Now that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is in custody, we can expect the U.S. government to request his extradition and prosecute the Australian for espionage. “Any such proceedings would set up a test of whether the First Amendment’s protection for a free press extends to a website with a worldwide audience,” notes McClatchy today.
In 1917 the United States enacted the Espionage Act, a law that has made it a crime to “willfully communicate” secret government information that could expose national secrets held by officialdom. Since the law was passed, however, the government has avoided prosecuting journalists for publishing classified information.
“The First Amendment’s freedom of speech and the press has protected journalists in the past, though it is not clear whether the courts would consider Assange a journalist,” writes McClatchy.
Assange’s “actions are not those of a responsible journalist that would enjoy the protection of the Constitution,” opines Jeffrey H. Smith, a former general counsel at the CIA. Government, of course, will decided what is responsible and irresponsible journalism and the high court will enshrine this in law.
The establishment – including its highest court – may eventually restrict the First Amendment and have its protection apply only to selected corporate media journalists and other propaganda functionaries of the elite.
Any such ruling by the Supreme Court will send a message to investigative journalists and alternative news organizations and publications – you will be prosecuted for revealing “government secrets,” in short it may soon be illegal to report information the government wants to keep hidden from the American people.
According to a Congressional Research Service analysis, the Supreme Court has not resolved the question of “whether, in cases where information has been acquired unlawfully by a newspaper or by a source, government may ever punish not only the unlawful acquisition, but the ensuing publication as well.”
In 1971, the Supreme Court rejected a Nixon administration effort to stop the New York Times and the Washington Post from publishing the Pentagon Papers. Nixon’s effort to prosecute leakers Daniel Ellsberg and the late Anthony Russo – who were not journalists, but RAND corporation researchers – was dismissed due to “prosecutorial misconduct.”
The Supremes indicated, however, that it would have been possible for the government to prosecute the newspapers involved.
“Freedom of speech is a basic US constitutional right,” notes the Christian Science Monitor. “““What Assange and WikiLeaks may have done, however, is set up a lawyer’s dream of a case which would allow the Supreme Court to resolve a conflict between two basic rights — the right to speak, and the right of the US to hold close its secrets.”
The Obama administrarion has declared the Wikileaks “disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government.”
In fact, the disclosures put at risk the widespread government policy of withholding information from the American people.
In 2006, Patrice McDermott, director of OpenTheGovernment.org, said that every “administration wants to control information about its policies and practices, but the current [Bush] administration has restricted access to information about our government and its policies at unprecedented levels. The result has been the suppression of discussions about our country’s direction and its security. How can the public or even Congress make informed decisions under such circumstances? The movement away from public accountability must be reversed.”
A record number of Freedom of Information Act requests indicate government is becoming more secretive, not less.
Declarations of transparency and open government notwithstanding, the Obama administration has continued the concerted effort to keep the American people in the dark about the operation of its government, especially in regard to foreign policy.
Never mind the idiocy of government officials and neocons such as William Kristol who have called for not only harassing, kidnapping, and “neutralizing” Julian Assange and the Wikileaks operation, the ultimate result will be to harass and neutralize the alternative media that continues to draw millions of people away from government propaganda disseminated by the corporate media.
In order to convert the United States into a third world slave gulag with a high-tech police state overlay, the ruling elite will target and attempt to liquidate alternative media. Eventually extraditing and prosecuting Julian Assange as an enemy of the state is an important element in the effort to kill the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights.