A lawyer explains how the persecution of Julian Assange could spectacularly backfire

Julian Assange
Tom Coburg

A lawyer who specialises in hacking and information security may have provided an argument as to why the US extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should not proceed. A legal expert has forensically destroyed the latest charges against Assange.

Meanwhile, award-winning journalist Robert Fisk and former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger argue why the US prosecution of Assange should set off alarm bells everywhere.

“Idiotic” charges

Alexander J Urbelis is a lawyer and self-described hacker, specialising in information security. He has worked as “a graduate fellow in the Office of General Counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency and as a law clerk at the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces”. But in an opinion piece for CNN he argues that the recent indictment issued against Assange is “legally idiotic” because the latest charges relating to the Espionage Act are more likely to see the extradition request rejected.

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The US-UK extradition treaty states that:

Extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense.

Urbelis argues that the new charges raised against Assange are political and therefore “legally idiotic”.

Backfire

But Urbelis further argues that should extradition proceed, the prosecution of Assange could prove extremely embarrassing to the US authorities and the political establishment. How? The examples he cites include email contact between WikiLeaks and Donald Trump Jr and, its alleged, contact with Donald Trump associate Roger Stone.

And, Urbelis warns, that could be just the beginning.

He also argues that Assange’s actions merely equate to that of any journalist at work:

The actions for which Assange has now been indicted, soliciting a source, obtaining classified materials from that source, and publishing those materials for the world to see, are the very bread and butter of journalism itself.

Forensics

Leading US legal expert Jack Goldsmith provides a step-by-step forensic analysis of the charges raised in the US indictment against Assange. He demonstrates that what Assange could be seen as what any journalist does:

Why did the government bring the second, much more aggressive indictment against Assange, and why were the charges against him so obviously framed to mirror what U.S. journalists do? The answer might be that the indictment is a self-conscious effort by the government to push back against the growth in the type and number of national security leaks since 9/11, and especially against the wave of unprecedented foreign intelligence information leaks by U.S. media—including revelations of U.S. person information—that have occurred during the Trump administration.

The Canary has previously shown that both the original charge and the recent charges listed in the latest indictment are ludicrous.

What else?

Former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger agrees:

Assange is accused of trying to persuade a source to disclose yet more secret information. Most reporters would do the same. Then he is charged with behaviour that, on the face of it, looks like a reporter seeking to help a source protect her identity. If that’s indeed what Assange was doing, good for him.

Award-winning journalist Robert Fisk takes up the same theme, but from a different angle. He examines the crimes revealed by WikiLeaks. In particular, he highlights:

how US troops killed almost 700 civilians for coming too close to their checkpoints, including pregnant women and the mentally ill. And the instruction to US forces – this bit of history from Chelsea Manning – not to investigate when their Iraqi military allies whipped prisoners with heavy cables, hung them from ceiling hooks, bored holes into their legs with electric drills and sexually assaulted them. In the secret US assessment of 109,000 deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan (itself a gross underestimation), 66,081 were officially classified as non-combatants.

Fisk adds:

Those responsible for these atrocities should now be on trial, extradited from wherever they are hiding and imprisoned for their crimes against humanity. But no, we are going to punish the leakers – however pathetic we may regard their motives…. Shame and the fear of accountability for what has been done by our “security” authorities, not the law-breaking of leakers, is what this is all about.

Justice?

Human Rights Watch general counsel Dinah PoKempner believes the persecution of Assange is basically an attack on the freedom of the press:

Julian Assange didn’t work for the US government and owe them a duty of confidentiality, nor did he break into systems nor pay for secrets like a spy. He accepted classified information from a government source, shared it with media partners, and gave it to the public – exactly the sorts of activities that are bound up in freedom of the press.

Indeed, the US indictment has seen widespread condemnation by many respected bodies and individuals. Meanwhile, Assange is in the hospital wing at Belmarsh high-security prison and reported to have been too ill to face the latest court hearing – even by video link.

Justice, it could be argued, has been turned on its head.

Featured image via screengrab/Rolling Stone

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