The issues transcend whether you like Assange or not.
[Editor’s Note: Julian Assange is a prickly, controversial and not all that nice of a guy. Putting aside one’s personal feelings about him, the Assange case raises huge issues for the future of a free press. This is a much-needed discussion of the issues involved. — Mark L. Taylor]
By Peter B. Collins
As Ecuador’s president, Lenin Moreno, visits London, reports indicate he is about to withdraw asylum for Julian Assange, exposing the WikiLeaks founder to eventual extradition to the United States to face charges under the Espionage Act.
State Department veteran Peter van Buren joins Peter B. Collins for this Radio WhoWhatWhyinterview. Acknowledging the imperfections of Assange, van Buren makes the case that Americans, and especially journalists, should support Assange’s right to publish.
And he warns that if Assange is prosecuted, some reporters may go to jail, and others will likely self-censor to avoid that risk; the result will be more government secrecy, and denial to the public of access to important government information.
Prosecuting Assange a threat to all journalists, whistle blowers and the public.
Van Buren thumbnails the history of the Pentagon Papers, characterizing the Supreme Court rulings as protection for publishers, but not leakers. He notes that the New York Times, which defied Nixon in publishing Dan Ellsberg’s leaks, has made wide use of WikiLeaks documents but doesn’t advocate strongly for the rights of Assange and his organization.
The discussion also touches on the current case of Times reporter Ali Watkins, whose emails and phone records were seized by FBI investigators earlier this year.
Peter van Buren served 24 years at the State Department. His first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (Metropolitan Books, August 21, 2012), covered his one year tour in Iraq working on reconstruction projects. His most recent book is a novel about World War II Japan, Hooper’s War (Luminis Books, Inc., May 1, 2017). You can read his commentary about Assange here.