WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is basically off the hook from prosecution in the U.S. due to what is now known as the “New York Times Problem”–newspapers that publish classified material such as the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Guardian UK would be also be indictable if the Department of Justice were to go after him. According to Assange’s defense, journalists should not be hunted down for publishing true information, for that is their function and it is protected by the First Amendment. If Assange is guilty of sharing classified information, then much of the staff of the New York Times and a variety of other media outlets should be as well. Former Justice Department spokesman Mathew Miller explained to the Washington Post:
“The problem the department has always had in investigating Julian Assange is there is no way to prosecute him for publishing information without the same theory being applied to journalists…and if you are not going to prosecute journalists for publishing classified information, which the department is not, then there is no way to prosecute Assange.”
Miller tells the Post that he feels Assange is hiding in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London to avoid his sexual assault charge in Sweden, and not because of anything to do with the U.S. The white-haired Australian has been walled up in the embassy for a year and a half, and he and his supporters have insisted that he could be extradited to the U.S. if he were to leave the embassy to go to Sweden.
Government employees and contractors who leak classified documents, such as Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning) and Edward Snowden, have been prosecuted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act of 1917. Unlike Manning and Snowden, Julian Assange was not a U.S. government employee or contractor, meaning that he published information but did not “leak” it from the inside. Assange has not been discovered to have committed any crimes, such as hacking. Manning, however, is now facing 35 years of confinement for unauthorized disclosure of classified documents to WikiLeaks. Snowden is currently living in Russia in temporary asylum.
Julian Assange is the founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, which is a website launched in Iceland in 2006. Since then, the website has made public a variety of classified documents which shook the world, including hundreds of thousands of leaks concerning the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the detainment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.
The Department of Justice has not given formal confirmation that it will not prosecute Assange, and it may wait until wait until the grand jury is closed before an official announcement will be made, if at all. Assange’s attorney in Washington says that they have not received any official notification that the investigation is closed.
It looks highly unlikely now that Julian Assange will face any federal charges, meaning he is off the hook for now, but according to an official WikiLeaks statement, he will not leave the embassy until there is “an open, official, formal confirmation that the U.S. government is not going to prosecute WikiLeaks.”
By K. Elsner