In a somewhat surprising move, the Justice Department finally announced how it will be charging Julian Assange.
Assange, who is the founder of Wikileaks, is being charged with revealing government secrets under the Espionage Act.
War Against the Media
It was rather shocking to see most media outlets proclaim this move as a war against the media.
For years, media members have been proclaiming Assange is NOT one of their own.
He rewards people for hacking into files, then publishes the reports online.
That is not exactly journalism.
Now, though, they realize if this case is successful, it will present a precedent that could land journalists in big league trouble for printing or reporting on classified information.
While the media also likes to make this out as a cut and dry case of going after the First Amendment, it is anything but.
Explaining the Charges
The Justice Department is being very clever in how it is presenting this case.
The main focus is the fact Assange did not redact the names of individuals in most of the emails.
The government is claiming doing so put many of these individuals at risk.
The Justice Department indictment stated, “Assange created a grave and imminent risk that the innocent people he named would suffer serious harm and/or arbitrary detention.”
In all, Assange is facing 17 counts of receiving or disclosing material from Chelsea Manning, which brings us to our next point.
After initially sending Assange information, Assange reportedly encouraged Manning to continue to hack into the system to get him more information.
This goes far beyond merely receiving the information and move towards conspiracy to commit.
Some may argue that Assange was acting as the publisher in this case, but the Espionage Act does not make exceptions for either reports OR publishers.
If the information “could be used to injure” the United States, it is crime, period.
John Demers, the head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, is adamant the administration is NOT attacking the media, nor are they going after the First Amendment with this indictment.
Demers stated, “The department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy and we thank you for it.”
Assange’s case is going to be hurt by chat logs that were discovered with staff members arguing with him to NOT release the names in the documents.
Media advocates, of course, are already pushing back.
Bruce Brown, the Executive Director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, stated, “Any government use of the Espionage Act to criminalize the receipt and publication of classified information poses a dire threat to journalists.”
There is no doubt the government is walking a fine line here.
I will be the last one to argue against quieting the press, but this is far from a normal case.
At what point do publishers and journalists have to be held responsible for releasing information that could put people’s lives unnecessarily in danger?
Publishing information after the fact is one thing, but to publish information about ongoing activities that pose a real threat to agents in the field, well, that is not something I can support.
This will no doubt head to the Supreme Court and I feel the way the case is presented, the government has a chance of making these charges stick.
The question then becomes, how would the precedent be used in the future to go after members of the media?
That is the real danger here.
Source: NBC News
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