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Is Julian Assange's Asylum Claim Legit? Point-Counterpoint With Glenn Greenwald

Assange remains at the center of an international standoff.

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I’m not convinced the United States is actively trying to prosecute him because it’s a very tricky case to prosecute, and Assange is not the whistleblower or leaker. If anything he’s a publisher; he’s basically a journalist. Obviously Bradley Manning is accused of leaking documents, leaking classified information. It’s different to be the leaker and the acceptor of those leaks, isn’t it?

GG: Sure. I think you’re making an argument from a very legalist perspective, and it’s one that I wholeheartedly agree with. It would be an incredibly violent breech of the First Amendement guarantee of freedom of the press for Assange to be prosecuted for doing what media outlets do all the time, which is receive classified information from government sources, and then publish it in the public interest. As you pointed out, the New York Times published many of these same documents. They’ve not only done that, but they’ve published far more secrets than Julian Assange has ever dreamed of publishing, including top-secret information. The New York Times has published all kinds of top-secret designations, whereas Wikileaks never has. None of the documents leaked from the Iraq War and Afghanistan war logs or the diplomatic cables were top-secret. They were either classified or confidential, a much lower designation of secrecy.

From a strictly legal perspective you’re right. Nonetheless if you look at what the United States government has done over the past 10 years, the fact that something is legally dubious or difficult seems to be no bar from them doing it. This is the same government that’s assassinating its own citizens without due process of any kind, putting people in cages in Guantanamo without a whiff of due process. The prior administration got away with declaring torture as something other than torture. We see the constant manipulation of law for the benefit of the United States government. When you add on to that the very deferential posture of the federal courts when it comes to claims about national security -- where all kinds of Muslims have been prosecuted for what looks to all kinds of scholars to be nothing other than First Amendment activity, like advocating for groups and putting YouTube clips on the Internet -- I think it’s a lot easier to say in some abstract legal sense that it would be a difficult prosecution, but that’s far from the same thing as saying that it won’t happen and that it won’t be successful.

The other thing I would add is that the Justice Department doesn’t convene grand juries for fun. They do it only when they’re serious about prosecuting. They didn’t convene a grand jury during the Wall Street financial crisis because they weren’t serious about prosecuting. They didn’t convene one to investigate Bush's torture crimes or eavesdropping crimes because they weren’t serious about prosecuting. They’ve convened a grand jury, they’ve had testimony, they’ve filed motions, and have been very active in this process leading to the very rational conclusion that they are serious. Whether they will go through with it or not nobody knows. It would be incredibly foolish for someone in Julian Assange’s position to blithely assume that it won’t happen, or that if it did happen it would succeed given the success of the United States in its court system over the last decade.

JH: You and I are in absolute agreement on the excesses in the war on terror. With everything that you just said, one thing that I think is a pretty critical difference is that we’re talking about brown, Muslim people accused of terrorism, whether rightly or wrongly. I think often wrongly. Assange is an international pop star. He’s a cult hero of sorts.

 
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