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
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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