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Some thoughts on the Assange case

Julian Assange is on the verge (as he has been for ten years, but this time for real) of being extradited from the UK to the US. The question I ask is, has he done anything wrong?

If it were the case that he had supplied information that would have been useful to a hostile power then I would say hang the bastard. But that is not what the US government is accusing him of. The accusation is that he helped to steal the information. Now, if someone steals my stuff, I want them to have their hands cut off. Along with a few other appendages. But Assange “stole” information not stuff. And remember the US government is not claiming that that information would have been useful to a foreign power.

Which puts a rather different gloss on things. US government information is – if we are to take the US government’s own position seriously – owned by the US people. They have every right to see it. More or less. As well as military secrets there may be commercial contracts which – possibly – they don’t want to disclose. For instance, one of my frustrations in the UK was that you couldn’t inspect the contract of a Train Operating Company because it was deemed to be “commercially confidential”. Whatever, it doesn’t apply in this case.

So, it would appear that all Assange has done is to supply the US population with something it already owned and had every right to have.

Have I got that right?

16 comments to Some thoughts on the Assange case

  • Earnest Canuck

    Maybe it’s an incentives problem. If you’re a heavyweight at one of the major ministries, it must seem like the information your department produces is the fruit of your labour; so when outsiders want it,and demand it of you, it feels like thieves are trying to rob you.

    Not to excuse the surly, drag-ass, obfuscatory response of world-wide Western public agencies to the advent of FOI and sunshine laws. There is no excuse for trying to ‘protect’ your organization from its owners. But maybe there’s a simple way to provide advancement, raises and benefits to non-Humphreyses who act, forthrightly and provably, as custodians of information, part of whose job description is to provide all of it immediately to any citizen who asks.

    As long as I’m dreaming? Fire, bin, shitcan, pink-slip and/ or sack all actual Humphreyses; defund every tax-funded person/ org which refers to its subsidy as a right (this is invariably a sign of corruption); dissolve any and all union organizations whose members are solely government employees; prohibit forever the formation of public-sector unions.

    That’s no modest proposal; on the direction of travel, it might be the most important thing truly democratic socities can do.If you have to enforce modesty, humility, practicality and penny-pinching among your employees, isn’t your business pretty much sunk already?

  • bobby b

    I’m torn. I can’t escape the belief that, even if we had a libertarian-ish world, the existence of nation-states will almost always produce a true need for some state secrets to really be state secrets.

    I also know enough law to know that writing a law that just exactly covers what we want the law to cover on the day something happens about which we care is hard, and rare. (Parse that one out.) That the law is written as it is – in a way that sweeps in the theft even absent delivery – is the only workable prosecution when you can’t prove delivery but you can prove the theft. That really is a necessary prosecution tool in secrecy law. Otherwise you could see that someone has just stolen “the secret plans”, but you can’t grab the thief until you see her handing the Mullah the envelope. Not realistic.

    We probably need to rewrite the law in part, but I’m not sure what exact word changes would accomplish what I think needs doing without giving too much away.

    Plus, Assange just doesn’t make a sympathetic martyr. He knew the Federal statutes and knew he was breaking them, and the persona he shows the public is quite . . . yucky. (It may not have been rape-rape, but it was hardly honorable.) He has little public-outrage leverage working for him, which is a big component in any “but the law oughtn’t apply to what I did!” defense. It takes a lobby.

    So . . . eh.

  • Slow Joe

    Espionage involves two steps:
    1. Exfilltration of information
    2. Transit of information to an unauthorized party.

    It is generally easier to catch bad actors in step 2 than step 1.

    Assange’s project effectively split the steps and solved step 2 by making information available globally. If WikiLeaks were allowed to leak information, a spy could have used it as a conduit for information to hostile powers.

    I don’t think that the fact that information wasn’t targeted for release to Moscow or Beijing should be considered significant.

    (This splitting of activity into two related acts by different individuals is a weakness of our laws. Topical examples are doxxing of information on political opponents so they can be harassed, and the way that Hunter Biden could be paid off for favours from Joe

  • Y. Knott

    Which puts a rather different gloss on things.

    – “Simple “Got you at LAST!!!” vindictiveness. That’s the motive; and what’s the crime? They’ll dream something up.

  • Philippe Hermkens

    What i don’t understand is that Assenge is an Australian citizen living in UK and « spying «  the US
    Why an UK citizen can’t spy the US or an Australian citizen ? I am quite sure that the UK secret service is spying the US administration and vice-versa
    Has anybody an answer for a poor Belgian lawyer …

  • John

    Those individuals who came across Hunter Bidens laptop and Ashley Bidens diary are the ones who will suffer. The actual content of diary and laptop are of no interest to our overlords.

