Saving the First Amendment from Bi-partisan Attack

Julian Assange’s pending charge, the one that was accidentally revealed but as yet remains sealed, relates to the Chelsea Manning leaks.

That’s the Cables, Iraq War Logs & Guantanamo publications, back in 2010, around which most of the left side of US politics passionately defended Wikileaks, and Republicans wanted the head of its editor-in-chief on a platter. Are the latter just as hungry now to devour journalists? Here’s their chance, but will they make a move? Unsurprisingly, that looks like a negative. Today @AssangeLegal reported that the Department of Justice filed its opposition to the motion by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (@rcfp) to unseal the Assange Indictment.

Why the charge is about the Manning era is because it was filed in the Eastern District Court of Virginia, and bears the signature of the officer associated with the Grand Jury investigation into that case, G. Zachary Terwilliger. We’ve known about it since February 2011, when the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age reported that in one internal email sent in January 2011 a senior Stratfor exec writes: “We have a sealed indictment on Assange”. In response, the Australian QC, Julian Burnside sent the following request for information and assistance to the Australian Attorney General.

As for the Mueller indictments relating to the 2016 elections & ‘Russiagate’, as Charlie Savage in the New York Times advises, they were issued from the District of Columbia. Nothing related would be filed in a different jurisdiction, least of all collusion with those parties already indicted.

The strategy of Hillary Clinton and the DNC has been to portray Wikileaks as a partisan organisation, stirring up a lot of anger in Trump haters around the world. The democrats are no doubt happy to have their supporters think the charges relate to the Mueller investigation or the DNC lawsuit. And equally so, when Trump supporters suggest he owes Assange one for helping him win the election, since that supports their case against both. It is most unlikely charges will be brought in relation to the publication of DNC or Clinton emails. The most significant obstacle is the First Amendment. Behind that, the fact that this material was never classified as state secrets.

President Trump has no reason to celebrate or be grateful to Julian Assange in respect of Manning’s revelations through Wikileaks. In fact he called for Julian’s assassination when in 2010, their publications exposed war crimes during the Bush administration. Interestingly for both sides of politics, is that Colin Powell was not the only one to lie to the American people about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So did Robert Mueller.

As they come to realise that this is a First Amendment issue, the Fourth Estate in the US is getting nervous. The records from the Eastern District Court of Virginia show that the line of investigation in relation to Assange, was into conspiracy to commit espionage. To convict Assange, the conspiracy had to be with someone charged with espionage, as Manning was. However, as Joe Lauria points out to Chris Hedges in a recent assessment of the situation, there is legislation in the Espionage Act of 1917 to charge any unauthorised person of state secrets, such as an investigative journalist.

That clause has never been used to date to convict a journalist. Indeed conflating the notion of conspiracy with a journalist’s process of gathering information would cripple the Fourth Estate’s freedom to publish truthful information in the public interest. It would deny the rights of the First Amendment. Daniel Ellsberg and James Goodale  (the First Amendment lawyer for the New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case)  have both warned, if Assange goes down on this charge, the First Amendment goes with him.

Will either the Trump or Clinton camps protect the First Amendment? I think not. On December 31st 2011, the long-term Propaganda Act was repealed by President Obama in the amendments made to the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA), making propaganda permitted again under law. This was an expedient and sweeping move to control the narrative,; initiated by the Democrats, but cozy for all. As long as the government of the day owned the MSN, it would work. That is, if Wikileaks could be effectively silenced.

The climate today is such that the President of the United States (POTUS) is even attacking MSN journalists and calling them the enemy of the people. He advises that they ignore the brutal murder of one of their own, Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The most reliable left-wing media that is critical of the DNC narrative and hosts CIA veteran officials like William Binney – whose forensic team proved there was no hacking of DNC servers – that media is being disappeared down Google search lists by Silicon Valley, who are largely in the pocket of the DNC. That is why the hacking scenario is still being taken as a given by the MSN and consequently, most of the public.

But let’s not forget the tactics of Trump’s campaign team, Cambridge Analytica, to identify and target the most vulnerable citizens (in multiple countries) with mendacious propaganda in order to get their vote. Let’s remember how fair comment between friends about John McCain was being deleted before our very eyes on social media. The battle for control of the narrative is deeply pervasive. Their ‘givens’ can become our givens, when repeated often enough. Sound familiar?

Trump could intervene, and be considered by many a hero for protecting the Constitution, but that seems as unlikely as the pig flying. What both sides of politics have been conducting over the last 8 years is a bipartisan war on whistle-blowers (in the case of Assange, across multiple countries) and intensifying surveillance on public servants (insider threats). This amounts to taking back control of the historical record.

The worst response ‘we the people’ can have, is to help either camp chip away at the freedom and safety of the Fourth Estate, or journalism’s fundamental ethic of impartiality. If a precedent is set with one journalist for the handling of state secrets – and in the case of Assange, a foreign national who has never worked or published in the US – every journalist in the world who handles (never mind publishes) US state secrets becomes vulnerable to the same prosecution.

The US should be very careful about making such a move against a foreign journalist. Not that the Australian government has any concerns in the case of Assange, where bipartisan smear and lies have been consistent across six administrations. The point is that if other ‘civilised’ countries follow suit and start hunting down journalists, whatever their nationality or jurisdiction of publication, trouble may soon arise for US foreign correspondents who regularly violate foreign secrecy laws, with the greatest threat to their freedom and safety coming from abroad. Such was the case for Khashoggi. If President Trump wants to avoid going down that dangerous road, he must protect the First Amendment; not any journalist in particular. All of them.

About CaTⓋ

Artist, musician, nerd
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