• Assange Extradition Raises Questions

    June 12, 2024

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    A British court ruled Wikileaks founder Julian Assange can appeal his extradition to the U.S. How Assange’s case plays out may change both the way Espionage Act cases are defended and the deeper relationship among the Act, the 1A, and a free press.

    The U.S. charged Assange multiple times under the 1917 Espionage Act for an alleged conspiracy to take possession of and publish national defense information. Had the British court ruled in the U.S.’ favor, Assange would have exhausted all legal avenues in the UK. Instead, he can now fight the extradition to the U.S. from the relative safety of Britain.

    The allegations stem from 2010 when WikiLeaks released half a million classified documents focused on Iraq and Afghanistan that were leaked to the site by Chelsea Manning, an Army intel analyst. Included in the leak was video from Iraq showing American helicopters gunning down Iraqi civilians, later dramatized by the film Incident in New Baghdad. Assange’s legal team argues the case is a politically motivated form of state retaliation for embarrassing the United States.

    Following the charges by the U.S. government, Assange was granted asylum for seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Made to leave, Assange was then arrested by British authorities for skipping bail, and has spent the last five years in a dank British prison fighting extradition to the United States, His spouse calls it “punishment by process.”

    In February, Assange’s lawyers submitted grounds for a possible appeal. The High Court in response directed the U.S. government provide assurances: a) that Assange would not face the death penalty; b) that he would be treated no differently than a U.S. citizen; and c) that he would be protected under the First Amendment. The U.S. government provided such assurances in a letter. The British court was unconvinced, and will allow Assange to appeal the extradition request.

    Of the three conditions, the key issue is whether or not Julian Assange can raise an effective First Amendment defense against the Espionage Act. Could Assange claim, for example, that his right to publish the leaked materials was protected as a publisher and journalist under the 1A in the public interest?

    The Justice Department previously told a British court the First Amendment doesn’t apply to anyone “in relation to publication of illegally obtained national defense information giving the names of innocent sources to their grave and imminent risk of harm.” Use of a 1A public interest defense by Chelsea Manning was blocked and her attempts to speak to the American people directly were stymied by seeing her entire trial classified.

    “The short answer is that being able to ‘raise’ a defense is different than being able to ‘rely’ on one,” said former Assange attorney Jesselyn Radack, who heads the Whistleblower and Source Protection Program (WHISPeR, at Expose Facts, speaking with TAC. “In Espionage Act cases, the government has literally done motions to preclude the use of the words ‘First Amendment.’ I can easily see that happening here, as well as motions to preclude 1A related words like ‘journalist’ and ‘publisher.’ Assange can raise the First Amendment. He can raise a herd of goats if he wants. The better question is whether Assange would be allowed a 1A defense.”

    Under such circumstances any British court willing to accept a USG assurance Assange would have First Amendment rights in any practical sense is being played as a fool.

    But the Assange case begs a bigger question the British court might ask if it was concerned about fairness to Assange: why is it only him, and not outlets like the New York Times, which also published leaked material, on trial? Why not also the Guardian, the Washington Post, NBC News?

    Under the Espionage Act, Assange would be prohibited from offering a 1A-based public interest defense; his unauthorized possession of classified materials alone would ensure a guilty verdict, in that the Act does not distinguish between possession for journalistic purposes, and possession say with the intent to hand over secrets to Russian intelligence. Assange, as with the others prosecuted under the Espionage Act, would be found guilty and simultaneously be denied the chance to defend himself based on a free speech defense.

    Assange poses a dilemma for the United States in its ongoing muscle-tussle in balancing the power of the government to protect classified information, the guarantee of a free press in the First Amendment, and the broader concept of the need for an informed populace to challenge their government and make this democracy work in practice.

    At what point does the need for the people to know something outweigh any laws allowing the government to keep it from view? If punishment appears necessary, should the leaker be punished, should the journalist who publishes be punished, or should neither, or both? The questions become acute in the digital age, where physical documents no longer need to be copied one-by-one, and where publishing is far removed from the traditions, obstacles, safeguards, backdoor pressures, and restraint of traditional journalism.

    A complex history precedes Assange. In 1971 Daniel Ellsberg leaked the classified Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. The risks to the journalists were huge — no one had ever published such classified documents before, and the senior staff at the Times feared they would go to jail under the Espionage Act.

    Despite such pessimism, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark victory for the First Amendment in New York Times Company v. United States. The Times won the Pulitzer Prize. Ellsberg however was charged under the Espionage Act. His case was ultimately dismissed for gross governmental misconduct and illegal evidence gathering without the underlying issues being addressed, most prominently Ellsberg’s defense he was morally compelled to leak the classified information to the Times.

    But looking at the Times case through the lens of Wikileaks, University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck is careful to point out “Although the First Amendment separately protects the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press… the Supreme Court has never suggested that the First Amendment might protect a right to disclose national security information. Yes, the Pentagon Papers case rejected a government effort to enjoin publication, but several of the Justices in their separate opinions specifically suggested that the government could prosecute the New York Times and the Washington Post after publication, under the Espionage Act.”

    In its simplest form, the Supreme Court left the door open for the government to prosecute both the leaker who takes the documents (by dismissing the case without setting a precedent) and the journalists who publish them (by focusing narrowly on prohibiting the government from exercising prior restraint.)

    What has happened since has been little more than a delicate dance around the 500 pound gorilla loose in the halls of democracy. The government aggressively prosecuted whistleblowers under the Espionage Act while choosing not to prosecute journalists for publishing what the whistleblowers hand over to them. Assange’s case stands as an outlier.

    Did Assange commit journalism? He wrote nothing alongside documents on Wikileaks, did no curating or culling, and redacted little information. Publishing in his case consisted simply uploading what had been supplied to him. It would be easy for the government to frame a case against Assange that set precedent he is not entitled to any First Amendment protections — clicking Upload isn’t publishing and Assange isn’t a journalist they could say. The simplest interpretation of the Espionage Act, that Assange willfully transmitted information relating to the national defense without authorization, would then apply. Guilty, the same as almost all of the leakers and other canaries in the D.C. coal mine.

    Yet like the Times, Wikileaks sidestepped the restraints of traditional journalism to bring with immediacy the raw material of history to the people. That is the root of an informed public, through a set of tools never before available until the Internet and Julian Assange created them.

    The British court needs to carefully weigh any faux U.S. promises of 1A rights for Assange, and ask itself instead: is he being singled out for punishment, criminalizing journalism? President Joe Biden is already considering an Australian government request to drop Julian Assange’s charges. The British court should stay the extradition and ultimately release Assange for doing nothing but what the New York Times and others have done before him.

     

     

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  • Recent Comments

    • John Poole said...

      1

      National defense industry worker drones, spies (cloak and dagger creeps) The Church of Intelligence high priesthood. Assange “discomforted” the church of terrestrial safety-its believers and flock. Copernicus has a tasty double IPA waiting for Assange in the great beyond if one exists.

      06/12/24 9:04 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      2

      If only you let Trump be Trump. Calling Assange a journalist just made Trump more angry.

      Mark Summers said there was evidence there had been a “truly breathtaking plan” to kidnap or murder Assange while he was in the Ecuadorean embassy, and former U.S. President Trump had asked for “detailed options” to kill him. In 2021, Yahoo News reported CIA officials had drawn up options for Trump’s administration for dealing with Assange while he was in the London embassy. “Senior CIA officials requested plans, the president himself requested on being provided with options on how to do it and sketches were even drawn up,”

      06/12/24 10:43 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      3

      “The British court should stay the extradition..” WOW, JUST WOW. This shows an insulting lack of faith in Amerika, Peter. If the Orange Turd wins in November, surely he will show Assange that he will treat journalists with the utmost respect for free speech. If we cannot trust the Orange Turd to not piss on the Constitution, that will be a permanent stain on Amerika and show the MAGGOTS have shit for brains, as most journalists have been freely speaking.

      06/13/24 9:35 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      4

      JP,

      Speaking of the Great Beyond, one must wonder what MAGGOTS are drinking these days(read: kool-aid). Most of them believe the Universe revolves around the ORANGE TURD. The others believe the earth is flat.

      06/15/24 10:05 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      5

      Since Assange and Trumpie are both guilty of espionage in illegal possession of classified documents, they should share the same cell in prison. While Assange’s motive was apparently not for personal gain, Trumpie stole the documents for blackmail to avoid prosecution for overthrowing the government.

      06/15/24 4:48 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      6

      From the convicted felon who failed to overthrow the government and poses the greatest national security risk:

      WE NEED STRENGTH AND LOYALTY TO OUR COUNTRY, AND ITS WONDERFUL CONSTITUTION. EVERYTHING WILL BE ON FULL DISPLAY COME NOVEMBER 5TH, 2024 – THE MOST IMPORTANT DAY IN THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!!!”

      #Free speech.

      06/16/24 2:07 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      7

      Trump Extradition Raises Questions

      Iran wants Diapers to face charges for murder. Diapers ordered an airstrike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad without a declaration of war.

      As soon as the Men in Black cave on the Presidense immunity case, out of fear it would allow a Presidense to eliminate his enemies foreign and domestic, it would open Diapers to be tried in the ICC. Since Cannon and other Trumpists will do anything to prevent a federal trial for the Turd’s failed attempt to overthrow the government, would it be better to allow the extradition of the war criminal?

      Diapers is desperate to strike an asylum deal with Putin, and Russia does not have an extradition agreement with the US. Smart to keep all those Top Secret documents.

      06/17/24 3:49 PM | Comment Link

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