    Chelsea/Bradley Manning refused to co-operate with the grand jury investigating Assange and actually went to prison for a year as a result. An unusually honourable course of action these days if my understanding of the events is correct, particularly for someone who would undoubtedly have been fast-tracked into the ruling system and as such gave up a lot by sticking to her principles.

  • Tim C

    I think the Assange case, and the case you have put forward, goes to the very heart of the matter of democracy and why it is that we frequent this site.
    The Assange case, like many other things, should make people ask “are we being ruled or served by our government?”
    We all know that we being ruled under the increasingly shaky pretence of being served by the State.
    This case strips the veneer away and shows the State ruling it’s citizens/captives with an iron fist should they dare step over the line.
    There is no way to stop this as citizens/captives. It helps to shows us what we really are and where real power lies.

  • Snorri Godhi

    The Assange case, like many other things, should make people ask “are we being ruled or served by our government?”
    We all know that we being ruled under the increasingly shaky pretence of being served by the State.
    This case strips the veneer away and shows the State ruling it’s citizens/captives with an iron fist should they dare step over the line.

    The way i see it, this explains wokeness:
    Given that it is increasingly obvious that the State is not there to serve the majority of people, the ruling class has to pretend that it serves minorities; and if you complain, then you are a racist and LGBT-phobe.

    And if you are an ethnic or sexual minority and still complain that the State is not helping you, then you suffer from false consciousness.

    OK, back on topic.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Back on topic: My understanding is that Manning did the actual spying. Assange got the material without any hacking. His only “crime” was to make it public.

    I also understand that Assange did make public some military secrets, which is immoral, and a danger to US allies as well as the US itself; but i do not feel that the US can claim universal jurisdiction in this.

    I grant that my feelings are hardly a basis for legal judgements; but, in return, hope that you will grant me that, once Manning (who is a US citizen, had access to military secrets, and did the actual spying) was pardoned, the case for prosecuting Assange collapsed.

  • john in cheshire

    Didn’t the Guardian news rag publish some of the information that was given to Wikileaks?
    Why is no one from that organ of ….publishing, being persecuted alongside Julian Assange? As I recall, when things started to get difficult for Mr Assange, the Guardian dropped him like a hot brick.

  • John


    Yes Manning did the spying and was sentenced to 35 years, commuted to time served (7 years) by Obama when leaving office in January 2017.

    What I’m referring to happened after release and her actions in refusing to throw Assange under the bus resulted in another year inside and a pretty hefty fine.

    As I said, I can respect that and yes I agree that in anything like a fair justice system the commutation of Manning would reduce the potential sentencing of Assange for the far lesser crime – if crime at all.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Ah OK John, i knew that there are thing that i don’t know.

  • Lord T

    All they are doing is making an example of Assange so that any other whistleblowers will think twice about it.

    He is in the UK. What UK laws has he broken? None.

    We need to get rid of the US extradition law. It only works one way and the US won’t give up US citizens to the UK for any crimes they commit here.

  • bobby b

    But . . .

    We make examples of all sorts of lawbreakers to discourage others from breaking laws. “Whistleblowing” is what we call the act of stealing and disseminating secrets when the publication of those secrets makes us happy. We use other words when those exact same acts make us less happy.

    He is in the UK, yes. He has allegedly broken only US laws. That’s why we have the US/UK Extradition Treaty. It does work both ways. It’s easier to extradite from the UK to the US than the other way around, mostly because of the imbalance in bargaining power, but the US does send people back to the UK.

  • GregWA

    An endorsement from OBAMA (!), in the form of a commuting of sentence, is not exactly complimentary! I suppose Mr. Obama’s motives could have been pure in Manning’s case …first time for everything!

  • Paul Marks

    I have never liked Mr Assange – but me (or anyone else) not liking him, is not relevant to the case.

    Mr Assange is not an American citizen, and he did not go to the United States to commit his alleged crimes.

    There is, therefore, no case in natural justice for Mr Assange to be sent to the United States (especially as the Federal Criminal “Justice” system is a “Conviction Machine” which is grossly unfair to the accused – there is very little change of a person getting a fair trial in the Federal Criminal “Justice” system, the pressure to “make a deal”, to admit guilt to get a reduced sentence, is vast).

    “But Paul, the treaty, the treaty!!!!!”

    Then SCRAP the treaty – a treaty that sends non Americans to the United States, for crimes they have allegedly committed here, is utterly absurd.

    By the way – there are a lot of international treaties we need to get out of.

    Ministers are now regularly told “we have to do such and such – because it is in a treaty”.

    Policy should be made by democratically elected Members of Parliament whom the British people can remove – NOT by officials pointing at international treaties.