WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange was in a London court for four days in late February fighting extradition to the U.S., where he faces an 18-count indictment for violating the U.S. Espionage Act with his publication of classified military and diplomatic documents in 2010. Assange worked with former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who had leaked hundreds of thousands of State Department cables and military files that exposed incidents involving America’s military misconduct in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Assange was arrested inside Ecuador’s London embassy in April 2019, after the South American nation’s President Lenin Moreno withdrew asylum protection. Assange had taken refuge in the diplomatic compound in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over a sexual assault case.
Lawyers for Assange argued that the U.S. charges against him are politically motivated and that their client was acting as a journalist and publisher. Defense attorneys also claimed that a Spanish security company conducted surveillance against Assange on behalf of the U.S. while he resided in the London embassy and that conversations had turned to potentially kidnapping or poisoning him. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Kevin Gosztola, managing editor of the news website Shadowproof.com, who discusses the Trump regime’s effort to extradite Assange from the U.K. and the possible dire consequences for journalism and the criminalization of investigative reporting.
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: This is the first time that a journalist or a publisher has been targeted with the Espionage Act. It’s going well beyond what even President Barack Obama would do. And that’s saying something because his administration had the reputation of prosecuting more people under the Espionage Act than all previous presidential administrations combined. This was prior to President Trump and they went right up to the line and they didn’t cross it. They recognize that if they brought a indictment against Julian Assange under the Espionage Act or any other laws that they’d be putting The New York Times, The Washington Post, these other outlets that published documents – they’d be putting them at risk. But Donald Trump’s Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, didn’t particularly care about this dilemma.
And so they’ve been trying to make this work and they’re seeking to prosecute Julian Assange. Even though he isn’t a U.S. citizen, they’re seeking to prosecute him in the U.S. for not obeying the U.S. secrecy law. There’s one more charge of a conspiracy to commit a computer crime. A lot of people talk about this as a hacking charge because it’s written as this allegation that he had chats with Chelsea Manning, as he was trying to help her hack a password so that she could search around databases anonymously and steal documents. But there’s a lot of reasons to question that information. And again, this is very significant because journalists up to this point have not been targeted with this law.
SCOTT HARRIS: Well, Kevin, if I’m correct, you were in London, England, an observer of the extradition hearing. Tell us a bit about what took place there and what the defense on behalf of Julian Assange was arguing against extraditing their client, Julian Assange, to the U.S. to face these charges.
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Yeah, I was. I was there for all four days of these proceedings. What people should know is that this was an opportunity for legal argument to be presented. And essentially, the burden is on the defense to prove that there isn’t a good cause for the judge to allow Julian Assange to be extradited to the United States. And so what they were arguing is that this is an abuse of process because if you look at the way that the extradition is drawn up, they made arguments that it’s been been drafted improperly, that there are actual facts like the timeline, the way that certain details are explained in the indictment they claimed are inaccurate. Just false – they don’t capture important details. And so, you know, by not having all of that information, it’s impossible for a judge to be able to decide fairly that this has enough evidence to warrant him being extradited to the United States. In addition to that, they made this argument that he is accused of a political offense and typically under a lot of treaties, universally, it’s been acknowledged that if you’re accused of doing something like engaging in a conspiracy against the interests of a state government that may not be a crime in other countries and also it may be between you and that particular government.
SCOTT HARRIS: Kevin, one of the most important aspects of this case being brought against Julian Assange is what’s at stake for journalism and investigative reporting in the United States. There’s concern about an official secrets act being established here that we’ve never had before that exists in other places like Great Britain. From your point of view, what are the stakes in this Julian Assange case for journalism?
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Mistakes are that if you’re a global correspondent and you’re working in any country around the world. If I was an American and I was living in other countries doing some research, let’s say I traveled like I did to go to London to cover this extradition proceeding. Let’s say I obtained some documents and a government wants to prosecute me that now they might be emboldened because United States is enforcing its secrecy law against an Australian — not a U.S. citizen, an Australian. So does that mean that, you know, the Saudi Arabian government could, if you obtain documents, could they have a case against someone? Could the Israeli government, could the Turkish government, could the Chinese government, could the Russian government, could a Brazilian government with Jair Bolsonaro want to – we’ve already seen that there was a threat of Glenn Greenwald, a very well- known journalist (living in Brazil), that the actual indictment that they were considering bringing against him seemed to have a lot of resemblance to what they’re trying to accuse Julian Assange of doing. So that should be a signal to people that what we’re doing has a lot of ramifications because it doesn’t just end with Julian Assange.