Tag Archives: First Amendment

Why You Should Care About the Julian Assange Case, by Matt Taibbi

If Julian Assange is charged and convicted in the US for WikiLeaks’ disclosures, you can throw away the First Amendment. From Matt Taibbi at rollingstone.com:

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who has been inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London since the summer of 2012, is back in the news. Last week, word of a sealed federal indictment involving him leaked out.

The news came out in a strange way, via an unrelated case in Virginia. In arguing to seal a federal child endangerment charge (against someone with no connection to Wikileaks), the government, ironically, mentioned Assange as an example of why sealing is the only surefire way to keep an indictment under wraps.

“Due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case,” prosecutors wrote, “no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.”

Assange’s lawyer Barry Pollack told Rolling Stone he had “not been informed that Mr. Assange has been charged, or the nature of any charges.”

Pollock and other sources could not be sure, but within the Wikileaks camp it’s believed that this charge, if it exists, is not connected to the last election.

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As the Obama DOJ Concluded, Prosecution of Julian Assange for Publishing Documents Poses Grave Threats to Press Freedom, by Glenn Greenwald

Not everything the Barack Obama administration did was wrong. From Glenn Greenwald at theintercept.com:

THE TRUMP JUSTICE DEPARTMENT inadvertently revealedin a court filing that it has charged Julian Assange in a sealed indictment. The disclosure occurred through a remarkably amateurish cutting-and-pasting error in which prosecutors unintentionally used secret language from Assange’s sealed charges in a document filed in an unrelated case. Although the document does not specify which charges have been filed against Assange, the Wall Street Journal reported thatthey may involve the Espionage Act, which criminalizes the disclosure of national defense-related information.”

Over the last two years, journalists and others have melodramatically claimed that press freedoms were being assaulted by the Trump administration due to trivial acts such as the President spouting adolescent insults on Twitter at Chuck Todd and Wolf Blitzer or banning Jim Acosta from White House press conferences due to his refusal to stop preening for a few minutes so as to allow other journalists to ask questions. Meanwhile, actual and real threats to press freedoms that began with the Obama DOJ and have escalated with the Trump DOJ – such as aggressive attempts to unearth and prosecute sources – have gone largely ignored if not applauded.

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Trump Raises the Stakes With CNN, by Patrick J. Buchanan

Denying Jim Acosta White House access has supposedly deprived him and his employer, CNN, of their First Amendment rights. Of course, CNN hasn’t said a thing about the very real threat Julian Assange faces of a long prison sentence for exercising his First Amendment rights. From Patrick J. Buchanan at buchanan.org:

Last week, the White House revoked the press pass of CNN’s chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, and denied him access to the building.

CNN responded by filing suit in federal court against the president.

Acosta’s First and Fifth Amendment rights had been violated, said CNN. The demand: Acosta’s press pass must be returned immediately and his White House press privileges restored.

“If left unchallenged,” CNN warned, “the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials.” A dozen news organizations, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, are filing amicus briefs on CNN’s behalf.

On Thursday, the Trump administration raised the stakes.

Justice Department lawyer James Burnham declared in court: “If the president wants to exclude all reporters from the White House grounds, he clearly has the authority to do that.”

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Social Media vs the Constitution, by Raúl Ilargi Meijer

Are social media companies that are in bed with the government actually public utilities that should be regulated as such? From Raúl Ilargi Meijer at theautomaticearth.com:

An ancient Latin saying goes: “Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi” (what is permissible for Jupiter, is not for an ox). It feels very much on topic when social media are concerned. And as the heat over their censorship is turned up, it may well be the decisive factor.

Reuters reiterates today that on May 23, Manhattan US District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled that Donald Trump’ Twitter account is a public forum and blocking Twitter users for their views violates their right to free speech under the First Amendment. The same, says the ruling, applies to other government officials’ accounts.

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Former MI6 spy v WikiLeaks editor: Who really deserves 1st Amendment protection? by Annie Machon

Christopher Steele, a British citizen, is protected in the US by the First Amendment, but Julian Assange, a citizen of Ecuador and Australia, is probably not. From Annie Machon at rt.com:

If ‘Dirty Dossier’ author Christopher Steele deserves protection under the 1st Amendment but WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange doesn’t, then the concept of a free press is merely a distant memory.

