Showing posts with label Julian Assange. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Julian Assange. Show all posts

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Observers comment on Assange extradition hearings


My thanks to Assange Defense Boston for organizing the Massachusetts State House rally on February 20 (above). Assange Defense Boston posted on X a couple of clips of me (below). Read more about "Me and Julian Assange" and see my images from the event.

Here (and embedded below) is a webinar from the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights about the February 20 and 21 hearings in the UK High Court of Justice. And here (and embedded below) are discussions of journalists, diplomats, and others who were in the room for parts of the hearings.





Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Assange Defense Boston rallies at State House

The Boston Committee of Assange Defense rallied today at the Massachusetts State House.

At the rally today, I spoke about my experience with freedom-of-information law and read parts of a letter from U.S. law professors to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland. The letter asks the U.S. Department of Justice to drop Espionage Act charges against Assange and abandon the request for his extradition from the UK. 

Freedom of the Press Foundation has more on the letter. My comments were based on, and the text of the letter can be found in, my February 16, 2024, post, "Me and Julian Assange."

The High Court in London heard arguments today that Assange should have a right to appeal to the courts over his extradition, which the British government has approved. Read more about today's proceeding from Jill Lawless at AP News. The case continues in the High Court tomorrow.  Protestors crowded on the street outside the London courthouse today.

Photos and videos by RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

The sun shines at the Massachusetts State House.












The group sets up.











The crowd grows.












Committee organizer Susan McLucas introduces the cause.












Victor Wallace speaks.












A letter in support is read from U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).













A speaker decries government secrecy. The s***-word might have been used.













A woman speaks to the intolerable cruelty of U.S. federal prisons.












Committee organizer Paula Iasella says that Assange is hardly alone in aggressive national security accountability, citing John Young's Cryptome.














Friday, February 16, 2024

Me and Julian Assange

WikiLeaks founder battles extradition in UK courts

Julian Assange, 2014
CancillerĂ­a del Ecuador via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
I'm as close to a freedom-of-information absolutist as you'll find.

I've said that about myself. I stole the notion and adapted the line from a personal hero, the renowned Professor Jane Kirtley, whom I was privileged to meet first in her legendary tenure at the helm of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP). Professor Kirtley utters the line as a First Amendment absolutist, and she's right: I've met no one so thoroughly committed to a free press, and able to persuade you she's right to boot.

Access to information, or frustration over the lack thereof, when I was a university journalist was a major force that drove me to law school. I was a strident 23-year-old law student, a legal intern at the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) and a willing convert to the cause, when I first met Kirtley in person. 

It was the 1990s. Bill had cheated on Hillary, and Milli Vanilli's Grammy was revoked. I was well convinced that the world would be a better place if there were no secrets at all: if governments kept open books, and everyone walked around with their hearts on their sleeves. 

At the joint offices of the RCFP and SPLC, I had access to a closet that held all of the publications on freedom of information. I devoured them. I was ready to build my Utopia.

I'm as close to a freedom-of-information absolutist as you'll find. 

I still say the line. But I admit, sometimes now I say it with less conviction.

Yesterday on NewsHour, a cognition expert said that we experience an increase in compassion and empathy as we age. That's it, I thought. That's why the utterly fictional characters on This Is Us made me cry like it was my own family. That's why I'm no longer so confident in my absolutisms. It's biology, and I can't help it. I'm getting old and soft.

In 2006, I was still strong. I knew right from wrong. I was an absolutist terror. That was the year that WikiLeaks was founded. That was the year that Julian Assange came into my life.

Julian Assange and I are the same age, born just months apart and a world away, in 1971. By the time I learned of him, we were 25, and his biography made me feel like I'd been sitting on my hands watching the world go by. He had hacked NASA when he was a teen in Melbourne. He was charged with computer crimes by age 20. 

But he wasn't a ne'er-do-well; he obeyed a nascent code of ethics for a new, technological age. He is credited with originating "hacktivism." He showed what government, especially the U.S. military, was up to behind virtual closed doors. He was out to make the world better by pulling back the curtain. Unapologetic, radical transparency.

When Assange co-founded WikiLeaks in 2006, freedom-of-information absolutism was the ethos. Anyone in the world with access to secrets could pour them anonymously into Wikileaks's servers in Iceland: a deliberate jurisdictional choice for information laundering. The drop-box technology was sleek. The morality was a-, not im-. Wikileaks would publish it all. The democratic potential of the internet would be realized. All the citizens of the globe would judge. Brilliant.

There were remarkable successes. Notable was the "collateral murder" revelation, that U.S. soldiers had killed 18 civilians in a Baghdad helicopter attack in 2007. WikiLeaks also revealed the toll of friendly fire deaths, many of which had been covered up. Conclude what one would about the military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the people whose lives were on the line, as well as families and voters back home, deserved to see the good, the bad, and the ugly of war. 

And it wasn't just about war. WikiLeaks had big banks in the crosshairs (2011, 2013). In 2016, a trove of records (e.g., Toronto Sun) revealed that Hillary Clinton campaign head John Podesta had called Bernie Sanders a "doofus" over his criticism of the Paris climate accord. Good to know.

But after the Iraq War apex, things had started to unravel. WikiLeaks knew a lot; maybe too much. Its revelations tested the as close to ... as part of my mantra. Absolutism's gloss started to tarnish. 

Is there really social good in forecasting troop movements, when soldiers would be slaughtered as a result? Even Julian Assange saw it: Unmasked middle eastern informants cooperating with western forces, and the informants' families, faced brutal retaliation by militias and dictators. It was hard to work the math on absolute transparency to make the benefits always outweigh the costs.

So in 2010, WikiLeaks forged an alliance with The Guardian, and later other news outlets. With absolutism baked into the technology, WikiLeaks had no way to sift information to ensure, quite literally, that people would not be killed as a direct result of publication. 

Journalists do know how to do that; that ethical balance, to minimize harm, is the very essence of journalistic professionalism. So WikiLeaks would turn some of its information over to journalists, who would screen for the rare but real need for confidentiality.

The collaboration was rocky, short-lived, and at best only partly successful. The missions of absolute transparency and journalistic judgment were not so easily reconciled. The story has been told many times, for example in Vanity Fair's 2011 "The Man Who Spilled the Secrets," and still is dissected in journalism schools

Fortunes changed for Julian Assange. Negative words such as "anarchist" and "seditionist" took the place of positive words such as "crusader" and "activist." Allegations of rape, which Assange denies vehemently, surfaced in Sweden, which sought Assange's extradition from the UK. Conspiracy theorists, who are not always wrong, alleged that the Sweden allegations were a ruse to bring about Assange's extradition to the United States, which had indicted him, from a jurisdiction that would accede more readily than England would.

In London, Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy, where he lived for nearly seven years. Things got weirder. Why wouldn't they?, with Assange trapped in a physical building and a legal limbo. In rare public appearances, Assange looked rough: less his former satiny-minimalist fashion, slick mane, and lustrous confidence; more fist-shaking-old-man-in-a-robe, scraggly-beard, "get off my lawn" vibe. 

Eventually the Ecuadoreans grew weary of the house guest who wouldn't leave. They called the cops, literally. In 2019, Assange was arrested. He has been in London's high-security Belmarsh Prison since. The United States has asked the UK to extradite Assange to face espionage charges, and the UK has seemed pleased to offload a lightning rod.

Is the U.S. extradition request about prosecution or persecution? As media struggle to make sense of Julian Assange—"Visionary or Villain?"—all indications are that if he lands in the United States, sending him to the stockade, if not the gallows, will be a bipartisan cause. The shift in American political attitude these intervening years toward a troubling receptivity to authoritarianism has flipped the script on WikiLeaks in the public imagination.

Some 35 law professors, including me, on Wednesday signed a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland asking that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) end its efforts to have Julian Assange extradited and that DOJ drop Espionage Act charges against him. I'll paste the text of the letter below.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation, which has coordinated efforts on the Assange matter, issued a press release about the letter. Below is the foundation's three-minute video take.

Yesterday, the Freedom of the Press Foundation hosted a forum, "Jailing Journalists: The Assange Case and the Threat to Press Freedom" [update: posted Feb. 20]. The forum was geared to reach people who might not understand what's at stake and might not like Julian Assange. One does not have to like Assange nor applaud the publication of state secrets to worry about the implications of an extradition and Espionage Act prosecution for the First Amendment and the American Fourth Estate. 

