Pentagon Papers Lawyer: Julian Assange Being Convicted Will Criminalize the News-Gathering Process

James Goodale, the vice president and general counsel of the New York Times during the Pentagon Papers scandal, is warning that the light charges against Julian Assange is part of an extradition scheme that could ultimately criminalize the news-gathering process in the digital age.

Goodale warns that generally speaking, a journalist can indeed instruct his source in a manner which will permit the source to escape identification, and that criminalizing that aspect of journalism will be a blow to the First Amendment.

Writing for The Hill, Goodale explained that the lack of charges under the Espionage Act is “a snare and a delusion.” He wrote that the indictment is “surprisingly spare” and “seems to have been written with a particular purpose in mind — to extradite Assange from England. Once he is here, he will be hit, no doubt, with multiple charges.”

“Under the U.S.-U.K. extradition treaty, one cannot be extradited from the United Kingdom if the extradition is for ‘political purposes.’ This explains why the indictment does not contain any charges alleging that Assange conspired with the Russians to impact the 2016 presidential election. It may also explain why the indictment focuses on hacking government computers rather than on leaking stolen government information, in as much as leaking could be characterized as being done for political purposes,” Goodale wrote. “When Assange arrives in the United States through extradition, as many expect he will, the government will then be able to indict him for his participation in that election. It is not out of the question that the government will come up with additional charges against Assange.”

Goodale explained that the government made it seem like Assange had hacked an account for Manning to be able to access the files, but it is not really the case. Manning already had access to the files legally — he is simply accused of trying (unsuccessfully) to help them cover their tracks.

“The U.S. government has attempted to divert attention from the basic fact that this indictment punishes the publication of truthful information by making it seem that Assange ‘cracked’ a code to permit Manning to have access to further classified information, which Manning in turn then could leak to Assange. That’s not what the indictment says. It says that Assange told Manning how to cover her tracks with respect to her leaks so the government could not catch Manning,” he wrote.

In conclusion, Goodale stated that “if Assange is found guilty of conspiring with Manning under this indictment, which incorporates the Espionage Act, this will be a blow to the First Amendment. It will criminalize the news-gathering process and will be a precedent for future cases concerning leaks. This will be particularly so since substantially all leaks in the future will be computer-generated. “

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