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Pierce writes: "Let us all stipulate for the record that even egomaniacal messianic nihilists have rights, too."

Julian Assange. (photo: Getty)
Julian Assange. (photo: Getty)

Julian Assange's Legal Proceedings Will Do Profound Damage to the Institutions of the Free Press

By Charles Pierce, Esquire

11 April 19

The Wikileaks founder has been arrested. What comes next will be key.

et us all stipulate for the record that even egomaniacal messianic nihilists have rights, too. From the BBC:

Mr Assange took refuge in the embassy seven years ago to avoid extradition to Sweden over a sexual assault case that has since been dropped. The Met Police said he was arrested for failing to surrender to the court and following a US extradition request. Ecuador's president said it withdrew his asylum after repeated violations of international conventions. But Wikileaks tweeted that Ecuador had acted illegally in terminating Mr Assange's political asylum "in violation of international law".

Mr Assange, 47, had been in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012, after seeking asylum there to avoid extradition to Sweden on a rape allegation - which he denied and was later dropped. But he still faces a lesser charge of skipping bail in 2012 and he says this could lead to an extradition to the US for publishing US secrets on the Wikileaks website. Scotland Yard said it was invited into the embassy by the ambassador, following the Ecuadorian government's withdrawal of asylum.

After his arrest for failing to surrender to the court, police said he had been further arrested on behalf of US authorities under an extradition warrant. He is accused in the US of "computer-related offences", the Home Office said.

Since the trenches in this particular political war were dug and reinforced months ago, the coverage and commentary on Assange's arrest is not likely to be nuanced. Nevertheless, there's a lot to be concerned about in how it went down, and in what may come next.

Most notable, at least to this particular shebeen, is whether or not the U.S. government will attempt to devise a definition of what is journalism and what is not—specifically, will it find a fig-leaf behind which Assange can be prosecuted for obtaining and leaking documents while institutions like The New York Times and the Washington Post can skate on having published allegedly purloined information. My instinct tells me that any distinction so drawn necessarily will be ad hoc and therefore more than a little lawless.

As Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas wrote in New York Times Co. v. United States, the landmark case in which the Court allowed the publication of the Pentagon Papers which, you may recall, the Nixon Administration argued were obtained illegally...

'The dominant purpose of the First Amendment was to prohibit the widespread practice of governmental suppression of embarrassing information. It is common knowledge that the First Amendment was adopted against the widespread use of the common law of seditious libel to punish the dissemination of material that is embarrassing to the powers-that-be. The present cases will, I think, go down in history as the most dramatic illustration of that principle. A debate of large proportions goes on in the Nation over our posture in Vietnam. That debate antedated the disclosure of the contents of the present documents. The latter are highly relevant to the debate in progress. Secrecy in government is fundamentally anti-democratic, perpetuating bureaucratic errors. Open debate and discussion of public issues are vital to our national health. On public questions, there should be "uninhibited, robust, and wide-open" debate.

I would be reluctant to draw a distinction between these two cases based merely on the technology involved—that, somehow, hacking information out of the government is fundamentally more serious than physically spiriting documents out of a file and then copying them by hand.

It can be argued, I guess, that the Pentagon Papers were largely historical documents relating to past events, and that the attempt to enjoin their publication was an attempt to avoid embarrassing the historical actors involved in those decisions. But that was not the argument the Nixon Administration made, and, anyway, there's an argument to be made that revealing those decisions at the time they were made would have better served the nation. (See also: the Times's decision to sit on what it knew in advance about the imminent Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.)

As the indictment clearly shows, Assange is being extradited to the United States to face charges relating to the leak of documents by Chelsea Manning, and not for any activity relating to the 2016 election, although now that he's in custody, I suspect that all likely will come up. In other words, the charges are based on revelations taking place in real time, rather than five or six years in the past. This is the distinction that the Obama administration gave up trying to draw. It saw no way to prosecute Assange and WikiLeaks while not prosecuting the publications with which WikiLeaks did business. My guess is that the current administration* is disinclined to respect such a delicate conundrum.

Assange and his merry band did incalculable harm to the United States through whatever assistance they gave to the current criminal organization presently running the Executive Branch. In fact, the arrest and extradition of Assange is an act of towering—if typical—ingratitude on the part of the president* Assange so readily helped. But I have no confidence that, in the legal proceedings that will flow from this arrest, profound damage will not be done to the institutions of a free press. Julian Assange is not the only egomaniacal messianic nihilist involved in this case.

