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