“The Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than any of its predecessors”
By Keith Johnson
The United States is now one step closer to nabbing Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, whose ultimate fate may set a precedent on how the federal government pursues and punishes journalists and whistleblowers who expose government crimes.
On May 30, Britain’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of Assange being extradited to Sweden, where he is accused of sexually assaulting two women. From there, many suspect Assange will be taken into custody by U.S. authorities for possible prosecution on espionage charges.
This AMERICAN FREE PRESS reporter recently discussed the Assange case with John Pilger, a UK-based Australian journalist and documentary filmmaker who has been instrumental in raising bail for Assange.
“An indictment has been produced by a [U.S.] grand jury,” says Pilger, “What it says we don’t know. What we do know is that Assange, as editor of Wikileaks, has committed no crime and that whistleblowing is protected by the U.S. Constitution. But constitutional protection is of little value these days, it seems. The Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than any of its predecessors. The presumption of innocence also seems to no longer exist in the U.S., with Vice President Joe Biden calling Assange a ‘high-tech terrorist.’ ”
The indictment against Assange was first revealed in hacked emails obtained from Stratfor, a Texas-based private intelligence agency. In addition to that source, Pilger reports, “The Independent newspaper in the UK also has learned that U.S. and Swedish authorities have discussed the prospect of Assange’s ‘temporary surrender’ to the U.S. once he is extradited to Sweden, where [U.S. Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton recently made her first visit to discuss Internet security and cyberwar.”
To determine what charges will likely be pursued by the U.S. government against Assange, AFP consulted Douglas C. McNabb, an attorney and extradition expert, who spoke from his office in Washington, D.C.
“There is some speculation that he has been indicted on espionage,” said McNabb. “Then there is speculation that, because of what Assange allegedly did, other statutes might be easier to prove—[such as] theft of government property or handling of classified information.”
McNabb went on to say, “If there is a sealed indictment out of the eastern district of Virginia, the question is whether the U.S. will seek to have Mr. Assange extradited from the UK, or if they’ll wait for Assange to surrender to Sweden. Then, pursuant to the terms of the extradition treaty between Sweden and the U.S., Sweden has the right to allow Assange to be extradited to the U.S. temporarily.
“The eastern district of Virginia, Alexandria division, is very aggressive extraterritorially with regard to criminal jurisdiction,” McNabb added. “They’re right up there with the southern district of New York. That’s why you see alleged terrorists and other international crimes being prosecuted by them. They have a strong international section within the U.S. attorney’s office.”
This AFP reporter consulted Gavin MacFadyen, director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism in London, about the impact an Assange conviction would have on free speech.
“The consequences of an Assange conviction would obviously have a chilling effect on an already frightened U.S. press establishment,” said MacFadyen. “It would mean that whistleblowers would feel they are at greater risk than ever before. This after all is occurring in an increasingly Orwellian climate, where huge sections of the population are already subject to mass surveillance, and millions more will be shortly, where the abrogation of civil liberties and the increase in police powers continues at an alarming pace.
“Once these new powers are in place . . . I would fully expect a decline in heroic publishing,” he said. “I would also expect to see fewer would-be whistleblowers, knowing that all their correspondence and messages are now visible to the very authorities they may be whistleblowing against.”
Pilger has a similar take:
“A conviction of Assange would be little different from a political conviction in the Soviet era,” he said. “It will be concocted and bear no relation to the law.”
Pilger added: “If this can happen to him, it can happen to any journalist. The warning will run through the veins of American journalism. Daniel Ellsberg [famous for leaking the Pentagon Papers in 1971] makes this point with authority. To many of us who have worked in the U.S. and now observe its descent into a state of perpetual war and criminalized protest, George Orwell’s truism comes to mind: You don’t have to live in a totalitarian state to experience totalitarianism.”
Why They Think Assange Is So Dangerous
For this book, journalist Andrew Fowler interviewed Julian Assange, his inner circle and his enemies, deftly revealing the story of how a man with a brilliance for computers created a phenomenon that has disrupted the worlds of both journalism and international politics. From Assange’s early skirmishes with Scientology to the release of 570K intercepts of pager messages from Sept. 11, 2001, and on to the video showing American soldiers firing on civilians and reporters, Fowler takes us along on an explosive journey. From the founding of WikiLeaks right up to Cablegate and the threat of further leaks in 2011 that he warns could bring down a major American bank, Fowler exposes it all.
Keith Johnson in an investigative journalist and host of the Revolt of the Plebs radio program.