There is a debate today in political, journalistic and legal circles about whether Julian Assange is a criminal or just a journalist doing his job. This back and forth started right after his arrest Thursday with the ACLU’s Ben Wizner saying:
“Any prosecution by the United States of Mr. Assange for Wikileaks’ publishing operations would be unprecedented and unconstitutional, and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations. Moreover, prosecuting a foreign publisher for violating U.S. secrecy laws would set an especially dangerous precedent for U.S. journalists, who routinely violate foreign secrecy laws to deliver information vital to the public’s interest.”
But as Dan Rather points out:
“The arrest raises some complex issues but worth noting that he was not charged under the Espionage Act (for making public classified material) but rather he was charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. This is serious but less troubling from a journalistic point of view. That’s why so many journalists and first amendment advocates are breathing a sigh of relief. Whether this turns out to be premature or not hangs on how this case develops. Reporters sometimes publish classified material provided by a service: they rarely, if ever, engage in computer fraud.”
The Assange case is different. He is being prosecuted not for what was published, but for his alleged involvement in a conspiracy to illegally obtain that material. The Constitution does not give reporters the right to break into buildings or computers to gather information, even for very important stories. In the Pentagon Papers case, for example, Daniel Ellsberg was prosecuted for allegedly having leaked the documents, although his case was ultimately thrown out because of the government’s misconduct in investigating him.
Since Wikileaks published emails hacked from Hillary Clinton’s campaign back in 2016 it’s interesting to note her opinion. Speaking at an event in New York City (watch above), she said:
“I think it is clear from the indictment that came out it’s not about punishing journalism it’s about assisting the hacking of the military computer to steal information from the United States government… He has to answer for what he has done, at least as it’s been charged.”
Famed First Amendment Floyd Abrams to @vicenews: “Whatever criticism or praise the press gets from certain national security reporting, I can’t think of a situation in which a journalist has been accused of literally cracking some classified password." https://t.co/zJQmpdAYI7— David Uberti (@DavidUberti) April 11, 2019
Regardless some people are still defending him and it’s a debate which could eventually be settled in a United States courtroom.
Is Julian Assange a hero of free speech, or a hacker who put thousands of lives at risk?— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) April 12, 2019
Vaughan Smith – friend of Assange – says the WikiLeaks co-founder 'gets out of bed every morning absolutely convinced that he's serving the public interest'. pic.twitter.com/X97ltaR9qO