While it is all too easy to become frustrated and annoyed by what passes for news in the legacy media these days, thisarticle in the Daily Mail did arouse my particular ire earlier this week – and in this instance no particular blame attaches to the newspaper, it is simply reporting some unpalatable facts.

The gist of it is that former British MI6 intelligence officer and current mercenary spy-for-hire, Christopher Steele, author of the discredited ‘Dirty Dossier’ about Donald Trump, has been accorded First Amendment rights in a court case in the USA.

You might wonder why this article caused me so much spluttering annoyance over my breakfast? Steele’s treatment is in marked contrast to that accorded to WikiLeaks Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Julian Assange, and the hypocrisy is breathtaking. Allow me to expound.

Steele is a British intelligence officer of pretty much my vintage. According to what is available publicly, he worked for MI6, the British overseas intelligence gathering agency, for 22 years, serving in Russia in the early ’90s and in Paris at the end of that decade – around the time that MI5 whistleblower, David Shayler, wasimprisoned in that city pending a failed extradition case to the UK. It is probable that Steele would have been monitoring us then.

After being outed as an MI6 officer in 1999 by his former colleague, Richard Tomlinson, he was pretty much desk-bound in London until he resigned in 2009 to set up, in the inimitable way of so many former spooks, a private consultancy that can provide plausibly deniable services to corporations and perhaps their former employers.

Steele established just such a mercenary spy outfit, Orbis Business Intelligence, with another ex-colleague Chris Burrows in 2009. Orbis made its name in exposing corruption at the heart of FIFA in 2015 and was thereafter approached as an out-sourced partner by Fusion GPS – the company initially hired to dig dirt on presidential candidate Trump in 2016 by one of his Republican rivals and which then went on to dig up dirt on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s DNC.

To continue reading: Former MI6 spy v WikiLeaks editor: Who really deserves 1st Amendment protection?

Ann Coulter is Wrong on Controlling Facebook, Twitter and Google, by Michael S. Rozeff

Foes of the social media companies and their censors are using pretzel logic to try to justify the imposition of the First Amendment on them. However, ties to the government don’t make a private company part of the government, and the First Amendment applies to the federal government and no other entity. From Michael S. Rozoff at lewrockwell.com:

Ann Coulter says

“We need to apply the First Amendment to social media companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google, because it is a public square, and there is precedent for that and it’s gotta be done…”

I present arguments against her suggestion. I realize fully that these companies have important connections to government including contracts, data sharing and products being developed that further the surveillance state. My argument against Coulter’s suggestion is pertinent to speech, which was her concern, not these other links.

Coulter is speaking out of emotion, confusion, needless desperation and ignorance. The First Amendment restricts Congress. It cannot be “applied” to speech on social media company platforms or to these companies themselves. They are not government. They are private associations. A corporation is a nexus of contracts accomplished by private persons. Her suggestion is impractical, unconstitutional and anti-freedom.

Coulter is actually calling for the government to enforce diversity of speech within these companies. Her diversity agenda is directed to speech, not other matters like hiring; but it’s no different in kind than the government controls that leftists demand when they advocate diversity or extend the idea of non-discrimination into areas where it doesn’t belong.

What Coulter wants is actually not free speech but its opposite, which is “fair” access to speech on social media platforms or “equal opportunity” to speak on these platforms. She wants non-discrimination by these media among those proffering speech. This is not free speech as exercised by the companies. A media platform or site or operation would not be allowed to shape a social communications product adhering to a given non-diverse or exclusive viewpoint. Coulter’s suggestion rules out companies devoted on political matters to particular audiences. There could not be companies devoted to conspiracy theories, fascist ideas, communist ideas, conservative ideas, progressive ideas, socialist ideas, etc. Diversity in speech enforced by government is not free speech at all, whether based upon the First Amendment or any other amendment or provision.

To continue reading: Ann Coulter is Wrong on Controlling Facebook, Twitter and Google

America’s Kristallnacht? by Robert Gore

If the US government prosecutes Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, it will mark a point of no return.

We’ll never know what “average” Germans thought on November 11, 1938, the day after Kristallnacht. Perhaps a few recognized it for what it was: a turning point, an acceleration of Germany’s descent into hell. America’s Crystal Night looms, and if it occurs, only a few will recognize it for what it is.