Echoing just that worry, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) led off the forum. He has led lawmakers, he said, in asking the Garland DOJ to drop the charges and abandon the extradition. McGovern represents the Massachusetts Second Congressional District, which is a good chunk of the center of the commonwealth, west of Boston.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation forum revealed just how dangerous the situation has become for journalists in America, and how endangered might be some fundamental precepts of First Amendment law. One journalist commented in the forum that he has been sued by government for a prior restraint on the dissemination of lawfully obtained public records. This is basic Pentagon Papers stuff. But would the present Supreme Court uphold the sacrosanct no-prior-restraint doctrine?, forum participants asked.

When I met Jane Kirtley 30 years ago, that would have been a silly question.

Assange will have been in prison in London for five years this April. Beginning Tuesday next week, on February 20 and 21, the High Court of Justice in London will hear his case on a potentially dispositive procedural question. Previously, the British government approved extradition to the United States, and a lower court judge decided that that determination could not be appealed. So the subject of the hearing next week is to determine whether Assange may appeal the administrative disposition to the courts.

Boston Area Assange Defense plans a rally in support of Assange on February 20 (flyer above) at the Massachusetts State House. The group has been an active local organization advocating against prosecution of Assange. I publicized the organization's rally and forum last year. A demonstration is planned similarly at the UK Consulate in New York City on February 20 (flyer at left).


LAW PROFS' LETTER TO U.S. AG RE ASSANGE, ESPIONAGE ACT

February 14, 2024

The Honorable Merrick B. Garland Attorney General

Dear Attorney General Merrick Garland,

The undersigned law professors strongly urge the Department of Justice to end its efforts to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States and to drop the charges against him under the Espionage Act.[FN1]

Our personal views on Assange and WikiLeaks vary, and we are not writing to defend them in the court of public opinion. But when it comes to courts of law, we are united in our concern about the constitutional implications of prosecuting Assange. As explained below, we believe the Espionage Act charges against him pose an existential threat to the First Amendment.

"[A] free press cannot be made to rely solely upon the sufferance of government to supply it with information."[FN2] Accordingly, the Supreme Court has correctly and repeatedly held that journalists are entitled to publish true and newsworthy information even if their sources obtained or released the information unlawfully.[FN3] Journalists have relied on sources who broke the law to report some of the most important stories in American history.[FN4] An application of the Espionage Act that would prohibit them from doing so would not only deprive the public of important news reporting but would run far afoul of the First Amendment.[FN5]

That is why last November, editors and publishers of The New York Times, The Guardian, and other international news outlets wrote in an open letter about the Assange case that "[o]btaining and disclosing sensitive information when necessary in the public interest is a core part of the daily work of journalists. If that work is criminalised,our public discourse and our democracies are made significantly weaker."[FN6] Additionally, top editors at The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and more have unequivocally condemned the charges against Assange as a direct threat to their own journalists’ rights.[FN7]

The Obama/Biden DOJ recognized as much in declining to prosecute Assange, reportedly due to “the New York Times problem,” i.e., the lack of a legal basis to prosecute Assange that could not also be used to prosecute the nation’s most recognizable newspaper.[FN8] That was, unfortunately, less of a worry for the Trump DOJ, but should deeply concern your office. 

The current indictment against Mr. Assange contains 17 counts of alleged Espionage Act violations, all based on obtaining, receiving, possessing and publishing national defense information.[FN9] The indictment accuses Assange of "recruit[ing] sources" and "soliciting" confidential documents merely by maintaining a website indicating that it accepts such materials.

Award-winning journalists everywhere also regularly "recruit" and speak with sources, use encrypted or anonymous communications channels, receive and accept confidential information, ask questions to sources about it, and publish it. That is not a crime—it’s investigative journalism. As long as they don’t participate in their source’s illegality, their conduct is entitled to the full protection of the First Amendment.[FN10]

The fallout from prosecuting Assange could extend beyond the Espionage Act and beyond national security journalism. It could enable prosecution of routine newsgathering under any number of ambiguous laws and untested legal theories.We’ve already seen prosecutors test the outer limits of some such theories in cases against journalists.[FN11]

The Justice Department under your watch has spoken about the importance of newsgathering and ensuring the First Amendment rights of reporters are protected, even when stories involve classified information. You have also strengthened the Justice Department's internal guidelines in cases involving reporters.[FN12] We applaud these efforts. But a prosecution of Assange under the Espionage Act would undermine all these policies and open the door to future Attorneys General bringing similar felony charges against journalists. 

We respectfully urge you to uphold the First Amendment and drop all Espionage Act charges against Julian Assange.

