WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange has been living in the Ecuador embassy in the United Kingdom for a year now, hoping to break a standoff between Ecuador and the UK so that he could have safe passage to Ecuador.
Ecuador granted him political asylum because of the United States Justice Department’s ongoing investigation into WikiLeaks, which has involved a secret grand jury empanelled in Alexandria, Virginia. The grand jury has sought information on Assange, staffers, volunteers and others with ties to WikiLeaks.
Part of why he remains in the embassy is because Swedish authorities continues to want to extradite him to Sweden so he can be questioned about sexual allegations made by two women. However, if the authorities really wanted to do what was best for the women and have all of this over and done with, they could have questioned Assange in the Ecuador embassy long, long ago.
During a press conference call to mark the anniversary, Assange said the UK had been “blockading” him from going to Ecuador and this was a “violation of international law.”
Assange also demanded that President Barack Obama do the “right thing” and “immediately drop the immoral investigation against WikiLeaks, its staff and its sources, before the press meets its death.”
Former legal counsel to the New York Times James Goodale, who argued the Pentagon Papers case, reinforced what Assange was saying about the US government pursuit of him.
“It is quite clear that the legal strategy, he, the president, wishes to invoke is to accuse Julian Assange of conspiracy,” Goodale stated. “It is very clear that Julian Assange is a journalist and, more importantly, a publisher and, to say that he conspired with Manning to publish the WikiLeaks, that theory could be applied to any publisher including the co-publishers” like the Times, The Guardian or Der Spiegel that published the documents Manning provided to WikiLeaks.
Goodale highlighted how the FBI had labeled Fox News Reporter James Rosen as a “co-conspirator with a respect to a leak broadcast on Fox News.” He noted that, in writing his latest book, Fighting for the Press, he detailed how President Richard Nixon had setup a grand jury to try and indict Neil Sheehan for publishing the Pentagon Papers.
Now, according to Goodale, Obama is trying to succeed where Nixon failed by making the “news gathering entities in this country and reporters criminally liable for what they do when they gather the news. This would mean that the government will define the terms in which reporters and publishers can gather and publish the news, and we will lose that ability to do that ourselves or publishers will lose the ability to do that under the First Amendment.”
Assange acknowledged how the UK government had spent millions of dollars on surveillance to monitor him. This has greatly inhibited what he is capable to do with the WikiLeaks organization and how much communication he can have with sources. On the other hand, it has not stopped him from doing any work because there is not much else he would rather be doing to occupy his time in the embassy.
He addressed the trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, who has taken responsibility for disclosing information to WikiLeaks, and noted that WikiLeaks and his self have been a focus of military prosecutors.
Multiple reporters asked Assange about what WikiLeaks was doing to help NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. He said that someone was in touch with Snowden and they were “highly involved in the process of brokering asylum in Iceland.”
The Associated Press has reported, “Johannes Skulason, an Icelandic government official,” told AP, “that WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson had held informal talks with assistants at the Interior Ministry and the prime minister’s office.”
In August 2012, The Saturday Age, based in Australia, published a report that featured some critical details on the United States government’s plans for Assange. It describes Australian Foreign Affairs Department documents that were obtained under freedom of information laws and show the Australian diplomatic service “takes seriously the likelihood that Assange will eventually be extradited to the US on charges arising from WikiLeaks obtaining leaked US military and diplomatic documents.”
Australia’s ambassador to the US Kim Beazley sought “high-level US advice on ‘the direction and likely outcome of the investigation’ and “reiterated’ an Australian government request for “early advice of any decision to indict or seek extradition” of Assange.
Diplomatic cables identified “a wide range of criminal charges the US could bring against Assange, including espionage, conspiracy, unlawful access to classified information and computer fraud.” They indicated, “Australian diplomats expect that any charges against Assange would be carefully drawn in an effort to avoid conflict with the First Amendment free speech provisions of the US constitution.”
A 42,135-page FBI investigative file into WikiLeaks was revealed to exist during pretrial hearings in the court martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, who disclosed US government information to WikiLeaks. Only 8,741 of the pages were, according to prosecutors, relevant to Manning. The other tens of thousands of pages, therefore, presumably involve Assange and others associated with WikiLeaks.
Why have such a sizeable file if the agency is not going to eventually issue an indictment against Assange?
When Assange entered the Ecuador embassy a year ago, there was much hysteria about leaks to the press on Obama’s secret “kill list,” cyber warfare against Iran and a CIA underwear bomb plot sting operation in Yemen. That hysteria has returned with Congress condemning disclosures on secret NSA surveillance programs (of which most in Congress were not informed).
Members of Congress have called Snowden, who has taken responsibility for the disclosures, a “traitor” and said he engaged in an “act of treason.” Rep. Mike Rogers ominously said, “It is at times like these where our enemies within become almost as damaging as our enemies on the outside.” Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger said, “This widespread leak by a 29-year-old American systems administrator put our country and our allies in danger by giving the terrorists a good look at the playbook that we use to protect our country. The terrorists now know many of our sources and methods.”
Obama has prosecuted a record number of alleged leakers or whistleblowers under the Espionage Act. His administration has actively sought to clamp down on the free flow of information on national security policies or programs so agencies can operate in total secrecy with impunity and zero scrutiny.
The political reaction to Snowden’s whistleblowing and the indifference to how the military is prosecuting among the elite in this country lays a foundation for taking a bold step and indicting Assange.
Assange should not merely be afraid that he could be indicted for being a publisher of a media organization. He should be afraid that an indictment would have wide support amongst those in power in the United States.
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