terms of Julian's embassy stay? Or is amnesty in Sweden all he needs to move on? Could any paradigm shift in discourse rattle him free?

Independent journalists Kevin Gosztola and Alexa O'brien— who are providing some of the most meticulous and comprehensive coverage at Manning's trial—emphasize the callings that have brought them in Fort Meade. In an interview with Danny Schecter, O'brien explained Manning's trial as, "The most important trial of our generation," calling on the, "enlightened citizenry to come to the fore and actually protect and save the very fundamental building blocks of good society."

O'brien, who has recorded nearly verbatim rush-transcripts of Manning's pre-trial screenings, has just unleashed her United States v. WikiLeaks Data Journalism Project, a searchable database containing anything Wikileaks or Assange-related. O'brien explains that she has provided, "every WikiLeaks publication to aid journalists in FOIA related research."

When I asked O'brien about Assange's detention, she reminded me that behind Assange's extradition request lurks compelling evidence that there's much more at stake. "One year later and the question remains--why won't the Swedish authorities interview Mr. Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy as offered?" she said.

"The U.S. Government is conducting the largest criminal investigation into a publisher and its source in history. Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are just another publisher the U.S. Government is trying to detain at the printing press."

And detain him they have.