updated Dec 14
The House Judiciary Committee is going to hold a hearing on Dec. 16 to discuss the potential application of the US espionage laws relative to wikileaks. The meeting will address how espionage laws can be “updated and effectively implemented” in the digital age.
People are going to miss the import of this. We have gone from one Senator calling for “arrest him for treason” to a full-blown hearing on the possibility of invoking the Espionage Act. I have verified that the hearing will take place – it is listed as the next hearing on the Committee’s webpage. As of today (Sunday, Dec. 12), there are no witnesses listed for the hearing, but it will be very interesting to see who they plan to call.
Note the following from wikipedia:
“House Committee on Un-American Activities (HCUA) or House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), 1938–1975) was an investigative committee of the United States House of Representatives. In 1969, the House changed the committee’s name to “House Committee on Internal Security”. When the House abolished the committee in 1975, its functions were transferred to the House Judiciary Committee.”The committee’s anti-communist investigations are often confused with those of Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy, as a U.S. Senator, had no direct involvement with this House committee. McCarthy was the Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Government Operations Committee of the U.S. Senate, not the House.”
Naomi Wolf had a very interesting piece in the Huffington Post on Friday about the Espionage Act, and the ramifications of invoking it now. She points out:
“This week, Senators Joe Lieberman and Dianne Feinstein engaged in acts of serious aggression against their own constituents, and the American people in general. They both invoked the 1917 Espionage Act and urged its use in going after Julian Assange. For good measure, Lieberman extended his invocation of the Espionage Act to include a call to use it to investigate the New York Times, which published WikiLeaks’ diplomatic cables. Reports yesterday suggest that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder may seek to invoke the Espionage Act against Assange.
“These two Senators, and the rest of the Congressional and White House leadership who are coming forward in support of this appalling development, are cynically counting on Americans’ ignorance of their own history — an ignorance that is stoked and manipulated by those who wish to strip rights and freedoms from the American people. They are manipulatively counting on Americans to have no knowledge or memory of the dark history of the Espionage Act — a history that should alert us all at once to the fact that this Act has only ever been used — was designed deliberately to be used — specifically and viciously to silence people like you and me.
“The Espionage Act was crafted in 1917 — because President Woodrow Wilson wanted a war and, faced with the troublesome First Amendment, wished to criminalize speech critical of his war. In the run-up to World War One, there were many ordinary citizens — educators, journalists, publishers, civil rights leaders, union activists — who were speaking out against US involvement in the war. The Espionage Act was used to round these citizens by the thousands for the newly minted ‘crime’ of their exercising their First Amendment Rights. … Esteemed Judge Learned Hand wrote that the wording of the Espionage Act was so vague that it would threaten the American tradition of freedom itself. Many were held in prison for weeks in brutal conditions without due process; some, in Connecticut — Lieberman’s home state — were severely beaten while they were held in prison. The arrests and beatings were widely publicized and had a profound effect, terrorizing those who would otherwise speak out.
“Presidential candidate Eugene Debs received a ten-year prison sentence in 1918 under the Espionage Act for daring to read the First Amendment in public. The roundup of ordinary citizens — charged with the Espionage Act — who were jailed for daring to criticize the government was so effective in deterring others from speaking up that the Act silenced dissent in this country for a decade. In the wake of this traumatic history, it was left untouched — until those who wish the same outcome began to try to reanimate it again starting five years ago, and once again, now. Seeing the Espionage Act rise up again is, for anyone who knows a thing about it, like seeing the end of a horror movie in which the zombie that has enslaved the village just won’t die….
“Let me explain clearly why activating — rather than abolishing — the Espionage Act is an act of profound aggression against the American people. We are all Julian Assange. Serious reporters discuss classified information every day — go to any Washington or New York dinner party where real journalists are present, and you will hear discussion of leaked or classified information. That is journalists’ job in a free society. The White House, too, is continually classifying and declassifying information….
“As I noted in The End of America, if you prosecute journalists — and Assange, let us remember, is the New York Times in the parallel case of the Pentagon Papers, not Daniel Ellsberg; he is the publisher, not the one who revealed the classified information — then any outlet, any citizen, who discusses or addresses ‘classified’ information can be arrested on ‘national security’ grounds. If Assange can be prosecuted under the Espionage Act, then so can the New York Times; and the producers of Parker Spitzer, who discussed the WikiLeaks material two nights ago; and the people who posted a mirror WikiLeaks site on my Facebook ‘fan’ page; and Fox News producers, who addressed the leak and summarized the content of the classified information; and every one of you who may have downloaded information about it; and so on. That is why prosecution via the Espionage Act is so dangerous — not for Assange alone, but for every one of us, regardless of our political views.
“This is far from a feverish projection: if you study the history of closing societies, as I have, you see that every closing society creates a kind of ‘third rail’ of material, with legislation that proliferates around it. The goal of the legislation is to call those who criticize the government ‘spies’, ‘traitors’, enemies of the state’ and so on. Always the issue of national security is invoked as the reason for this proliferating legislation. The outcome? A hydra that breeds fear. Under similar laws in Germany in the early thirties, it became a form of ‘espionage’ and ‘treason’ to criticize the Nazi party, to listen to British radio programs, to joke about the fuhrer, or to read cartoons that mocked the government. Communist Russia in the 30’s, East Germany in the 50’s, and China today all use parallel legislation to call criticism of the government — or whistleblowing — ‘espionage’ and ‘treason’, and ‘legally’ imprison or even execute journalists, editors, and human rights activists accordingly….
“I call on all Americans to understand once for all: this is not about Julian Assange. This, my fellow citizens, is about you.”
update, Tues. Dec 14
It appears the Obama administration is calling a Grand Jury meeting on the Assange case (the “case” being entirely unclear, as there are no laws under which Assange can be charged in the US). Writer Justin Elliott on salon.com calls this a “major escalation of the Obama administration’s war on wikileaks” in this brief article, which is copied in full below.
“Grand Jury Meeting in Assange Case”
Monday, Dec. 13 by Justin Elliott, salon.com
This report from Julian Assange’s attorney, if accurate, marks a major escalation in the Obama administration’s war on WikiLeaks:
“We have heard from Swedish authorities there has been a secretly empaneled grand jury in Alexandria … they are currently investigating this,” Mark Stephens told Al-Jazeera’s Sir David Frost on Sunday, referring to WikiLeaks. The site, which facilitates the disclosure of secret information, has been slowly releasing a trove of more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables since November 28.
It’s still unclear what law the government believes Assange broke in this case, despite repeated assertions by the administration that he is a criminal. Here, meanwhile, is Salon’s interview with an expert about the “horrible” precedent such a prosecution would set from a First Amendment perspective.
Perhaps we should not be too surprised by this apparent development: it’s worth remembering that the Obama administration has been even more aggressive than the Bush administration in going after leakers.