FOR THE WEEK OF APR 29, 2019
Legal drama: U.S. wants to put WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on trial
How do you feel about anonymous sources in newspapers? Why?
Summarize another news topic involving the Justice Department.
Look for a local or state court case and tell why it gets coverage.
The stage is set for a historic legal showdown between the United States and recently arrested Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks – a group that releases classified documents, digital files and other secrets from anonymous sources inside military, government and business organizations. Assange, an Australian internet activist, had been under diplomatic protection in a London embassy since 2012 until his Ecuadoran hosts let British police arrest him April 11. Now the U.S. Justice Department wants to bring him here for trial under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. He’s expected to appear at a hearing May 2 in Britain's capital.
Assange is accused of conspiring with Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst, to help Manning hack into a government network. That led to disclosure of nearly 750,000 classified or sensitive military and diplomatic documents – which WikiLeaks posted publicly and which some major newspapers excerpted, starting in 2010. Manning, now 31, served more than six years in federal prison after being court-martialed in 2013 for violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses. More recently, Assange and WikiLeaks also distributed emails from the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton that Russian hackers stole as part of their attack on our 2016 presidential election – though he's not accused of any crimes related to that. But if brought here, "he could become a useful source on how Russia orchestrated its attacks," The New York Times suggests.
Because he's charged with helping steal information – not with publishing it – the Justice Department hopes to avoid a First Amendment challenge. Assange is accused of helping crack a passcode that let Manning log on to a classified military network under another user’s identity – something traditional journalists wouldn't do for ethical reasons. Assange's U.S. lawyer says he basically encouraged a source to provide information and acted to protect the source's identity. "Journalists around the world should be deeply troubled by these unprecedented criminal charges," adds attorney Barry Pollack. A New York Times editorial echoes that, saying the high-stakes case "could probe uncharted areas of press freedoms and national security in the United States in the digital era."
Defender says: "British courts will need to resolve what appears to be an unprecedented effort by the United States seeking to extradite a foreign journalist to face criminal charges for publishing truthful information." – Barry Pollack, American attorney for Assange
Journalism group says: "The persecution of those who provide or publish information of public interest comes at the expense of the investigative journalism that allows a democracy to thrive." – Reporters Without Borders, based in Paris
U.S. columnist says: "Assange may well deserve to go to prison. What’s troubling, however, is that his indictment treats ordinary news gathering processes as elements of a criminal conspiracy." – Michelle Goldberg, The New York Times
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