By Kent R. Kroeger (April 13, 2019)
The mainstream media and the U.S. government tell us the indictment of Julian Assange is merely a case of prosecuting a man for aiding and abetting a felonious act and has little to do with press freedoms. Civil libertarians, in contrast, say the U.S. Attorney’s Office action is a clear-cut attack on the constitutional right of journalists to investigate and publish information that exposes government wrongdoing.
The reality is messier than either side want to believe.
Since the website’s inception over a decade ago, I have been uneasy about the WikiLeaks journalism model: Publishing large quantities of private (usually stolen) information under the rationale that it brings necessary transparency to important institutions in our society.
Assange sits in a British jail cell today because the U.S. government wants to prosecute him for aiding and abetting Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, in removing Iraq and Afghanistan war logs and diplomatic cables from a classified U.S. Dept. of Defense computer network (SIPRNet) in 2010. Manning, as well, sits in a Virginia jail cell today for refusing to testify before a grand jury regarding the Assange case.
The critical legal question (as of now) facing Assange is not whether he (WikiLeaks) had the right to publish the classified information that embarrassed the U.S. government in its revealing a significantly larger number of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan than had been previously disclosed by the U.S. military, and also exposing sensitive communications within the U.S. and foreign diplomatic communities. The Trump Justice Department is emphasizing that they are not challenging WikiLeaks’ right to publish, but merely prosecuting Assange for his encouraging and materially helping Manning commit an illegal act.
Those cheering Arrange’s arrest have long argued that he (and Manning) did substantive damage to U.S. security by exposing the identities of Iraqi and Afghan informants working with the U.S. military and by exposing confidential and critical conversations within the diplomatic community.
“There is blood on their hands” is a common refrain in the national security establishment.