House GOPer Introduces Bill Designed to Help Prosecute WikiLeaks Under Espionage Act

Republican Rep. Peter King of New York has introduced a piece of legislation that would help prosecute Julian Assange's whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks under the shady Espionage Act. Specifically, the SHIELD Act would amend the Espionage Act -- the 1917 law that's considered by many to be unconstitutional -- to cover the publication of classified documents.

Here's what Rep. King, the chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, had to say in introducing the legislation, via Raw Story:

"Julian Assange and his associates who have operated and supported WikiLeaks not only damaged US national security with their releases of classified documents, but also placed at risk countless lives, including those of our Nation’s intelligence sources around the world," Rep. King, the chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, said in a statement. "As international pressure has held back Assange, we now find that his colleagues are planning to spin off a new website called OpenLeaks, dedicated to the same dangerous conduct."....

"These organizations are a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States," Rep. King continued. "Julian Assange and his compatriots are enemies of the US and should be prosecuted under the Espionage Act. This legislation provides the Attorney General with additional authority to do just that."

The U.S. government is really reaching to try and find a way to prosecute Assange and his site -- by detaining and torturing Bradley Manning and engaging in this ongoing (and absurd) flirtation with the Espionage Act, which no one publisher has ever been convicted under. (And which, by the way, the New York Timestechnically violated, per the Feds' standards, although the paper has received relatively little heat compared to Assange.)

The American Prospect's Adam Serwer discusses why this new bill, and the Espionage Act in general, are both so problematic.

If WikiLeaks is prosecuted under the Espionage Act as it currently exists, then no journalistic institution or entity is safe. The idea that anytime that a journalist obtains a document that has "information related to the national defense" that could be used "to the injury of the United States" they could be subject to prosecution would destroy national-security journalism as it currently exists. Also frightening is the reality that government officials looking to skew public debates one way or another regularly leak information to the press, so the government would really only be prosecuting people for publishing leaked information they didn't want leaked.

I think there's this idea that because the New York Times and the Washington Post are treasured journalistic institutions the government wouldn't dare engage in the kind of coercion it has leveled so effectively against Assange, and that even if he were prosecuted under an archaic unconstitutional law like the Espionage Act, he's a scary foreigner and there's no way that Americans would be treated the same way....

It's a double-standard of epic proportions, no doubt. And it makes the U.S. government look incredibly sad and desperate.

AlterNet / By Lauren Kelley

Posted at February 16, 2011, 4:43am