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+4 # Enoch E Birch 2019-04-11 14:42
We are now being told that the UK govt has agreed with Ecuador that Assange will not be extradited to any jurisdiction which might use torture or compose the death penalty. This is interpreted to rule out the US. It's not clear whether the utterly discredited Jeremy Hunt (who gave Murdoch everything he asked for while a proposed Sky sale was being adjudicated on by Hunt's then department and unloaded the responsibility on a junior official he encouraged when things got hot) has agreed this, or whether the Home Secretary (interior. police,public order etc), Saqib Javed is carrying the can. Naturally, under our constitution, it is an article of faith ( one never writes these things down - so immature) that the Government doesn't tell the courts what to do, - it simply makes sure the judges are "patriotic" and understand the "national interest'. Just get your extradition proceedings right, and Assange will be delivered gift-wrapped. Ecuador will be smoothed over if it squeaks. It doesn't make Novichok.
+12 # dandevries 2019-04-11 17:49
[quote name="Enoch E Birch"]We are now being told that the UK govt has agreed with Ecuador that Assange will not be extradited to any jurisdiction which might use torture or compose the death penalty. This is interpreted to rule out the US.

Brother! I take that to mean that he WILL be extradited to the USA. Although the USA does both those things, it pretends it does not, and that's plenty good enough for its fascist collaborators on any given continent.
+21 # Porfiry 2019-04-11 14:44
From praise to persecution. It the way of the one that "everything he touches dies." JA's usefulness over, now destroy him. It's the way of all gangs. The zoo of candidates who will form a circular firing squad is no help. DJT is not intelligent but shrewd. He's learned how to frame (see George Lakoff) people successfully. He's a failed businessman (see Newsweek article from August 201)on the internet) and a failed President -- except for his success in hurting and destroying human beings. God save us all.
+11 # Glen 2019-04-11 16:59
Amen Porfiry. The U.S. dumps any who they find useless to their needs. That even includes Saddam Hussein. The list is long.
+4 # allanmillard 2019-04-11 15:01
Where is the evidence that Assange helped Trump?
+10 # johnescher 2019-04-11 17:06
Quoting allanmillard:
Where is the evidence that Assange helped Trump?

In the Mueller Report? Who knows what's in there?
+13 # Texas Aggie 2019-04-11 15:11
It would be easier to argue that he was a journalist if he were an honest broker, but instead, it seems as if he acted to push individual 1 and take down Hillary. That moves from being a journalist interested in illuminating hidden wrong doing on the part of someone or some government body to someone acting with intent to achieve some political end. Publishing government documents that government officials would rather keep hidden is fine as long as the object is to shine light on darkness. The New York Times and the WaPo can scarcely be considered partisan since both of them were cheerleaders and active participants in sending us off to war in Iraq and are doing it again for war in Iran.

Many of the fox bobble heads also would fall under the definition of partisans, not journalists, which is why they are not regarded as actual journalists, but instead are considered to be propagandists pushing for one side.
0 # laborequalswealth 2019-04-14 09:22
The truth is the truth. Assange exposed Killary’s utter and complete corruption. But the neocon DNC screams about it’s crimes, lies and deceit BEING EXPOSED instead of acknowledging and repenting its corruption.

Assange is a hero who has paid dearly to give us the truth. And the Demos shit on him and fail to acknowledge the myriad of exposes WikiLeaks has provided.

What a moral cesspit America is.
+11 # Michaeljohn 2019-04-11 15:44
Chelsea Manning is the real heroic figure. Assange appeared to start out on the right track but seems to have turned into some sort of egotistical creep.
+13 # apotem 2019-04-11 16:00
European Union (ans Britain is still its member - until 10/31/19, does not extradite to countries with death penalty. Hopefully, that will be respected.
+1 # jwb110 2019-04-11 17:02
I think that this may be a boon to a Free Press. If for no other reason that there is more dirt about the people who have been after him including Hilary Clinton. The last thing I would ever consider is making this man angry with me. They can take him to court but an internet press can't be stopped and there is plenty of dirt to be mined about the people in power in the US today. A hammer will drop. It is merely a question of when.
0 # Robbee 2019-04-12 10:35
Quoting jwb110 2019-04-11 17:02:
an internet press can't be stopped and there is plenty of dirt to be mined about the people in power in the US today. A hammer will drop. It is merely a question of when.

- oh? so ja will start dumping dirt on dickhead? - where exactly is the profit to ja in that? "what wikileaks?" quoth dickhead! - that gig is the last thing we can expect from ja?

sure! there is plenty of dirt to be mined about the people in power in the US today - but who wants? rather? who profits? to mine it?

just after hell freezes over, we can expect ja to start publishing putin hacks of dickhead's FORMER repuke enemies? - for starters, putin never passed onto ja his r n c hacks! putin prefers dickhead in charge! dickhead takes private meetings with goodfella putin! it legitimizes putin's less unhinged, outsize world power! - why would putin publish any dirt on dickhead? - HE WOULDN'T!

for far too many reasons, this "hammer" never makes it out of ja's toolbox!

