Civil Liberties

Assange Avoids Extradition—For Now

Under the First Amendment, the question of whether Assange qualifies as a legitimate journalist is irrelevant.

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A British judge in January denied the U.S. government's request to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who faces 18 federal charges related to publishing classified documents. While it may be tempting to see the decision as a victory for a free press, Westminster Magistrates' Court Judge Vanessa Baraitser is actually fine with prosecuting journalists who reveal secrets—just not with throwing them into solitary confinement.

In 2010, Assange and WikiLeaks arranged to receive and publish top-secret documents leaked by former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. Assange was originally indicted in 2018. A superseding 2019 indictment charged him with violating the Espionage Act by obtaining and disclosing "national defense information" as well as violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Those charges together carry a maximum penalty of 175 years in prison.

Although the Justice Department had prosecuted leakers before, this was the first time it had charged a publisher under the Espionage Act for printing classified information. Civil libertarians warned that the precedent could effectively criminalize common journalistic practices.

Assange initially fought his extradition from Ecuador's embassy in London, where he sought refuge in 2012 to avoid arrest on a Swedish warrant related to sexual assault allegations. Swedish police closed that investigation in 2019, Ecuador revoked Assange's asylum, and London police arrested him.

Assange's attorneys argued that his actions deserved protection as journalism and that his prosecution was politically motivated. The U.S. Justice Department argued that Assange, by publishing thousands of unexpurgated classified documents, far exceeded the scope of responsible journalism.

Judge Baraitser wholeheartedly agreed with the Justice Department on that score. "Unlike the traditional press," she wrote in her 132-page ruling, "those who choose to use the internet to disclose sensitive information in this way are not bound by a professional code or ethical journalistic duty or practice. Those who post information on the internet have no obligation to act responsibly or to exercise judgment in their decisions."

Under the First Amendment, however, the question of whether Assange qualifies as a legitimate journalist is irrelevant. "Freedom of the press" refers to a technology of mass communication, not a profession.

While rejecting Assange's argument that prosecuting him would violate his right to free expression, Baraitser was persuaded by psychiatric testimony that his mental health had steadily declined in custody, creating a "substantial risk" that he would commit suicide in the harsh conditions he was apt to face in the United States. For that reason, and only that reason, Baraitser refused the extradition request.

NEXT: Brickbat: Rue, Britannia

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  1. Under the First Amendment, however, the question of whether Assange qualifies as a legitimate journalist is irrelevant. “Freedom of the press” refers to a technology of mass communication, not a profession.

    This can’t be said enough – freedom of the press applies to everybody, not just some self-anointed gatekeepers who take it upon themselves to decide what you need to know and what you don’t need to know and what is true and what is misinformation. Fuck the New York Times and CNN and all the others who insist it’s only “legitimate” journalists to whom freedom of the press applies.

    1. But their mommies told them they were special.

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  2. Assange’s status as a “journalist” is irrelevant to the conversation. He suborned the acquisition of classified documents. That’s a crime.

    1. It’s a crime in the United States. Assange is not a US citizen and was not operating in the US. How does the US get away with asserting universal jurisdiction?

      1. They do it because they can. If someone stood up to them, it might change, but we have the nukes and they don’t.

    2. If that were true then Daniel Ellsberg would have gone to jail.

      1. It was true with Ellsberg too. They declined to prosecute.

        1. Just like they should do with Assange.

      2. In Ellsberg’s time the law hadn’t been crafted to prevent the accused from defending himself to a jury. Because of his case, it now is.

        Unfortunately this is no true victory. Britain isn’t going to let him go.

  3. 1. We are supposed to be equal before the law. No “exceptions” for whatever “journalist” means these days.
    2. The right to freedom of the press and free speech does not extend beyond you own home. 1st = 2nd.

    1. Nobody needs a high capacity Twitter account.

      1. When our Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, they couldn’t have foreseen high-speed electronic printing presses, much less radio, TV, or the internet, so Freedom of the Press obviously only applies to manual single-page typesetting machinery.

        1. Is that you Hinn?

        2. I just think that there should be some sort of training or restrictions on owning an assault blog.

          1. At least if it was registered, this sort of thing wouldn’t happen. Perhaps a waiting period before you can write anything.

        3. So you don’t support common sense restrictions on single-page typesetting machinery?

  4. Trump’s biggest failures were not pardoning Snowdon and Assange. It would’ve been the perfect “FU” to the establishment coup leaders.

    1. It would have been an FU but it wouldn’t have been prudent. Charges against assange should have been dropped for multiple reasons. Snowden should have been given a real, fair and open trial with a legitimate chance for acquittal.

      Neither of these men deserve pardons for their actions but both deserve equitable treatment.

      1. They both deserve pardons and medals, for alerting the public to outrageous violations of the Constitution by our government.

  5. Baraitser was persuaded by psychiatric testimony that his mental health had steadily declined in custody, creating a “substantial risk” that he would commit suicide in the harsh conditions he was apt to face in the United States. For that reason, and only that reason, Baraitser refused the extradition request.

    “On second thought, just zip tie all his limbs and shackle him to the wall, and I’ll grant the request.”

  6. Incidentally Chelsea Manning did not exist when these documents were leaked. Bradley Manning leaked the documents. By retroactively changing these details you’re not being respectful. You’re rewriting history without context.

    1. “You’re rewriting history without context.”

      It’s like Shack is becoming a proggie.

    2. Let that history be written after he/she/it receives his pardon and medal. His “gender identity” deserves to be laughed at, but not while his life is still in hostile hands.

  7. Citizens have the inalienable right to free speech, nobody has an inalienable right to keep secrets and lie.

    If a government or private entity is keeping secrets, it’s on them to fail or succeed.

    They have no right to coerce anyone out of their inalienable free speech right to keep someone else’s secrets.

    Treason is violating 1a.

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