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Assange's Persecution Highlights Dangers to the Freedom of Speech and Free Media

By       Message Philip Giraldi       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   13 comments

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From commons.wikimedia.org: Julian Assange 20091117 Copenhagen 1 {MID-328200}
Julian Assange
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If you are a journalist and you discover something that is clearly unethical, and possibly even illegal, and you choose to report it what happens next? Well, you could win a Pulitzer Prize or, on the other hand, you might wind up hiding in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for six years.

Julian Assange is the founder and editor in chief of the controversial news and information site WikiLeaks. As the name implies, since 2006 the site has become famous, or perhaps notorious, for its publication of materials that have been leaked to it by government officials and other sources who consider the information to be of value to the public but unlikely to be accepted by the mainstream media, which has become increasingly corporatized and timid.

WikiLeaks became known to a global audience back in 2010 when it obtained from US Army enlisted soldier Bradley Manning a large quantity of classified documents relating to the various wars that the United States was fighting in Asia. Some of the material included what might be regarded as war crimes. Manning's motives for sharing the information can perhaps be debated but he subsequently regarded himself as a whistleblower, a claim that was ignored, and was sentenced to 35 years in military prison for his mishandling of classified information.

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WikiLeaks again became front page news over the 2016 presidential election, when the website released the emails of candidate Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager John Podesta. The emails revealed how Clinton and her team collaborated with the Democratic National Committee to ensure that she would be nominated rather that Bernie Sanders. It should be noted that the material released by WikiLeaks was largely documentary and factual in nature, i.e., it was not "fake news." The source of the leaked or hacked material is still unknown though it has been attributed to "the Russians" by various governments, politicians and media experts. Assange has denied that the Russians were involved.

The handling of the Manning case by the government is illustrative of how leaks of classified information that wind up in the media are generally handled, i.e., the leaker is punished since he or she had the statutory obligation to protect the information but the journalist, protected by the First Amendment, is generally left alone. The leak of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, for example, led to the prosecution of Daniel Ellsberg the leaker, though The New York Times and Washington Post, which reported the story, fought back against pressure from the Nixon White House and were not punished. More recently, however, the line between the information provider and media has become more blurry, with the government having gone after CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling in 2015 by putting pressure to testify on the journalist he may have provided the information to, James Risen.

The handling of the "threat" posed by journalist Assange is inevitably something altogether different than Manning or Ellsberg the whistleblowers. Assange has been vilified as a Russian agent and was pursued by the Swedish authorities after claims of a rape, later withdrawn, were made against him. To avoid arrest, he was given asylum by a friendly Ecuadorean government six years ago in London and has been confined to the Embassy ever since. The British police have a warrant to arrest him immediately as he failed to make a bail hearing after he obtained asylum.

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Julian Assange is currently back in the news for two reasons. First, it has been reliably reported that the Ecuadorean Embassy, which represents a new government in Quito that is unfriendly to Assange and is being pressured by Washington, might soon be taking steps to expel him. And second, last week the US government accidentally revealed in an unrelated legal filing that there exists a sealed criminal indictment against Assange, ready to be used to arrange extradition from Britain as soon as he is expelled from the embassy. The sealed indictment is a major escalation in the struggle to "get Assange," who is blamed by the Democrats for Hillary Clinton's loss while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has labeled him a "fraud, a coward and an enemy." WikiLeaks itself is regarded by the White House as a "hostile non-government intelligence service."

The actual charges laid out in the indictment are unknown, but possibly relate to the Espionage Act of 1917, which in theory gives the government broad powers to punish anyone who receives classified information. And then there is the possibility that the Justice Department will attempt to make the case that Assange actively colluded with the Russian government, a conspiracy to "defraud the United States" to put it in legalese.

The danger is that the United States government will be able to fearmonger the case sufficiently to actually get a conviction for unauthorized handling of classified information based on the Espionage Act, something that has never actually been done to a journalist before. One hopes that better angels in the Justice Department and White House will realize that the First Amendment and its protection of a free press are far more important than punishing Assange.

If the barn door is opened with a conviction, major damage to freedom of speech and a free media will undoubtedly ensue. One can open The New York Times or Washington Post today and read a number of stories that are attributed to unidentified or confidential sources in the government. If Assange is convicted, the government would be able to exploit the precedent to operate in secret at all levels while reporters and the papers they represent seeking public interest stories would be subject to legal action by the Justice Department. If that happens, a free press, even as limited as it currently is in the mainstream, would become nothing more than a memory.

 

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Philip Giraldi is the executive director of the Council for the National Interest and a recognized authority on international security and counterterrorism issues. He is a former CIA counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer who served eighteen years overseas in Turkey, Italy, Germany, and Spain. Mr. Giraldi was awarded an MA and PhD from the University of London in European History and holds a Bachelor of Arts with Honors from the University of Chicago. He speaks Spanish, Italian, German, and Turkish. His columns on terrorism, intelligence, and security issues regularly appear in The American Conservative magazine, Huffington Post, and antiwar.com. He has written op-ed pieces for the Hearst Newspaper chain, has appeared on "Good Morning America," MSNBC, National Public Radio, and local affiliates of ABC television. He has been a keynote speaker at the Petroleum Industry Security Council annual meeting, has spoken twice at the American Conservative Union's annual CPAC convention in Washington, and has addressed several World Affairs Council affiliates. He has been interviewed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the British Broadcasting Corporation, Britain's Independent Television Network, FOX News, Polish National Television, Croatian National Television, al-Jazeera, al-Arabiya, 60 Minutes, and other international and domestic broadcasters.


