The possible trial for Julian Assange, under the Espionage Act, is a looming specter that threatens American journalistic and democratic ideals. This hypothetical trial would set a precedent hindering journalistic collaboration with sources, destroying the entire profession of investigative journalism. Hurting our nation’s investigative journalists deprives our citizens of information crucial to sustaining democracy.
From the start, the U.S. government’s response to the rise of Wikileaks has been marked with an air of hilarity. With just some basic research on the topic, one will undoubtedly stumble upon an outrageous, leaked U.S. Army Counterintelligence Special Report, published in 2008 (over two years before the Wikileaks fiasco kicked into high-gear).
The report’s writer posits that Wikileaks “uses trust as a center of gravity.” Hoping to eliminate the public’s trust in Wikileaks, the author suggests that, “the identification, exposure, or termination of employment of or legal actions against current or former insiders, leakers, or whistleblowers could damage or destroy this center of gravity and deter others from using Wikileaks.org to make such information public.”
The report’s inclusion of “whistleblowers” is absurd, at best. These individuals are mentioned because they are essential to the process of cleaning out internal institutional flaws and corruption. The highlighted lines from the report are so one-dimensionally nefarious and Machiavellian, I wonder whether the writer took his cues from officials in the military establishment or from irate Disney villains.
Sadly, in recent months, the U.S. reaction to Wikileaks has become more defined. Now that the implications of our nation’s course of action are clear, the whole situation has transitioned from kind of funny to gravely serious.
About two weeks ago, Wikileaks published an article and video responding to a documentary released by PBS’s “Frontline.” The site’s personnel accused “Frontline” and the U.S. government of attempting, “to embroil Julian Assange and Bradley Manning in an espionage context.”
Manning is alleged to have leaked the enormous trove of classified U.S. documents on Afghanistan, Iraq, U.S. Diplomacy, and Guantanamo to Wikileaks. Opponents of Assange claim that if he collaborated with Manning to acquire the aforementioned documents, then the Wikileaks founder must be tried under the notorious Espionage Act.
Of course, this potential trial would be a huge blow to Assange and the legality of Wikileaks. But Assange and the gang aren’t the only ones in trouble.
If the Wikileaks founder is successfully prosecuted, then we, citizens of the U.S., stand to pay an awful toll. In the recently published video, Assange denies collaborating with Manning but claims, “The Pentagon is trying to say [that collaboration with sources to obtain inside government information] is espionage, but [this type of collaboration] is nonetheless legitimate [investigative] journalistic activity... I want to defend the right of all journalists to do precisely that.”
To try Assange under the Espionage Act would be to deny our nation’s journalistic traditions; collaboration with sources is integral to good investigative journalism. If journalists fear being prosecuted as spies in their attempts to dig up government dirt, they might stop these endeavors altogether.
In a democratic government, good investigative journalism is a necessity. By keeping us informed, this type of journalism allows all of us to check on the pertinent people and policies of related to our political institutions. As citizens, we are responsible for preserving our democracy. We cannot complacently trust that institutions will do so for us.
Our conduit for information, journalism, is currently facing its greatest challenge in decades. This story’s resolution is in our hands; start throwing around your weight as a voter and express your dissatisfaction.