"anonymous?" bah! "anonymous" promised america a fair election in 2016! - "anonymous" talks the talk and can't deliver! hey? maybe "anonymous" believes delivering us from hillary, by exposing only d n c hacks, was "fair?"

dickhead's job 1 is to convert all repukes into "groupies!" - he's right on track! - for repukes to leak on dickhead? that they once abhorred dickhead? where is the profit?

now? about hell freezing over? don't count on anyone exposing anything either?
+1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-04-11 17:54
"Assange and his merry band did incalculable harm to the United States"

I have to disagree with this. Assange did an incalculable favor to Americans by letting them actually see what a corrupt scum Hillary was. Assange did not help Trump. Hillary lost the election because of who she was.

The current indictment against Assange is just the opening salvo. It is likely that over the next few years, the DOJ will load on enough new charges to put Assange in prison for live, possible even execute him. The DOJ does not want to reveal its hand at this early point. It is keeping its worst assaults secret as it has for most of this case.

I agree with Pierce -- the prosecution and persecution of Assange is having and has had a massive negative effect on the free press. They whole Trump-Russia hysteria has done more to transform American media than anything ever in US history. Now most journalists are just slaves to the Deep State. If you cross the Deep State, you will be destroyed. Just ask Assange.
+5 # MidwestDick 2019-04-12 00:41
If my recall of events is correct, the biggest October surprise that brought down Hillary was the grandstanding of James Comey, but even more important than that was the well-documented anti-democratic party voter suppression in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. The e-mail drop was of much less importance, especially since the main political effect was to Piss off Bernie supporters. They (we) did not desert the Democratic party. Personally I was much more pissed at her choice of Veep (not an iota of respect for those of us who would like the democratic party to be the people's party, and not the second billionaires party). Anyone who could read already knew that the Party establishment meant to crown Hillary and was trying to marginalize Bernie. Still, I rang a few doorbells and did some poll-watching for Hillary, despite her and her whole crew's contempt for us, the conscience of the party, the heirs of Eleanor Roosevelt and Henry Wallace.
We should be in the streets demanding Julian's freedom.
+1 # Robbee 2019-04-12 13:16
Quoting MidwestDick 2019-04-12 00:41:
We should be in the streets demanding Julian's freedom.

- in a better world we would all be demanding ja's freedom from hillary's dem presidency!

sorry! i can't work up much enthusiasm to free the peculiarly self-interested tool of putin and dickhead!

for personal power, ja fought to defeat hillary - ja didn't sweat helping dickhead rule america! nor putin rule dickhead!

ja is an eager and willing tool to autocrats! authoritarians! white supremacists! and wealthy elites!

if ja comes to america? dickhead will fete ja!

and then pardon him!

as dickhead always says - "fuck americans! if they can't take a joke!"
0 # laborequalswealth 2019-04-14 09:26
Accidentally upvoted this idiotic post. Please note.
+3 # Kootenay Coyote 2019-04-11 21:04
‘… whether or not the U.S. government will attempt to devise a definition of what is journalism and what is not….
& that would be nailing jelly to the wall.

I think also of Hal Banks of the SIU, who came to Canada in the early 60’s & was involved in Union politics that included murder. When Canada applied to the USA for his extradition, the demand was refused on the grounds that the ‘US doubted Banks could get a fair trial ‘ here. Seems the Brits should remember that…if they please to, of course.
+2 # davehaze 2019-04-11 23:25
Get off it Left media, you are being played. The narrative is Assange is your enemy the national security state is your friend, and you believe this, and when they come for you you will think you deserve it too.
+8 # Salus Populi 2019-04-12 09:10
It is a telling comment, and not a favorable one, on the current state of U.S. journalism that probably the greatest investigative journalist of modern times is now likely, as Rodion says, to get life or execution for Practicing Journalism. He has not only won dozens of journalism prizes, but as Glenn Greenwald says, he is essentially being accused of doing exactly what investigative journalists do all the time: attempting to protect sources [see James Risen} and asking for more information from a source.

It is also noteworthy that the vindictive persecution of Assange and Wikileaks, along with the steady stream of smears and disgusting attacks in the U.S. media and among so-called liberals who pretend to defend journalism against Trump, and twist their soulless pretzel logic into knots to avoid and evade the clear and unarguable fact that Assange is a journalist who has been effectively imprisoned for seven years for the crime of reporting the truth, somehow leaves the other and more parasitic scions of respectability, the New York Times, the Guardian, the Washington Post, and all the other media who profited from Assange's sharing of his scoop. Even when these normally sycophantic lapdogs of the State express concern about the threat to journalism in general, which is very real, they fail to call for the freeing of Assange.

The histories of our times will not be kind to the insouciant cowards who allowed the only check on criminality in high places to die undefended.

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