Julian Assange was arrested in England on Thursday, April 11, and is feared to be extradited to the United States to face charges for his actions during the Obama administration.
According to an editorial in the Washington Post in 2011, such a conviction “would also cause collateral damage to the liberties of the U.S. media so Washington should not attempt to do so with Julian Assange.
The Post’s editorial of years ago is still relevant, given that Assange would be tried for a “crime” which took place almost a decade ago. What has changed since then is the public perception of Assange and, in a supreme irony, that of Donald Trump. At one point in Trump’s demagoguery, he proclaimed himself a fanatic twitter lover of WikiLeaks,. Now he has now been left as the ultimate beneficiary of public support for initiating a process that the Obama administration hesitated to push when he was President.
The current accusation is the extension of a years-long effort, begun prior to Trump, to build a legal argument against those who release secrets the government finds embarassing.
But much of the U.S. citizenry now sees the arrested founder of WikiLeaks through the lens of the 2016 elections, having been denounced as a Russian ally in favor of Trump’s election.
Barack Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, said as early as 2010 the founder of WikiLeaks was the center of an “active and ongoing criminal investigation. At the time, Assange had won, or was about to win, several journalism awards for publishing shameful classified information about many governments, including the video “Collateral Murder” delivered by Chelsea Manning showing a helicopter attack in Iraq that killed two English reporters.
The prosecution is known to say that “it is part of the conspiracy that Assange and Manning took steps to hide Manning as the source of the revelation,” while the defense will argue that reporters have extremely complicated relationships with sources, especially with whistleblowers like Manning, who are often under extreme stress and emotionally vulnerable.
The indictment now filed against Assange is just a technicality: an indictment for a (seemingly unsuccessful) attempt to help Chelsea Manning crack a government password. Assange’s lawyer, Barry Pollock, said the charges “boil down to encouraging a source to provide information and taking steps to protect the identity of that source.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stated: “Any U.S. prosecution of Assange for WikiLeaks publishing operations would be unprecedented, unconstitutional, and open the door to criminal investigations by other news organizations.
Assange’s case, and the very serious problems it poses, will be affected by things that happened long after the alleged crimes like Assange’s role in the 2016 election.
Not only did this case have nothing to do with Russiagate, but in one of the strangest unreported details of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, he never interviewed or attempted to interview Assange. In fact, it appears that none of the 2,800 citations, 500 witness interviews and 500 search warrants in Mueller’s investigation pointed to Assange or WikiLeaks.
As for Assange’s case, coverage by a national press corps that welcomed him at the time of these crimes – and that repeated his leaks widely – will likely focus on the issue of hacking, as if it weren’t really about reducing legitimate journalism.
“The weakness of the U.S. indictment against Assange is shocking,” Edward Snowden said on Twitter. “The accusation that he tried to help crack a password during his world-famous report has been public for nearly a decade: he is the count that Obama’s Justice Department refused to accuse, saying it endangered journalism.
In fact, it would be difficult to find a more extreme example of how deep the bipartisan consensus is to expand surveillance of leaks.
Both happened, however, and we should stop being surprised by them, even as Donald Trump takes the final step of this journey begun by Barack Obama.
A CubaNews translation by Walter Lippmann.