Sincerely,

Jody David Armour, Roy P. Crocker Professor of Law, USC Gould School of Law

Michael Avery, Professor Emeritus, Suffolk Law School

Emily Berman, Royce R. Till Professor of Law, University of Houston Law Center

Mark S. Brodin, Professor, Boston College Law School

Leonard L. Cavise, Professor Emeritus, DePaul College of Law

Alan K. Chen, Thompson G. Marsh Law Alumni Professor, University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Carol L. Chomsky, Professor, University of Minnesota Law School

Marjorie Cohn, Professor of Law Emerita, Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Evelyn Douek, Assistant Professor of Law, Stanford Law School

Eric B. Easton, Professor of Law Emeritus, University of Baltimore School of Law

Richard Falk, Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law and Practice Emeritus, Princeton University

Martha A. Field, Langdell Professor, Harvard Law School

Sally Frank, Professor of Law, Drake University School of Law

Eric M. Freedman, Siggi B. Wilzig Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Rights, Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University

James Goodale, Adjunct Professor of Law, Fordham University School of Law

Robert W. Gordon, Professor of Law, Emeritus, Stanford Law School

Mark A. Graber, Regents Professor, University of Maryland Carey School of Law

Jonathan Hafetz, Professor of Law, Seton Hall Law School

Heidi Kitrosser, William W. Gurley Professor of Law, Northwestern – Pritzker School of Law

Genevieve Lakier, Professor of Law and Herbert & Marjorie Fried Teaching Scholar, The University of Chicago Law School

Arthur S. Leonard, Robert F. Wagner Professor of Labor and Employment Law, Emeritus, New York Law School

Gregg Leslie, Professor of Practice; Executive Director, First Amendment Clinic, ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law

Gregory P. Magarian, Thomas and Karole Green Professor of Law, Washington University School of Law

Carlin Meyer, Prof. Emerita, New York Law School

Anthony O’Rourke, Joseph W. Belluck & Laura L. Aswad Professor, University at Buffalo School of Law

Richard J. Peltz-Steele, Chancellor Professor, UMass Law School

Jonathan Peters, Chair of the Department of Journalism and Affiliate Professor of Law, University of Georgia

Aziz Rana, Incoming J. Donald Monan, S.J., University Professor of Law and Government,
Boston College

Leslie Rose, Professor of Law Emerita, Golden Gate University School of Law

Brad R. Roth, Professor of Political Science and Law, Wayne State University

Laura Rovner, Professor of Law & Director, Civil Rights Clinic, University of Denver
Sturm College of Law

Natsu Taylor Saito, Regents’ Professor Emerita, Georgia State University College of Law

G. Alex Sinha, Associate Professor of Law, Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University

Mateo Taussig-Rubbo, Professor; Director of J.S.D. Program, University at Buffalo School of Law

Hannibal Travis, Professor of Law, Florida International University College of Law

Sonja R. West, Brumby Distinguished Professor in First Amendment Law, University of Georgia School of Law

Bryan H. Wildenthal, Professor of Law Emeritus, Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Ellen Yaroshefsky, Howard Lichtenstein Professor of Legal Ethics, Maurice A. Deane School of
Law at Hofstra University

Signatories to this letter have signed in their individual capacities. Institutions are named for identification purposes only.

1. 18 U.S.C. §§ 792-798. 

2. Smith v. Daily Mail Publ'g Co.,443 U.S. 97, 104 (1979). 

3. See, e.g., Bartnicki v. Vopper, 532 U.S. 514 (2001); Florida Star v. B.J.F., 491 U.S. 524, 536 (1989); Landmark Commc'ns, Inc. v. Virginia, 435 U.S. 829, 830 n.1, 832 (1978); Okla. Publ'g Co. v. Okla. Cnty. Dist. Ct., 430 U.S. 308 (1977).

4. See, e.g., N.Y. Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 913 (1971) (per curiam).

5. Jean v. Mass. State Police, 492 F.3d 24, 31 (1st Cir. 2007) (Bartnicki barred liability for knowingly receiving illegal recording under criminal wiretapping statute).

6. Charlie Savage, Major News Outlets Urge U.S. to Drop Its Charges Against Assange, N.Y. Times, Nov. 28, 2022.

7. Camille Fassett, Press Freedom Organizations and News Outlets Strongly Condemn New Charges
Against Julian Assange
, Freedom of the Press Foundation, May 24, 2019.

