Ever since Julian Assange turned himself in to police and was remanded in custody, there have been noises coming out of the USA suggesting that he is a target for extradition. But what would be the charge?
At first, the likely weapon of choice for prosecutors appeared to be the 1917 US Espionage Act. This declares that “To convey information with intent to interfere with the operation or success of the armed forces of the United States or to promote the success of its enemies” is a felony offence.
But precedent suggests that invoking the Act may not be successful: it was the basis for proceeding against Daniel Ellsburg after the leaking of the so-called Pentagon Papers in 1971. These showed that successive US Administrations, particularly the Presidency of Lyndon Johnson, had misled the American people over the war in Vietnam.
Ultimately, the case went to the Supreme Court, where a majority of the judges found against the Government. A later attempt to indict Ellsburg was thrown out.
So it should be no surprise that the New York Times has reported the attempt to build a conspiracy case against Assange. This would try to show that Assange had assisted or encouraged the alleged leaker of secret information, Private Bradley Manning, and thus the conspiracy.
This would get around the First Amendment defence, that voluntarily passing information to others is a “freedom of speech” issue. Also, as the NYT reports, it would avoid questions on why Assange was being prosecuted, while the media outlets that published the leaked information were not.
One to watch.