By Steven Nelson
During a Friday conference call with reporters WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg sketched an apocalyptic vision of journalism’s future if Pfc. Bradley Manning is convicted of aiding the enemy.
Aiding the enemy is the most serious charge the Army intelligence analyst faces for allegedly providing an enormous stash of classified documents to WikiLeaks. Prosecutors contend that by handing the documents over for publication, Manning informed the nation’s enemies of sensitive information.
The charge is punishable by execution, but the government is not seeking death in Manning’s case.
Manning’s conviction on that charge would “embroil future journalistic sources in possible death penalty cases for speaking with the media,” Assange said. He alleged the charge is part of “the Obama administration’s new attempt to define journalism about national security as conspiracy to commit espionage.”
Assange dialed into the press conference from Ecuador’s London embassy, his refuge for the past year as he avoids extradition to Sweden for questioning about alleged sex crimes. Ecuador granted asylum to Assange, but he has been unable to leave the diplomatic post to travel there.
Manning’s conviction would “forever change the ability of journalists to reveal the most important crimes of the state,” Assange said. “It is an attempt to redefine how journalism is done.”
Assange credits Manning’s alleged leak with ending the American military’s presence in Iraq – by exposing an additional 20,000 deaths, leading to the non-renewal of the U.S.-Iraq status of forces agreement – and initiating the Arab Spring protests that toppled autocratic leaders in North Africa and the Middle East.
“Every single day in the press articles are published that derive from either the diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks or from the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs,” he said.
There is “no allegation by the United States government that even a single person has come to harm” as result of the massive leaks, Assange said.
Assange says President Barack Obama is deliberately seeking to expand the use of the Espionage Act to cover journalists reporting on leaked material.
“There’s a harmonization of approach to get up this new legal theory regarding the Espionage Act,” he said, referencing the involvement of Fox News reporter James Rosen and New York Times reporter James Risen in criminal leak probes as part of “an extremely worrying path the Obama administration has gone down.”
The Australian-born secret-spiller predicted the U.S. Supreme Court may ultimately invalidate parts of the Espionage Act.
Using the Espionage Act, Obama is “effectively rewriting the Constitution,” Assange said. The First Amendment, he noted, has “no exception for an embarrassed military or an embarrassed White House. What part of ‘no’ does President Barack Obama not understand?”
Barry Pollack, Assange’s attorney, said the attention Manning’s prosecutors accorded to WikiLeaks “reinforces to us” that Assange “is in severe legal jeopardy in the United States.” He sought, and received, asylum from Ecuador because he fears being transported to the U.S. for trial.