News Release

“Unprecedented” Attack on Freedom of the Press


On Thursday afternoon, the U.S. government indicted Julian Assange of WikiLeaks for publishing material allegedly obtained from Chelsea Manning that exposed U.S. war crimes in Iraq, including the killing of Reuters journalists there in the Collateral Murder video. The government used the Espionage Act against Assange, the first such use against a journalist or publisher. Manning is now in jail for refusing to comply with a subpoena to testify in front of a grand jury targeting WikiLeaks.

Daniel Ellsberg, who exposed the Pentagon Papers, just said in an interview with The Real News: “I was sure that the Trump administration would not be content with keeping Julian Assange in prison for five years, which was the sentence for the one charge of conspiracy that he was charged with earlier. So I was sure they would go after him with a much longer sentence under the Espionage Act. I was charged with 12 counts, including one of conspiracy, in 1971, for a possible sentence of 115 years. In this case they brought 17 counts under the Espionage Act, plus the one conspiracy. …

“These indictments are unprecedented. And I would say they are blatantly unconstitutional. … This is an impeachable offense, to carry on a prosecution this blatantly in violation of the Constitution, which the president and the attorney general are sworn to uphold. …

“What is most ominous to me, by the way — it’s not obvious — is that they referred to 2010, when he was dealing with Chelsea Manning. … I followed that fairly closely, including in the Chelsea Manning trial. That clearly was shown to result in no damage, no harm to any individual, which was precisely what they’re charging him now with having risked.”

In 2017, Ellsberg warned: “Obama having opened the legal campaign against the press by going after the roots of investigative reporting on national security — the sources — Trump is going to go after the gatherers/gardeners themselves (and their bosses, publishers).” See news release: “Ellsberg: Trump Threats to WikiLeaks “Nuclear Option” Against the First Amendment.”

In the Obama administration, Joe Biden led the charge against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. In 2010, Biden called him a “hi-tech terrorist” and outlined a legal attack against Assange similar to what the Trump administration is following now. His stance, the Guardian reported at the time, contrasted with “more sanguine comments from other senior figures.” Former Attorney General Eric Holder’s spokesperson in the Obama administration Matthew Miller just tweeted of the indictment: “Dangerous and probably unconstitutional. DOJ doesn’t get to decide who is deserving of First Amendment protections and who isn’t. There’s a reason we wouldn’t charge this in the Obama administration.”

While much media have focused on Trump rhetoric against various media outlets, few have scrutinized the legal attack on journalism, including against sources and now a publisher. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette just published a rare editorial: “Amend the Espionage Act: Public interest defenses must be allowed.”

JOE EMERSBERGER, jemersberger at, @rosendo_joe
Emersberger’s pieces for the media watch group FAIR include: “Assange Case Shows Support for Free Speech Depends on Who’s Talking” and “Assange’s ‘Conspiracy’ to Expose War Crimes Has Already Been Punished.”

He has also written for the British publication The Canary: “Amnesty International still doesn’t recognize Chelsea Manning as a Prisoner of Conscience,” “A human rights commission has just monumentally failed Julian Assange” and “Amid Assange’s ongoing censorship, all leftists must learn from Ecuador’s hostile takeover.”