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7 people are discussing this page, with 13 comments


George W.Reichel

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Almost looks like Trump is trying to protect the Clintons.But how could that be?lol

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 24, 2018 at 12:27:38 AM

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I'm more horrified that there was more Public Outrage about Jim Accosta (never in danger) and Jamal Khashoggi (murdered) as examples of "Journalistic repression".

Are Americans so cowed that the only emotions and opinions they dare speak, are those which are "Approved"??

"Approved Protest": Seems to me that echoes in History. It Never ends well for those who wait for approval??????

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 25, 2018 at 2:10:24 AM

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And yet the Dembots will cheer if Assange is convicted and sent to prison for publishing factual information. Plus, if they had read the leaked emails they would know the DNC wanted Trump to be the Republican nominee thinking he would be easy for Clinton to beat.The only thing on their minds at the moment is revenge. Talk about being your own worst enemy.


They've been all about protecting the corporate press ever since Trump started going after them. Yet if WikiLeaks is silenced it will set a precedent to criminalize any journalism the powerful don't like.


Connect the dots people.

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 24, 2018 at 12:58:42 AM

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Michael Collins

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I was present at the alpha point of the ascendancy of Julian Assange. He presented his leak, namely a video recording of a U.S. helicopter action over Baghdad. WikiLeaks Video - "Collateral Murder, Baghdad July 12, 2007" It was a remarkable event since the footage showed a version of war that was not commonly available. I later revised my opinion of the value of Assange's work since he pointed the blame at the wrong people. Those in charge were directly responsible for the horror, to a far greater degree than any soldiers. WikiLeaks Video - The Greater Horror

My second phase of evaluating Assange came with is the release of internal emails from an environmental program at East Anglia University just prior to the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009. The release was pounced on by climate change deniers to claim climate change was a fabrication of environmental scientists. The leak was fertile ground for lies about climate change and helped ruin the conference, which ended with nothing much happening.

Since Assange is on record saying he only does leaks that conform to his politics and since the climate change leak clearly fed the claims of climate change deniers, I hold Assange responsible for deliberate harm, someone who poisoned the well on climate change action at a critical time.

I think it is time to realize that this idol has feet of clay, that he's harmed the entire world by his climate change leak, and that we really shouldn't care about his current fate since he's not a journalist but rather a polemicist.

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 24, 2018 at 1:01:35 AM

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So...Journalism is only valuable and sacred....if it 'conforms' to your biases?? How ...

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 25, 2018 at 1:45:25 AM

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He's saying that publishing the truth should only be done if doing so has a "positive" result. In other words, he's just another one who elects to shoot the messenger.

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 25, 2018 at 3:09:43 AM

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The climate change denier Wikileak was not the truth. It was a profound distortion that cost us years of progress on climate change. This guy can do that and people say he is dealing with the truth. And offering the profound distortion about me shooting the messenger is extremely rude. You should delete the statement.

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 25, 2018 at 4:59:51 AM

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I'm not even sure where you're getting this from. So far, everything WikiLeaks has published is the truth, regardless of its consequences, with no opinions attached to them by WikiLeaks.

If you're saying they published a lie, you'll have to point to what that was. Same goes for trying to direct public opinion, since there's no polarized commentary to these publications.

Until then, "shooting the messenger" is what I see you doing. It's appropriate, if all you're doing is blaming the publisher for the harm any truth may bring.

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 25, 2018 at 7:11:47 PM

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No, I'm saying it was disgusting to take material like that taken from the East Anglia University climate change group and facilitate its use to argue that climate change is a hoax. I'm saying that Assage is not a journalist. Rather, he is a polemicist, probably for hire. He's also a sacred icon who cannot be challenged even when we know he aligned with climate change deniers.

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 25, 2018 at 4:56:27 AM

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"...(Assange) for hire"???????????
Any evidence?? How much would it take to "hire" you to stay locked up and under continuous threat...For 8 Years??? He could at any moment recanted and said, "The Russians hired me"????? Then he would have walked scot-free and a hero to people like you!
Many people happen to think that "Man made Global Warming" is a hoax. Do you want to arrest all of us, just because we don't agree with YOU?
Do you wish to also refute the video: .youtube.com/watch?v=5rXPrfnU3G0

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 25, 2018 at 5:21:26 AM

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In May [2017], Assange tweeted that "climate change was very probably true," noting the trove of documents WikiLeaks have published on various elements of the issue." .rt.com/usa/402600-assange-climate-change-us/

Submitted on Monday, Nov 26, 2018 at 12:42:00 AM

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I support going after Bush, et al, for war crimes. And it started with 9/11 which I believe we were complicit in. I went to the donate and found the site no longer available. What's up with that? I guess no justice will be served. Color me shocked...

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 24, 2018 at 10:20:49 AM

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In May [2017], Assange tweeted that "climate change was very probably true," noting the trove of documents WikiLeaks have published on various elements of the issue." .rt.com/usa/402600-assange-climate-change-us/

As Joe Lauria notes: Assange is non-partisan.

Consortium News Editor-in-Chief Joe Lauria

Submitted on Monday, Nov 26, 2018 at 12:47:28 AM

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