A question of liberty 198

If Julian Assange has published information that has harmed anybody working for the United States, it is right that he has been arrested and right for him to be brought to trial.

But has he?

The BBC (no longer a trustworthy source in general but quoting other sources here) reported and commented in 2010 when “a trove of US diplomatic cables which offer, among other things, unflattering and candid assessments of world leaders” was released by Assange’s organization Wikileaks: .

Much of the criticism of Wikileaks … revolves around the notion that releasing such information risks lives.

Identities of informants could be compromised, spies exposed, and the safety of human rights activists, journalists and dissidents jeopardized when information of their activities is made public, the argument goes.

US military officials contend that allowing enemies access to their strategic and operational documents creates a dangerous environment for American troops serving abroad. ..

But is there any real evidence of this peril?

The problem … is proving direct links between the information released and any loss of life.

After the release of an enormous haul of US defense department documents in August, [a] Pentagon spokesman… told the Washington Post: “We have yet to see any harm come to anyone in Afghanistan that we can directly tie to exposure in the Wikileaks documents.” …

After this latest release a Pentagon official … [said] that even three months later the US military still had no evidence that people had died or been harmed because of information gleaned from Wikileaks documents.

Daniel Ellsberg, the former military analyst who in 1971 released the Pentagon Papers which detailed government lies and cover-ups in the Vietnam War, is skeptical of whether the government really believes that lives are at stake.

He told the BBC’s World Today programme that US officials made that same argument every time there was a potentially embarrassing leak.

“The best justification they can find for secrecy is that lives are at stake. Actually, lives are at stake as a result of the silences and lies which a lot of these leaks reveal,” he said. “The same charges were made against the Pentagon Papers and turned out to be quite invalid.” …

Assange did not steal Pentagon documents, he published them. If he was wrong to do so, then so were the newspapers that did the same, such as the New York Times.

Professor Alan Dershowitz writes at The Hill:

Before WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gained asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012, he and his British legal team asked me to fly to London to provide legal advice about United States law relating to espionage and press freedom. I cannot disclose what advice I gave them, but I can say that I believed then, and still believe now, that there is no constitutional difference between WikiLeaks and the New York Times.

If the New York Times, in 1971, could lawfully publish the Pentagon Papers knowing they included classified documents stolen by Rand Corporation military analyst Daniel Ellsberg from our federal government, then indeed WikiLeaks was entitled, under the First Amendment, to publish classified material that Assange knew was stolen by former United States Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning from our federal government.

So if prosecutors were to charge Assange with espionage or any other crime for merely publishing the Manning material, this would be another Pentagon Papers case with the same likely outcome. Many people have misunderstood the actual Supreme Court ruling in 1971. It did not say that the newspapers planning to publish the Pentagon Papers could not be prosecuted if they published classified material. It only said that they could not be restrained, or stopped in advance, from publishing them. Well, they did publish, and they were not prosecuted.

The same result would probably follow if Assange were prosecuted for publishing classified material on WikiLeaks, though there is no guarantee that prosecutors might not try to distinguish the cases on the grounds that the New York Times is a more responsible outlet than WikiLeaks. But the First Amendment does not recognize degrees of responsibility. When the Constitution was written, our nation was plagued with irresponsible scandal sheets and broadsides. No one described political pamphleteers Thomas Paine or James Callender as responsible journalists of their day.

It is likely, therefore, that a prosecution of Assange for merely publishing classified material would fail. Moreover, Great Britain might be unwilling to extradite Assange for such a “political” crime. That is why prosecutors have chosen to charge him with a different crime of conspiracy to help Manning break into a federal government computer to steal classified material. Such a crime, if proven beyond a reasonable doubt, would have a far weaker claim to protection under the Constitution. The courts have indeed ruled that journalists may not break the law in an effort to obtain material whose disclosure would be protected by the First Amendment.

But the problem with the current effort is that, while it might be legally strong, it seems on the face of the indictment to be factually weak. It alleges that “Assange encouraged Manning to provide information and records” from federal government agencies, that “Manning provided Assange with part of a password,” and that “Assange requested more information.” It goes on to say that Assange was “trying to crack the password” but had “no luck so far.” Not the strongest set of facts here!

It was Manning who committed a crime, not Assange.  Where Assange is concerned, we ( in agreement with Mark Steyn – see the video in the post immediately below – who is as firm a conservative as we are) do not accept that the US has a legal or moral right to have an Australian arrested in London and extradited here for offending the US. In his case, it is not a question of treason and betrayal as with Manning. It is a question of liberty.

Even if Assange is a Leftist, with opinions we strongly dislike, we cannot approve the gross interference with his personal liberty, cannot but object indignantly to his arrest and incarceration.

However, we are interested in what sort of person we are defending.

Is he a Lefty?

Hard to be sure. A sign that he is not, is that there are people on the Left who wish him dead. For instance, Bob Beckel said on Fox News:

A dead man can’t leak stuff. This guy’s a traitor, a treasonist, and he has broken every law of the United States. The guy ought to be — And I’m not for the death penalty, so if I’m not for the death penalty, there’s only one way to do it: illegally shoot the son of a bitch.

