Alan Dershowitz: Why I Am Defending Julian Assange

Alan Dershowitz: Why I Am Defending Julian Assange

As the Wikileaks founder is being investigated for possible charges in the U.S., the renowned defense attorney explains the weight of Assange's legal battles.

Last June, Assange connected with Daniel Ellsberg (rt) of Pentagon Papers fame (JD Lasica)

NEW YORK - Noted liberal US attorney and Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz explains why he has agreed to join the defense team for Julian Assange. The Wikileaks founder is considered a public enemy of the United States by the White House for releasing secret Pentagon documents chronicling the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as State Department diplomatic cables from around the world. La Stampa reached him by telephone in his office in Boston.

Why are you assisting Assange? At the beginning of the 1970s, I was involved in the legal fight to defend the New York Times' decision to publish the "Pentagon Papers," which revealed previously undisclosed background information on the Vietnam War. Back then, we won a fight for the freedom of the print press. Now, the fight is for the Internet and digital information. Then, we were right. Now, we are right. Wikileaks has the right to publish the information it obtained. 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the Wikileaks incident "began with a theft, just as if it had been executed by smuggling papers in a briefcase," and that "Wikileaks does not challenge our commitment to Internet freedom." How do you respond? My friend Hillary is wrong on this. It was not a theft. Julian Assange and Wikileaks did not steal anything. They obtained private documents, and they published them. The US Constitution guarantees this as a right.

But the Secretary of State says government communications should be kept private in order to defend, for example, the identities of human rights activists who work with US embassies while living under dictatorships. The newspapers that published Wikileaks' documents protected the sources. Names of informants, secret agents and sensitive places have to be protected at the moment of the publication. In the US it has always been like this. Wikileaks' right to investigative journalism, in the digital era, is a different matter.

What is Assange's legal situation? There are three cases. In the UK, there is the case for extradition demanded by the Swedish authorities. In Sweden, there is a charge of sexual assault. In the US, Attorney General Eric Holder is working on Assange's indictment. The most dangerous case is in the US.

Why? Because Eric Holder wants to prevent freedom of information. He wants to punish people who are disclosing news that the US government does not like. It is for this reason that I agreed to join Assnge's defense team.

Why is Holder delaying signing Assange's indictment? There are clashes within Obama's administration.

Clashes about what? The White House has two different minds about online freedom. The split is between people who want to turn the Internet into the new frontier of freedom of speech in countries like Egypt, Iran, and China, and people who want to punish Wikileaks to prevent the Internet from having the same guarantees of freedom as the print press does. The Obama Administration is solving the conflict and will charge Assange; We are ready to fight in court.

What is the fight about? It is about freedom of speech in the United States in the 21st century. Digital media have to be recognized as much as the traditional media. If Assange were convicted, the US government would be able to control information online, which would violate the First and the Fourth amendments of the US Constitution. It would be the legitimization of a judicial double standard: freedom of speech for the print press, but not for the online press.

Given that the case against Assange has not started yet, why are you already working? Because even if Assange did not commit any crime in the US, or against the US, the indictment is going on, and the government is going to take a very serious step. The indictment could even involve Twitter, by accusing the social networking site of having been a conduit for Wikileaks's information. The government could ask to see the information exchanged online by Americans.

You are a liberal. How do you feel about fighting against Obama's administration? I am trying to prevent the US from turning into Italy.

What do you mean? I love Italy. It is a wonderful country, with a great history, even a great juridical history. But in the last years, freedom of speech has been weakened. The Italian government seriously weighs on the media. I do not want the US to go in the same direction.

Read the original article in Italian

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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