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“British police dragged WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange out of Ecuador’s embassy on Thursday after his seven-year asylum was revoked, paving the way for his extradition to the United States… the U.S. Justice Department said Assange was charged with conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to gain access to a government computer as part of a 2010 leak by WikiLeaks of hundreds of thousands of U.S. military reports about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and American diplomatic communications.” Reuters
The left worries about a slippery slope toward encroaching on the freedom of the press.
“The Justice Department has made a very deliberate and careful move to focus not on WikiLeaks or Assange’s publication of classified documents but instead on the one moment in March 2010 when he appeared to briefly cross the line into computer hacking himself (and not very successfully, at that). It’s an interesting strategy and one that may create other problems for the Justice Department related to extradition and the statute of limitations, but it tries to sidestep concerns about what going after Assange might mean for journalists—a surprisingly cautious and measured choice for this Justice Department.”
Josephine Wolff, Slate
Yet many argue that the evidence “seems thin, limited mainly to Assange saying he’d had ‘no luck so far,’ apparently in relation to attempts to crack the password. The meatier parts of the indictment speak more to normal journalistic practices. In its press release, the Justice Department noted Assange was ‘actively encouraging Manning’ to provide more classified information...
“Reporters have extremely complicated relationships with sources, especially whistleblower types like Manning, who are often under extreme stress and emotionally vulnerable. At different times, you might counsel the same person both for and against disclosure. It’s proper to work through all the reasons for action in any direction, including weighing the public’s interest, the effect on the source’s conscience and mental health, and personal and professional consequences. For this reason, placing criminal penalties on a prosecutor’s interpretation of such interactions will likely put a scare into anyone involved with national security reporting going forward.”
Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone
“Defenders of this indictment will drone on about the centrality of hacking. Fine and good. But powerful people down the road may not draw any such disciplined conclusions from the document; they may draw the reckless conclusion that the door is now open to insert the federal criminal apparatus more deeply into journalist-source interactions.”
Erik Wemple, Washington Post
Some lament the fact that “the Justice Department is likely to move aggressively to strip Assange of his core defenses… the government will ask the court to declare that the disclosure of the arguably unconstitutional surveillance program is immaterial. This would leave Assange with only the ability to challenge whether he helped with passwords and little or no opportunity to present evidence of his motivations or the threat to privacy. For the jurors, they could simply be faced with some Australian guy who helped with passwords in hacking national security information. It would be like trying a man for breaking and entering while barring evidence that the house was on fire and he thought he was rescuing people instead.”
Jonathan Turley, USA Today
One of Assange’s former colleagues writes, “Assange might be an asshole. Scratch that; Assange is an asshole. But we’re going to have to stand up for him anyway.”
James Ball, The Atlantic
Minority view: “Mr. Assange is not a free-press hero. Yes, WikiLeaks acquired and published secret government documents, many of them newsworthy… Contrary to the norms of journalism, however, Mr. Assange sometimes obtained such records unethically… Also unlike real journalists, WikiLeaks dumped material into the public domain without any effort independently to verify its factuality or give named individuals an opportunity to comment. Nor, needless to say, would a real journalist have cooperated with a plot by an authoritarian regime’s intelligence service to harm one U.S. presidential candidate and benefit another… [Assange] is long overdue for personal accountability.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post
“For Warren or anyone else to prevent the uniquely depressing experience of a Biden ‘national unity’ campaign, specifically targeted at a tiny cadre of wobbly Trump voters and Jeff Flake-style dissident Republicans, something has to change before next winter. Democratic voters and the media and basically everyone else must get over their skittish, fearful response to the Trump presidency, and their based-on-nothing certainty that nominating a progressive or a woman or a socialist or anybody who isn’t an avuncular white man with a vaguely reassuring demeanor and no discernible ideology will once again lead to disaster.”
Andrew O’Hehir, Salon
The right condemns Assange and supports his prompt extradition.
The right condemns Assange and supports his prompt extradition.
“It’s notable, and welcome, that Mr. Assange isn’t being charged under the Espionage Act of 1917. Journalists including those at the Wall Street Journal sometimes feel the duty to disclose information in the public interest that governments would rather keep secret. Indicting Mr. Assange merely for releasing classified information could have set a precedent that prosecutors might have used in the future against journalists…
“Helping a source illegally break into government databases isn’t legitimate journalism… Mr. Assange has never been a hero of transparency or democratic accountability. His targets always seem to be democratic institutions or governments, not authoritarians.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal
“We can debate the degree to which the First Amendment protects journalists who publish classified information (a controversial and unsettled question); but journalists have no immunity to commit crimes (or conspire to commit them, or aid and abet their commission), in order to acquire the information that they then publish.”
Andrew McCarthy, National Review
I’m “reflexively uncomfortable with the idea of the Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecuting publishers for disseminating classified documents. Without whistleblowers and illegal disclosures, governments would often get away with grievous abuses of power. Even if those leaks are politically motivated, and even if the release of those documents fail to offer proper context, in the long run, protecting journalistic institutions that pursue transparency is a net benefit for free society…
“[But] according to the indictment (and there’s a chance of additional charges), Assange actively attempted to participate in espionage. He didn’t merely get his hands on information or solicit it. He is accused of conspiring to assist Manning in breaking into U.S. government files and cracking codes… Manning faced justice, and was sentenced to 35 years at Leavenworth before President Barack Obama commuted the sentence after seven. Why should Assange be spared the same justice?”
David Harsanyi, The Federalist
“There is no virtue in Assange. Those who celebrated his ‘transparency’ in the Manning document dumps forget that responsible reporters who gain access to classified material carefully vet that material to make sure that their disclosures do not needlessly endanger innocent Americans, and they carefully weigh the value of the disclosure against the gravity of the harm. Assange and Manning did not seem to care about the men and women they betrayed…
“Manning didn’t carefully extract evidence of alleged wrongdoing from classified files and go to the press (a defensible, though still illegal, act). He just dumped hundreds of thousands of pages of classified files into Assange’s hands, and Assange posted them, en masse, on the Internet. Any jihadist or enemy with Internet access could read the documents and not just learn about the identities of American allies on the ground (placing them at immediate, mortal risk) but also gain extraordinary insight into American military tactics and plans.”
David French, National Review
“How many Iraqis and Afghans named in reports for being helpful to U.S. troops were later killed or abused for their cooperation? How many business people, reporters, or professors who took the time to meet with U.S. diplomats lost their jobs when their willingness to talk and provide insight became publicly known? How many people around the world will hesitate to cooperate with American officials in the future, suspecting that their assistance might be exposed?... We will never know the true human toll of the classified information compromised by Assange and Manning.”
Christian Whiton, Fox News
“If Joe Biden can win his way through the primaries, he’s almost lab-engineered to beat Trump. He doesn’t cause Republican panic, he has the potential to connect with white working-class voters in a way that Hillary couldn’t in 2016, and he has a potential to connect better with black voters than Hillary did… if Biden emerges from [this] crucible, Trump will face a very different challenge than he faced in 2016.”
David French, National Review
A libertarian's take
“The relevant question is not the nationality of a source offering ‘oppo research’ but the accuracy and relevance of the information. Another consideration is whether the information was obtained illegally—by hacking emails, for example. While the Supreme Court has said people have a First Amendment right to share illegally obtained information if they were not involved in the lawbreaking (something that news organizations frequently do), you might reasonably argue that they should also report such crimes when they become aware of them, which may be what Trump had in mind when he said he might contact the FBI ‘if I thought there was something wrong.’”
Jacob Sullum, Reason
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