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Stop the federal prosecution of Julian Assange

 

On Monday, the editors and publishers of The New York Times, the Guardian, Le Monde, El Pais and Der Spiegel published an open letter calling on the government to drop its prosecution of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, citing the grave threat Assange’s prosecution poses to press freedom.

WikiLeaks and Assange first came to prominence in 2010 following the publication of hundreds of thousands of military documents and diplomatic cables.

In April of that year, WikiLeaks published a now-infamous video showing a U.S. military helicopter in Iraq gunning down people mistakenly perceived as militants. Two Reuters journalists were among the 18 people killed.

Subsequent documents revealed that the U.S. military had a pattern of looking the other way when it came to allegations of Iraqi police and military forces abusing, raping, torturing and even killing people in their custody.

Also revealed was the undercount of civilian casualties in both Afghanistan and Iraq as a result of both foolish wars.

As CBS News reported in 2010, another significant revelation was, “Contrary to public statements, the Obama administration actually helped fuel conflict in Yemen. The U.S. was shipping arms to Saudi Arabia for use in northern Yemen even as it denied any role in the conflict.”

And as the left-wing publication Mother Jones noted at the time, the Obama White House worked closely with Republican officials to crush a Spanish investigation into Bush-era torture policies.

To be sure, Assange is a complicated figure and his means of acquiring information often entailed the illicit purloining of documents. And there are valid criticisms of WikiLeaks’ publishing of unredacted documents.

However, the bulk of the U.S. federal government’s charges against him center specifically on his obtaining and disclosure of information.

Journalists and publishers are in the business of obtaining and disclosing information. Criminalizing the mere aquiring and publishing of information should not be a crime in a free society.

“This indictment sets a dangerous precedent, and threatens to undermine America’s First Amendment and the freedom of the press,” the editors and publishers of the previously mentioned publications noted in their open letter opposing Assange’s prosecution for these charges.

They’re right.

Again, you don’t have to like Assange. Many Democrats remain aggrieved over WikiLeaks’ revelations that the Democratic National Committee schemed against Bernie Sanders in favor of Hillary Clinton. These revelations are blamed for turning many progressive voters away from Clinton, aiding in Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential victory.

But one should be able to separate Assange the person from the principles at hand.

Obtaining information and publishing information should not be a crime. That’s the point.

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