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US 'Assange hunt' chokes air for whistleblowers

Published time: March 27, 2012 06:06
Edited time: March 27, 2012 19:00

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks at a news conference in London, February 27, 2012 (Reuters / Finbarr O'Reilly)

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Washington's relentless pursuit of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and alleged whistle-blower Bradley Manning, is no secret. But the fate of the two men has got US journalists worried, that they too could soon find themselves behind bars.

Julian Assange’s life resembles a game of chess. He is an Australian citizen in the custody of Britain fighting extradition to Sweden. But no one wants the king of WikiLeaks more than America. Washington has had secret plans for Assange since at least January 2011.

Ironically, the secret was uncovered earlier this month after five million confidential emails from the global intelligence company Stratfor were published by WikiLeaks.

“It’s done frequently when a defendant is outside the US. They’ll get an indictment, which is secret. They’ll seal the charging document of the indictment. They will ask for an arrest warrant and that will also be sealed. That way, the US stands behind a big large boulder, if you will, and then jumps out from that boulder and arrests someone,” says Douglas McNabb, federal criminal defense attorney and extradition expert.

Under house arrest for more than a year, Assange has not been charged with any crime in any country, though Sweden wants to question him over sex-related allegations. The US meanwhile, is determined to punish the forty-year old.

Apparently, it is payback for exposing confidential cables repeatedly shaming America by shining a spotlight on illegalities in overseas military operations and on some embarrassing tactics and opinions from the State Department.

Washington says publishing the documents has created a national security risk. The Justice Department has reportedly mounted an unprecedented investigation into WikiLeaks, aimed at prosecuting Assange under the espionage act.

“They're going to continue going after Mr. Assange to make a point that we’re tough and we’re not going to let anybody threaten America, whether it’s Al-Qaeda or it’s an Australian national,” believes journalist James Moore.

And some say they'll go to any lengths to make the point.

“The US government within the federal arena likes to charge others – that have either aided and abetted or assisted or were full blown co-conspirators – likes to go after those in order to flip them. To get them to co-operate with the US government against the major players, in this case Mr. Assange,” McNabb says.

The US is now apparently working on flipping none other than Private Bradley Manning. The US soldier is facing 22 federal charges for allegedly leaking 700,000 documents and videos to WikiLeaks. He's one of six Americans, the Obama administration has charged with espionage.

“If one of those cases makes it to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court upholds the Espionage Act as an act which essentially criminalizes any whistleblower, anybody who exposes war crimes, anybody who challenges the official narrative of the lies of the state, then that's it. Because that would mean that any leaker could automatically be sent to prison for life. And at that point any idea of freedom of information is over. We will only know what the state wants us to know,” Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author told RT.

“It’s supposed to be about protecting the national security of the United States. But that is not the way the journalism industry will view it. They will view it as being a message to them. ‘Be careful who you talk to. Be careful what you write because you can be next.’ I think a number of reporters will say ‘I am not risking it,’” Moore believes.

Critics say the Obama administration's unprecedented “war on whistleblowers” may ultimately deliver a death sentence to freedom of the press in the US. If people and or publishers are criminally convicted and jailed for exposing the truth, more journalists may prefer to abandon First Amendment privileges and reserve the right to remain silent.

Julian Assange’s show ‘The World Tomorrow’ is to premiere on RT later this month.

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