WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange has been indicted on 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act. The Department of Justice claims his role in obtaining and publishing secret military and diplomatic documents in 2010 warrant the decision, but may people are furious over the complete disregard for journalism and the First Amendment.
Edward Snowden stated that the DOJ declared ‘war’ on journalism after the Thursday announcement.
Given that the ‘classified’ information involved national security and potential illegal activities by the government of the United States’ agencies, the fact that he is being persecuted for the action has many people furious.
The Daily Caller reported:
The new indictment alleges that Assange conspired with Manning to steal classified government documents, including State Department cables and classified reports about the Iraq and Afghanistan war efforts.
“After agreeing to receive classified documents from Manning and aiding, abetting, and causing Manning to provide classified documents, the superseding indictment charges that Assange then published on WikiLeaks classified documents that contained the unredacted names of human sources who provided information to United States forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to U.S. State Department diplomats around the world,” prosecutors claim.
“These human sources included local Afghans and Iraqis, journalists, religious leaders, human rights advocates, and political dissidents from repressive regimes.”
The superseding indictment alleges that Assange’s actions “risked serious harm to United States national security to the benefit of our adversaries and put the unredacted named human sources at a grave and imminent risk of serious physical harm and/or arbitrary detention.”
Even the New York Times questioned the actions:
[The case] focuses on Mr. Assange’s role in the leak of hundreds of thousands of State Department cables and military files by the former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.
Justice Department officials did not explain why they decided to charge Mr. Assange under the Espionage Act… Although the indictment could establish a precedent that deems actions related to obtaining, and in some cases publishing, state secrets to be criminal, the officials sought to minimize the implications for press freedoms.
They noted that most of the new charges were related to obtaining the secret document archives, as opposed to publishing them. In the counts that deemed the publication of the files a crime, prosecutors focused on a handful of documents revealing the names of people who provided information to the United States in dangerous places like war zones.
“Some say that Assange is a journalist and that he should be immune from prosecution for these actions,” John Demers, the head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said at a briefing with reporters. “The department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy and we thank you for it. It is not and has never been the department’s policy to target them for reporting.”
But Mr. Assange, he said, was “no journalist.” Mr. Demers accused him of conspiring with Ms. Manning to obtain classified information. “No responsible actor, journalist or otherwise, would purposefully publish the names of individuals he or she knew to be confidential human sources in a war zone, exposing them to the gravest of dangers,” he said.
“The charges rely almost entirely on conduct that investigative journalists engage in every day,” Jameel Jaffer of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University said. “The indictment should be understood as a frontal attack on press freedom.”
Notably, The New York Times, among many other news organizations, obtained precisely the same archives of documents from WikiLeaks, without authorization from the government — the act that most of the charges addressed. While The Times did take steps to withhold the names of informants in the subset of the files it published, it is not clear how that is legally different from publishing other classified information.
Barry J. Pollack, a lawyer for Mr. Assange, said his client was being charged with a crime “for encouraging sources to provide him truthful information and for publishing that information.” That dramatic step, he said, removed the “fig leaf” that the case about his client was only about hacking.
“These unprecedented charges demonstrate the gravity of the threat the criminal prosecution of Julian Assange poses to all journalists in their endeavor to inform the public about actions that have been taken by the U.S. government,” he said.
Though he is not a conventional journalist, much of what Mr. Assange does at WikiLeaks is difficult to distinguish in a legally meaningful way from what traditional news organizations like The Times do: seek and publish information that officials want to be secret, including classified national security matters, and take steps to protect the confidentiality of sources.
The action taken here, most agree, could set a dangerous precedent, but it will depend on the outcome of Assange’s trial.