8. Hadas Gold, The DOJ's "New York Times" problem with Assange, Politico, Nov. 26, 2013.

9. 18 U.S.C. § 793; WikiLeaks Founder Charged in Superseding Indictment, Office of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of Justice, June 24, 2020.

10. Bartnicki, supra; Democratic Nat'l Comm. v. Russian Fed'n, 392 F. Supp. 3d 410, 436 (S.D.N.Y. 2019) ("Journalists are allowed to request documents that have been stolen and to publish those documents.").

11. Steven Lee Myers & Benjamin Mullin, Raid of Small Kansas Newspaper Raises Free Press Concerns, N.Y. Times, Aug. 13, 2023.

12. Charlie Savage, Garland Formally Bars Justice Dept. from Seizing Reporters' Records, N.Y. Times, Oct. 26, 2022.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Assange defense group plans Boston/online panel

In connection with Student Press Freedom Day, featuring nationwide virtual events, Boston Area Assange Defense will host a live and streaming program on Thursday, February 23, 6:30-8:30 p.m., on the prosecution (persecution?) of WikiLeaks information activist Julian Assange.

Accused of hypocrisy, the Biden Administration still seeks Assange's extradition from the UK to face charges of espionage in the United States. Assange presently is appealing approval by the British home secretary of the extradition request.

Having co-founded WikiLeaks in 2006, Assange long advocated for absolutism in the freedom of information. But when WikiLeaks received a trove of records from U.S. soldier Chelsea Manning, Assange did enlist the help of journalists to filter the material for public consumption in an effort to protect people, such as confidential informants whose lives would be at risk if they were named as collaborators with western forces.

Nevertheless, the subsequent publication of records in 2010 and 2011 outraged the West.  The records included secret military logs and cables about U.S. involvement in Iraq and, as Al Jazeera described, "previously unreported details about civilian deaths, friendly-fire casualties, U.S. air raids, al-Qaeda’s role in [Afghanistan], and nations providing support to Afghan leaders and the Taliban." Especially damaging to western interests was a video of arguably reckless U.S. helicopter fire on Iraqis, killing two Reuters journalists.

Manning was court-martialed for the leaks. President Obama commuted her sentence in 2017.

Thursday's program is titled, "The Future of Gen Z Journalism Depends on Julian Assange's Freedom." From Boston Area Assange Defense, here is the description.

Boston Area Assange Defense invites you to attend a panel discussion on how the U.S. prosecution of Julian Assange impacts the future of journalism. This event is part of the Student Press Freedom Day 2023 initiative: "Bold Journalism/Brave Advocacy." 

The reality is that "Bold Journalism" has landed Julian Assange in a supermax prison for publishing the most important journalistic work of this century. Our First Amendment rights are threatened by this unconstitutional prosecution of a journalist and gives the US government global jurisdiction over journalists who publish that which embarrasses the US or exposes its crimes.

Prestigious international lawyer Prof. Nils Melzer (appointed in 2016 as UN Special Torture Rapporteur) authored, The Trial of Julian Assange, A Story of Persecution. The book is a firsthand account of having examined Assange at Belmarsh prison and having communicated with four "democratic" states about his diagnosis of Assange exhibiting signs of persecution. He wrote, "I write this book not as a lawyer for Julian Assange but as an advocate for humanity, truth, and the rule of law." "At stake is nothing less than the future of democracy. I do not intend to leave to our children a world where governments can disregard the rule of law with impunity, and where telling the truth has become a crime." Melzer stated, "If the main media organizations joined forces, I believe that this case would be over in ten days."

Boston Area Assange Defense platforms this experienced panel of journalists for a lively conversation about the Assange prosecution, its threat to journalism and the rule of law. Also, a short video clip narrated by Julian Assange's wife will be streamed for informational and discussion purposes.

Students and citizens alike are entitled to a free press so that we can make informed decisions.

A free press is the cornerstone of our democracy.

We must fight against censorship and the criminalization of journalism.

We must show "Brave Advocacy" to end the prosecution of Julian Assange!

Please join us February 23rd for this important "Bold Journalism/Brave Advocacy" event.

Students are invited so kindly share this event with your students!

Online Zoom link. 

Community Church of Boston's YouTube. 

People will also gather at the Community Church of Boston, 565 Boylston St., near Copley Square.

An Assange information table will be set up with literature and petition to MA senators. Boston Area Assange Defense will be present to answer questions....

Guest speakers: