US Plans To Charge Julian Assange of Wikileaks
Is this a dangerous precedent for the government to set?
For years, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been cooped up inside an Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid being arrested and extradited. But he isn’t hiding from the U.S. He’s dodging rape charges in Sweden. The U.S. never formally charged Assange for his publishing of leaked documents. Many believe the slow-drip release of hacked DNC emails were one of the biggest contributing factors in Hillary Clinton’s election loss.
The biggest reason the U.S. never charged him is First Amendment concerns. Assange and Wikileaks never actually hacked the information they released; they merely acted like a media outlet, publishing information provided to them, similar to the New York Times or The Guardian.
According to unnamed sources, CNN reports that “U.S. authorities have prepared charges to seek the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.” Yesterday at a press conference, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that pinching Assange was “priority.”
“We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks,” he said. “This is a matter that’s gone beyond anything I’m aware of. We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious. So yes, it is a priority. We’ve already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.”
Last week in a speech, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said that Assange “directed Chelsea Manning to intercept specific secret information, and it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States. It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: A non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”
To the public’s knowledge, there’s been no proof that Wikileaks actually directed Manning. In his last days in office, Obama commuted Manning’s 35-year prison sentence for leaking military documents to Wikileaks.
Assange, who sees Wikileaks as performing a public service, recently wrote in a Washington Post op-ed:
“Consistent with the U.S. Constitution, we publish material that we can confirm to be true irrespective of whether sources came by that truth legally or have the right to release it to the media. And we strive to mitigate legitimate concerns, for example by using redaction to protect the identities of at-risk intelligence agents.”
Which on the surface, seems pretty true, but Pompeo disagrees. At his press conference last week he said: “Julian Assange has no First Amendment freedoms. He’s sitting in an Embassy in London. He’s not a U.S. citizen. He’s caused tremendous damage to our national security, put American lives at risk.”
Is there something creepy about Assange? Yes. Should he go to Sweden to face his rape allegations? Yes. But the idea of Assange being prosecuted for publishing leaked information is alarming and could set a dangerous precedent. Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, agrees, telling CNN:
“Never in the history of this country has a publisher been prosecuted for presenting truthful information to the public. Any prosecution of WikiLeaks for publishing government secrets would set a dangerous precedent that the Trump administration would surely use to target other news organizations.”
While charges have yet to be formally filed, every indication says they are coming soon. How U.S. officials plan to get Assange over here to face those charges is a whole other issue.