By Ron Ridenour
The second indictment of alleged violations of the Espionage Act belatedly filed by the US against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange actually should not include him since there is no contention that he spied for any warring enemy, nor is he a U.S. citizen or resident, which the 1917 law targeted.
The original indictment focused on allegations that Assange had criminally aided Chelsea Manning in "hacking" into and downloading secret documents that show U.S. war crimes. That case went sour when the government prosecutors could not find any evidence. Furthermore, Manning (at that time while known as Bradley Manning) was a private in the US Army working in Iraq as an intelligence analyst and was authorized to download those documents so she had no need of assistance from Assange.
Hence the second indictment admitted Assange is a publisher, but claimed he had put government informant lives in danger - a different crime. Ample defense evidence was presented showing how Assange had carefully redacted the names of informants. Some names were mentioned by The Guardian and other mass media, but that was because of a choice by those editors who chose not redact their names.
Part of the prosecution's case was now built on Assange's ordering 18-year-old Sigurdur Thordarson to hack into Iceland politicians' phone conversations. Even if earlier charges fell apart, the new allegation could still form grounds for extradition. The new charges included using FBI informant Thordarson, but he had been convicted in Iceland for fraud, embezzlement, and impersonating Assange. He served time in an Icelandic prison, and was diagnosed as a sociopath. Significantly, Iceland has not sought to prosecute Assange or Wikileaks for any crime.
In 2010-11, Thordarson worked with Wikileaks first as a volunteer and for some months on staff. In August, 2011, he contacted the U.S. embassy in Reykjavik to give them information about Assange and Wikileaks. Eight FBI agents and a prosecutor flew to Iceland in a private jet to interview him. The Icelandic government had the courage to tell them to leave, fearing that the FBI and a mole sought to frame Assange. The FBI took their pigeon to ever-compliant Denmark to interview him. They did this several times.
In 2013-5, Thordarson was also tried for various sexual offenses, promising boys from 15-20 years of age cars and money in exchange for sex. This is the man whom the U.S. government had as its key witness in the new indictment. The UK hearing judge appeared to have no problem with that.
Another problem with the government's admitting that Assange is a publisher is that under the US Constitution's First Amendment journalist-publishers have special protection against prosecution for engaging in free-speech and press activities. So, in another change of tactic, the US government now interprets the Espionage Act to mean that anyone, journalists and publishers alike, can be charged with crimes of violating the Espionage Act. That includes any and all media personnel in the entire world - perhaps ordinary citizens too, who simply access Wikileaks materials. It's a fact that journalists and editors and publishers the world over who have been ignoring or misreporting on this case should be paying close heed to because of the dangerous precedent it is setting.
Edward Snowden wrote about reading former British ambassador Craig Murray's daily accounts of court proceedings: "Read this and tell me the show trial of Assange doesn't read like something from Kafka. The judge permits the charges to be changed so frequently the defense doesn't know what they are. The most basic needs are denied. No one can hear what the defendant says-a farce."
I draw here on Murray's daily reports published at Consortium News:
"The willingness of Judge Vanessa Baraitser to accept American red lines on what witnesses can and cannot say has combined with a joint and openly stated desire by both judge and prosecution to close this case down quickly by limiting the number of witnesses, the length of their evidence and the time allowed for closing arguments.
"Andy Worthington was one such case. He was 'at court and ready to give evidence, but was prevented from doing so. The United States government objected to his evidence about his work on the Guantanamo Detainee files being heard, because it contained allegations of inmates being tortured at Guantanamo." [Hardly a surprise to anyone, certainly].
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