LONDON—Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who exposed the underbelly of U.S. policy in the Vietnam War, has told a British court that the extradition of Julian Assange is part of an American effort to “crush” future whistleblowers.
Ellsberg said the U.S. wanted revenge against the WikiLeaks founder just like the Nixon administration and the CIA plotted vengeance against him for his part in the publication of the Pentagon Papers.
A British judge will rule on whether Britain can extradite Assange to the U.S. on 18 charges linked to the leak of hundreds of thousands of classified documents in 2010 and 2011. The 48-year-old Australian is accused of hacking and conspiring to obtain and disclose classified information under the Espionage Act.
Ellsberg was called as a witness for the defense. In a written submission to an extradition hearing, he said: “I observe the closest of similarities to the position I faced, where the exposure of illegality and criminal acts institutionally and by individuals was intended to be crushed by the administration carrying out those illegalities; in part in revenge for my act of exposing them, but in part to crush all such future exposure of the truth and when there was no other way.”
Assange’s lawyers claim that if he is extradited to the U.S. he could be sentenced to prison for as long as 175 years. Lawyers representing the U.S. dispute that figure, arguing it could be fewer than 10 years.
Tom Durkin, a former assistant district attorney, gave evidence on Tuesday that while 175 years was unlikely, Assange could well spend the rest of his life behind bars. “I think that’s a very likely possibility,” he told the court.
Ellsberg argues that life imprisonment is just the kind of deterrent the U.S. wants to set. “I have closely observed the actions of the U.S. government, its military, and its intelligence agency the CIA,” he said. “I have also observed that those who have been party to exposing them have been and continue to be themselves threatened and criminalized.”