Chris Hedges writes cogently (in part only – we strongly disagree with some of his comments) at truthdig.com:

The arrest Thursday of Julian Assange eviscerates all pretense of the rule of law and the rights of a free press. The illegalities, embraced by the Ecuadorian, British and U.S. governments, in the seizure of Assange are ominous. They presage a world where the internal workings, abuses, corruption, lies and crimes, especially war crimes, carried out by corporate states and the global ruling elite will be masked from the public. They presage a world where those with the courage and integrity to expose the misuse of power will be hunted down, tortured, subjected to sham trials and given lifetime prison terms in solitary confinement. They presage an Orwellian dystopia where news is replaced with propaganda, trivia and entertainment. The arrest of Assange, I fear, marks the official beginning of the corporate totalitarianism that will define our lives.

Under what law did Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno capriciously terminate Julian Assange’s rights of asylum as a political refugee? Under what law did Moreno authorize British police to enter the Ecuadorian Embassy — diplomatically sanctioned sovereign territory — to arrest a naturalized citizen of Ecuador? Under what law did Prime Minister Theresa May order the British police to grab Assange, who has never committed a crime? Under what law did President Donald Trump demand the extradition of Assange, who is not a U.S. citizen and whose news organization is not based in the United States? …

Pause here for a particular disagreement. President Trump has not personally approved the extradition. During his presidential campaign he defended Wikileaks.

Britain will use as its legal cover for the arrest the extradition request from Washington based on conspiracy charges. This legal argument, in a functioning judiciary, would be thrown out of court. Unfortunately, we no longer have a functioning judiciary. We will soon know if Britain as well lacks one.

Assange was granted asylum in the embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to answer questions about sexual offense allegations that were eventually dropped. Assange and his lawyers always argued that if he was put in Swedish custody he would be extradited to the United States. Once he was granted asylum and Ecuadorian citizenship the British government refused to grant Assange safe passage to the London airport, trapping him in the embassy for seven years as his health steadily deteriorated.

The Trump administration will seek to try Assange on charges that he conspired with Manning in 2010 to steal the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs obtained by WikiLeaks. …

U.S. government lawyers will attempt to separate WikiLeaks and Assange from The New York Times and the British newspaper The Guardian, both of which also published the leaked material from Manning, by implicating Assange in the theft of the documents. …

Once the documents and videos provided by Manning to Assange and WikiLeaks were published and disseminated by news organizations such as The New York Times and The Guardian, the press callously, and foolishly, turned on Assange. News organizations that had run WikiLeaks material over several days soon served as conduits in a black propaganda campaign to discredit Assange and WikiLeaks. This coordinated smear campaign was detailed in a leaked Pentagon document prepared by the Cyber Counterintelligence Assessments Branch and dated March 8, 2008. The document called on the U.S. to eradicate the “feeling of trust” that is WikiLeaks’ “center of gravity” and destroy Assange’s reputation.

Assange, who with the Manning leaks had exposed the war crimes, lies and criminal manipulations of the George W. Bush administration, soon earned the ire of the Democratic Party establishment by publishing 70,000 hacked emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and senior Democratic officials. The emails were copied from the accounts of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. The Podesta emails exposed the donation of millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two of the major funders of Islamic State, to the Clinton Foundation. It exposed the $657,000 that Goldman Sachs paid to Hillary Clinton to give talks, a sum so large it can only be considered a bribe. It exposed Clinton’s repeated mendacity. She was caught in the emails, for example, telling the financial elites that she wanted “open trade and open borders” and believed Wall Street executives were best positioned to manage the economy, a statement that contradicted her campaign statements. It exposed the Clinton campaign’s efforts to influence the Republican primaries to ensure that Trump was the Republican nominee. It exposed Clinton’s advance knowledge of questions in a primary debate. It exposed Clinton as the primary architect of the war in Libya, a war she believed would burnish her credentials as a presidential candidate. Journalists can argue that this information, like the war logs, should have remained hidden, but they can’t then call themselves journalists. 

What has Julian Assange himself said that reveals what motivates him?

He is against governments keeping secrets from the people. He thinks it is the job of journalists to reveal them.

Journalism should be more like science. As far as possible, facts should be verifiable. If journalists want long-term credibility for their profession, they have to go in that direction. Have more respect for readers.

One of the best ways to achieve justice is to expose injustice.

It raises questions about the natural instincts of Clinton that, when confronted with a serious domestic political scandal, she tries to blame the Russians, blame the Chinese, et cetera.

Although I still write, research and investigate, my role is primarily that of a publisher and editor-in-chief who organizes and directs other journalists.

Cablegate [the scandal over the release by Wikileaks of State Department documents in 2010 and 2011] is 3,000 volumes of material. It is the greatest intellectual treasure to have entered into the public record in modern times. 

You can either be informed and be your own rulers, or you can be ignorant and have someone else, who is not ignorant, rule over you. 

Wikileaks is a mechanism to maximize the flow of information to maximize the amount of action leading to just reform.

True information does good. 

In the history of Wikileaks, nobody has claimed that the material being put out is not authentic. 

Well, I mean, the real attack on truth is tabloid journalism in the United States.

With these statements at least, we agree. We agree that Western governments have become too secretive. We agree that it is a journalist’s business to report what a government is doing to the people who elect it …

… always provided that no individual working for the country is harmed, and no planned strategies of war are betrayed to our enemies. For that to be prevented, it is the responsibility of governments to keep their secrets safe.