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Anonymous Assurances Bring No Comfort to WikiLeaks' Assange
Recent reporting citing unnamed officials stating that the Justice Department is unlikely to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange offer no real assurance, the organization says, and urges the DoJ to "do the right thing: close the investigation and formally and unequivocally tell WikiLeaks that no charges will be brought."
On Monday, the Washington Post reported:
The Justice Department has all but concluded it will not bring charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for publishing classified documents because government lawyers said they could not do so without also prosecuting U.S. news organizations and journalists, according to U.S. officials.
The officials stressed that a formal decision has not been made, and a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks remains impaneled, but they said there is little possibility of bringing a case against Assange, unless he is implicated in criminal activity other than releasing online top-secret military and diplomatic documents.
According to the paper, the officials said there was a “New York Times problem,” meaning that if the DoJ prosecuted Assange for publishing classified documents, it would have to prosecute other news organizations who have done the same, like the Times and the UK's Guardian.
Ahead of that story, the Washington Post also reported this:
Federal prosecutors have not filed a sealed indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, despite persistent rumors that a nearly three-year-old grand jury investigation of him and his organization had secretly led to charges, according to senior law enforcement sources.
“Nothing has occurred so far,” said one law enforcement official with knowledge of the case. “But it’s subject to change. I can’t predict what’s going to happen. The investigation is ongoing.”
Firedoglake's Kevin Gosztola points out that the wording of the second paragraph was changed from its original form, and originally read:
"Nothing has occurred so far,” said one law enforcement official with knowledge of the case. "If Assange came to the U.S. today, he would not be arrested. But I can't predict what's going to happen. He might be in six months."
Gosztola writes that "The 'law enforcement official' was either being flippant or inadvertently revealed that the Justice Department is still working on its investigation and could reach an indictment in six months."
The Washington Post story appears with this clarification:
This story was updated to include a quotation that was substituted for one that appeared in the original version online. The quotation, attributed to a law enforcement official, was replaced with another from the same interview because the original quotation created the erroneous impression that the official was saying Julian Assange would not be arrested if he came to the United States. The official said Assange would not be arrested on U.S. charges. He did not address any possible extradition request from another country.
In a statement released Tuesday, WikiLeaks responded to the "much-hedged statement by someone who cannot be identified claiming that the government may not indict Julian Assange for publishing" as providing no real assurance to either their organization or to anyone else interested in a truly free press.
Further, the statement continues:
The anonymous assertion that Julian Assange may not be indicted for publication of classified documents, even if true, only deals with a small part of the grand jury investigation. That investigation has been primarily concerned with trying to prove somehow that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks were involved, not merely in publication, but in a conspiracy with their sources. There is also the question as to the status of the DoJ investigations into WikiLeaks involvement in the Stratfor and Snowden matters. [...]
Rather than caveat riddled claims from anonymous officials with undefined motivations, the government ought to do the right thing: close the investigation and formally and unequivocally tell WikiLeaks that no charges will be brought. Despite our lawyers' repeated requests, they refuse to do so. Presently, the situation for WikiLeaks and its publisher Julian Assange remains unchanged. Perhaps with such an assurance this dark chapter for freedom of the press can be closed.