If this legislation was passed (it won’t be), it would be the highlight of Tulsi Gabbard’s career. From Kevin Gosztola at consoriumnews.com:
Defendants would be able to testify about their reason for engaging in the prohibited conduct, Kevin Gosztola reports.
U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard in 2019. (Gage Skidmore, Flickr)
Legislation proposed in Congress would amend the United States Espionage Act and create a public interest defense for those prosecuted under the law.
“A defendant charged with an offense under section 793 or 798 [in the U.S. legal code] shall be permitted to testify about their purpose for engaging in the prohibited conduct,” according to a draft of the bill Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard introduced.
Such a reform would make it possible for whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, Reality Winner, Terry Albury and Daniel Hale to inform the public why they disclosed information without authorization to the press.
The legislation called the Protect Brave Whistleblowers Act is supported by Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.
“If this long-overdue revision of the 1917 Espionage Act had been law half a century ago, I myself could have had a fair trial for releasing the Pentagon Papers in 1971: justice under law unavailable to me and to every other national security whistleblower indicted and prosecuted since then,” Ellsberg declared.
Governments have long used sedition laws to go after their critics. From Joe Lauria at consortiumnews.com:
The U.S. is trying to extradite Julian Assange to stand trial for espionage, but even though sedition is no longer on the books, that’s what the U.S. is really charging him with, says Joe Lauria.
The United States has had two sedition laws in its history. Both were repealed within three years. Britain repealed its 17th Century sedition law in 2009. Though this crime is no longer on the books, the crime of sedition is really what both governments are accusing Julian Assange of.
The campaign of smears, the weakness of the case and the language of his indictment proves it.
The imprisoned WikiLeaks publisher has been indicted on 17 counts of espionage under the 1917 U.S. Espionage Act on a technicality: the unauthorized possession and dissemination of classified material—something that has been performed by countless journalists and publishers over the decades. It conflicts head on with the First Amendment.
But espionage isn’t really what the government is after. Assange did not pass state secrets to an enemy of the United States, as in a classic espionage case, but rather to the public, which the government might well consider the enemy.
Assange revealed crimes and corruption by the state. Punishing such legitimate criticism of government as sedition has deep roots in British and American history.
Tybun Tree, place of execution near where Marble Arch now stands in London.
Sedition was seen in the Elizabethan era as the “notion of inciting by words or writings disaffection towards the state or constituted authority.” Punishment included beheading and dismemberment.
Here’s a radical idea: instead of tinkering around the edges of a truly bad law, how about getting rid of it entirely? From Jacob G. Hornberger at fff.org:
World War I is the gift that just keeps on giving. Although the U.S. government’s intervention into this senseless, immoral, and destructive war occurred 100 years ago, the adverse effects of the war continue to besiege our nation. Among the most notable examples is the Espionage Act, a tyrannical law that was enacted two months after the U.S. entered the war and which, unfortunately, remained on the books after the war came to an end. In fact, it is that World War I relic that U.S. officials are now relying on to secure the criminal indictment of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks head who released a mountain of evidence disclosing the inner workings and grave wrongdoing on the part of the U.S. national-security establishment, especially with respect to the manner in which it has waged it undeclared forever wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Some news media commentators are finally coming to the realization that if the Espionage Act can be enforced against Assange for what he did, it can be enforced against anyone in the press for revealing damaging inside information about the national-security establishment — i.e., the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA. Therefore, they are calling on the Justice Department to cease and desist from its prosecution of Assange.
Of course, they are right, but the problem is that they don’t go far enough. Their mindsets reflect the customary acceptance of the status quo. The mindset is that we Americans simply have to accept the way things are and plead with the government to go easy on us.