Julian Assange Did Not Violate the U.S. Espionage Act and Should Be Freed
July 7, 2021 (EIRNS)—Consortium News Editor-in-Chief Joe Lauria, the late U.S. Sen. Mike Gravel’s close friend and aide, and veteran journalist, today begins a six-part series on Julian Assange and the Espionage Act, which exposes it as a measure that was first challenged by Alexander Hamilton and other patriots. This is part of a growing mobilization to free Assange.
In modern times, Lauria reports that although several U.S. Administrations had come close to punishing journalists for revealing defense information, they all pulled back until the Assange case. The First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits Congress from passing any law, including the Espionage Act, that curtails freedom of the press. The case of Assange is the first time a publisher and journalist have ever been charged under the 1917 Espionage Act for possessing and publishing state secrets.
Biden’s Justice Department, now led by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, has not reversed the Trump Administration’s decision to seek extradition of Assange from British prison.
Lauria writes there is a long history of attempts to prosecute speech in America, citing the attempt of William Cosby, Governor of the British colony of New York in 1735, on territory that would become the United States. Cosby put John Peter Zenger, publisher of the New York Weekly Journal on trial for printing an article accusing Cosby of rigging elections. Though the judge ordered that Zenger be found guilty based on the libel law at the time (which criminalized criticism of the government even if true), the jury acquitted Zenger, arguing that the law was unjust. This historic jury nullification paved the way for the First Amendment.
Lauria argues that were Assange to be extradited and go on trial in Alexandria, Virginia, a jury ignoring the Espionage Act’s unfair restrictions on press freedom could be Assange’s best hope for an acquittal, or a successful Constitutional challenge of the law on First Amendment grounds. Though the Virginia colonial legislature had passed a Declaration of Rights in 1776 that included the line, “The Freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic language,” there was resistance to this and other parts of a declaration of rights being adopted at the Constitutional Convention. But after three years, the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution in December 1791, Lauria reports. The first of these rights says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”