WikiLeaks's Julian Assange unlikely to face charges

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order

Julian AssangeThe US is unlikely to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, government lawyers say, given that they'd then have to turn around and prosecute newspapers and journalists.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that a formal decision hasn't yet been made.

But former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller told the newspaper that Assange, like journalists and news outlets, merely published the leaks, as opposed to being the leaker himself, which puts him on the same legal standing as the New York Times, for example:

The problem the department has always had in investigating Julian Assange is there is no way to prosecute him for publishing information without the same theory being applied to journalists. And if you are not going to prosecute journalists for publishing classified information, which the department is not, then there is no way to prosecute Assange.

In fact, officials call it a "New York Times problem."

If they go after Assange - now living under political asylum in a room in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London - they'd then have to go after journalists, the New York Times, and other publications, including The Post and The Guardian, all of which have published classified material such as the National Security Agency's (NSA's) and other countries' secret surveillance operations.

In spite of the lack of grounds on which to file charges against Assange and all the publications that have published classified material, there's no clear indication that an announcement will be made if the grand jury investigation into Assange is formally closed.

Assange's legal team has a problem with that.

Barry J. Pollack, an attorney for Assange, told The Post that inquiries into the status of the investigation have not been fruitful:

We have repeatedly asked the Department of Justice to tell us what the status of the investigation was with respect to Mr. Assange. … They have declined to do so. They have not informed us in any way that they are closing the investigation or have made a decision not to bring charges against Mr. Assange. While we would certainly welcome that development, it should not have taken the Department of Justice several years to come to the conclusion that it should not be investigating journalists for publishing truthful information.

As for those who themselves leaked classified documents, Bradley Manning - he who fed documents to Assange - was sentenced to 35 years of prison in August. He's already served three of those years.

Likewise, the US's hunt for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who's obtained temporary asylum in Russia, is still on.

US Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. told The Post earlier in November that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is still trying to get Snowden back into the country to stand trial.

However, much like the Manning-Assange legal logic, Holder said that the DOJ doesn't plan to prosecute former Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, who is one of the journalists to whom Snowden fed documents.

Greenwald, a US citizen, has said that he fears prosecution if he returns to the US from his current home in Brazil.

Holder has said that neither Greenwald nor Assange will likely be prosecuted, but there's an "unless" involved.

If investigators found that Assange, or Greenwald, are implicated in criminal activity other than publishing top-secret military and diplomatic documents, the gloves will come off.

Here's what Holder told The Post:

Unless information that has not come to my attention is presented to me, what I have indicated in my testimony before Congress is that any journalist who’s engaged in true journalistic activities is not going to be prosecuted by this Justice Department.

That previously undisclosed information could include, for example, any evidence that might show that Assange hacked into a US government computer, a former law enforcement official told The Post.

And it's the uncertainty of that "unless" that's keeping Greenwald, for one, away.

As Greenwald told TruthDig, he doesn't necessarily trust the US, given its track record regarding press freedom:

That this question is even on people’s minds is a rather grim reflection of the Obama administration’s record on press freedoms. … It is a positive step that the Attorney General expressly recognizes that journalism is not and should not be a crime in the United States, but given this administration’s poor record on press freedoms, I’ll consult with my counsel on whether one can or should rely on such caveat-riddled oral assertions about the government’s intentions.

What do you think? Do you trust the US to leave Assange and journalists alone, or do you share Greenwald's suspicions, based on its track record?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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10 Responses to WikiLeaks's Julian Assange unlikely to face charges

  1. softwareforparentalcontrol · 639 days ago

    If I were Assange I would not rely on Miller's words.
    There's plenty of vengeful people in the US who would like to prosecute Assange.
    Maybe logic dictates that they would 'need' to go after journalists too, but they don't have to for two reasons: 1) Scaring by example has its effect already 2) Somebody (if anybody) saying "Hey, prosecute me too!" is not going to help Assange.
    He can still be prosecuted (harrassed?) through other ways.

  2. Ian · 639 days ago

    Looking at their history, one would have to be extremely naive to trust the word of any US government.

  3. Matt · 639 days ago


    I fully that the government will leave journalists alone. I also fully expect that were Assange or Greenwalt ever foolish enough to return to the U.S. they would find that the justice department labels them a "non-journalist" and "not engaging in true journalism" and arrests them anyway.

    I also expect that there is little to no trust in the statements or intentions of the U.S. government, or at least the current administration, in this regard.

  4. LonerVamp · 639 days ago

    No surprise here, really. This is going to be similar to most espionage and national secret sort of incident where prosecuting someone in a public court risks needing to reveal sensitive information, sensitive procedures for these agencies, and so on. It's usually not in the government's best interest to drag things like this out into the open. Even further, put Asange on trial and he'll almost certainly take advantage of it as a soapbox.

  5. NoSpin1600 · 638 days ago

    If no laws were broken than journalist have no fear. If they acted in an illegal manner to obtain the information they published than they have need to worry. In these instances the government is leaving the option open to prosecute at a later time should information come to light indicating a law was broken, as would any other organization.

  6. Steve · 638 days ago

    Hi Lisa, just wanted to point out if you weren't already aware, that there is no Bradley Manning anymore. Bradley Manning would prefer to be known as Chelsea Manning.

    • Oren · 637 days ago

      He was judged as Bradley Manning. If calls himself Chelsea Manning after the judgement doesn't really matter. In the papers it says Bradley.

  7. Anonymous · 638 days ago

    The US Government took a leaf out of the old Roman Senate from the very onset, and that is, being able to lie convincingly is part of the official work description. It is in fact more likely that all this talk about the "freedom of journalism" is just a ploy to lure Julian Assange out of hiding. Once out of hiding, I am sure the US Government will have something up its sleeve, otherwise the US DOJ would have closed the case against Assange long ago. Let's hope Julian Assange does not fall for it.

  8. Ed · 638 days ago

    Sadly, it seems that we Americans are becoming used to a kind of opaque security state. Treachery and double-speak are part and parcel of the government's arsenal. I would not think for a second that Assange or Greenwald would be foolish enough to rely upon anything said by a US government official. Many US citizens feel that we are now reliant upon folks like them as well as news sources such as Al Jazeera for basic information.

  9. Anonymous · 384 days ago

    If he is INNOCENT whats he afraid of!!! There is so much focus on him the US government would be stupid to let anything unlawful happen. STAND TRIAL you wuz!!!

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.