Why Assange Evades U.S. Charges While Manning Sits in Jail

Prosecuting Julian Assange would mean implicating the journalists who worked with him.

Julian Assange
National Journal
Brian Resnick
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Brian Resnick
Nov. 26, 2013, 6:12 a.m.

From a U.S. leg­al stand­point, Ju­li­an As­sange made a smart move in 2010 — he de­cided to share his bounty of 500,000 leaked cables with tra­di­tion­al news out­lets like The Guard­i­an and The New York Times. Today, The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ports that As­sange is un­likely to face U.S. charges for his role in fa­cil­it­at­ing the greatest in­tel­li­gence leak in Amer­ic­an his­tory. Why? Be­cause do­ing so would im­plic­ate the journ­al­ists who worked with As­sange. The Post re­ports:

Justice of­fi­cials said they looked hard at As­sange but real­ized that they have what they de­scribed as a “New York Times prob­lem.” If the Justice De­part­ment in­dicted As­sange, it would also have to pro­sec­ute The New York Times and oth­er news or­gan­iz­a­tions and writers who pub­lished clas­si­fied ma­ter­i­al, in­clud­ing The Wash­ing­ton Post and Bri­tain’s Guard­i­an news­pa­per, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cials, who spoke on the con­di­tion of an­onym­ity to dis­cuss in­tern­al de­lib­er­a­tions.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has not been soft on leak­ers, and it has been cri­ti­cized for be­ing too ag­gress­ive with the press. But the gov­ern­ment makes a care­ful dis­tinc­tion here: Chelsea Man­ning and Ed­ward Snowden are clear crim­in­als. They leaked clas­si­fied doc­u­ments they swore not to re­lease. They did so be­cause of a sense of act­iv­ism. As­sange fa­cilil­ated, in Man­ning’s case, the leaks. But yet As­sange will not be charged with aid­ing the crime be­cause he was the mes­sen­ger, des­pite the fact that his in­tent to leak the doc­u­ments is also based in the same vein of protest or act­iv­ism as the oth­ers.

Bill Keller, the former Times ex­ec­ut­ive ed­it­or, wrote that As­sange was an “elu­sive, ma­nip­u­lat­ive, and volat­ile” part­ner to work with. His 2011 re­count of the epis­ode makes As­sange out to be more of an act­iv­ist seek­ing a mega­phone than a journ­al­ist who wants to un­cov­er the truth. For in­stance,  “He was angry that we de­clined to link our on­line cov­er­age of the War Logs to the WikiLeaks web­site,” Keller wrote, “a de­cision we made be­cause we feared — rightly, as it turned out — that its trove would con­tain the names of low-level in­form­ants and make them Taliban tar­gets.”

At sur­face level, one can ar­gue that As­sange is no dif­fer­ent from Man­ning and Snowden. But as The Post re­ports, “Justice of­fi­cials said [As­sange] would al­most cer­tainly not be pro­sec­uted for re­ceiv­ing clas­si­fied ma­ter­i­al from Man­ning.”

Which is to say, if you don’t want to be in­dicted for leak­ing in­form­a­tion, don’t steal the in­form­a­tion your­self.

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