The fate of Julian Assange is the fate of one man, but it is also the fate of one of our most important freedoms. There won’t be shattered plate glass from vandalized businesses littering the streets, synagogues smashed, graves unearthed, or people herded onto trains. But his prosecution by the US government would destroy an inestimable value, one enshrined in the First Amendment, for which generations of Americans have fought and died: the right of the people and its press to inform the people and to hold their government to account.

Aside from armed resistance and revolution, the one defense individuals have against governments is intellectual: the concept of individual rights. There is an argument as to whether those rights come from our Creator (Thomas Jefferson) or from our basic nature as humans and the requirements of our survival (Ayn Rand). Despite starting from different premises, both arguments lead to the same conclusion: individuals have inherent, inalienable, inviolable rights, and the only legitimate function of government is to protect those rights.

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were explicit attempts to delineate a set of principles that recognized individual rights and tried to restrain government power. Though real-world implementation has fallen short, often far short, they were towering conceptual achievements.

In 1933, the year Hitler assumed power, the government began enacting laws that restricted Jews’ rights to earn a living, gain an education, or work in the civil service. In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws stripped German Jews of their citizenship and forbade them from marrying non-Jewish Germans.

Kristallnacht’s hooliganism was encouraged by the German authorities, and none of the perpetrators bore any legal consequences. More than 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and deported to concentration camps. The government would not protect Jews from the depredations of thugs and the government itself was a thug. Kristallnacht was a point of no return: Jews no longer had any legally enforceable rights. Soon enough no German would.

In America, there is no one villain or group that one can point to as responsible for the erosion of rights. Begun the day the Constitution was ratified, it’s been a gradual process. We’ve reached the point where only a few of the rights guaranteed in the Constitution and Bill of Rights still receive any measure of government solicitude.

Property and contract rights are out the window; the government routinely abridges them. You have no right to your own income, or to conduct your legitimate business or trade free from government regulation and interference. Much of the Bill of Rights is either irrelevant now or has been rendered a dead letter. In terms of individual rights, only the Second Amendment’s much infringed right to bear arms, and the First Amendment—the prohibition against the government establishing a religion, free speech, press, and assembly, and the right to petition the government—are still hanging by a thread.

Which is why the fate of Julian Assange takes on such significance. While the government has prosecuted those like Chelsea (formerly Brad) Manning who have stolen government secrets and classified information, it has not prosecuted the press individuals and organizations who have published them. That is WikiLeaks’ business model: it receives, vets, and publishes stolen information, often from governments.

The government has not gone after publishers because it would be a frontal assault on the First Amendment that it would probably lose. Any exception would swallow the general rule of press freedom. Say the Supreme Court recognized an exception: classified information whose publication would constitute an imminent and grave threat to the security of the United States. Who decides what’s an imminent and grave threat? The government would have the power to classify whatever information it pleases under that exception and put those who publish it at risk of prosecution, their only recourse years of costly litigation spent arguing that the information didn’t fit the exception.

Many Trump admirers resist the notion that their man is interested in the acquisition and use of power, but his and members of his administration’s hostility to individual civil liberties belies that resistance. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a gung-ho supporter of the civil-liberties-eviscerating-government-power-expanding War on Drugs and civil asset forfeiture.

In the latter, a government seizes assets it claims were involved with crimes and makes their owners jump through myriad legal hoops—including proving the negative that their assets weren’t involved in a crime—even if the owners themselves were never convicted, or even charged, with a crime. Assets that are not “acquitted”—cars, cash, boats, houses, etc.—are kept and used by the government. President Trump has endorsed civil asset forfeiture, and has extended it outside America’s borders via an executive order (see “By Imperial Decree,” SLL, 1/2/18).

Trump’s Secretary of State and former director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo has fashioned a legal approach the administration might use, in a case against WikiLeaks and Assange, to slither around the First Amendment. In April, still director of the CIA, he delivered a speech in which several passages demanded, but never received, careful parsing from the mainstream media. They are still obsessing over a February Trump tweet in which he declared the US media an “enemy of the people.” This is considered a threat to the First Amendment, but Pompeo’s speech was mostly ignored.

Pompeo called WikiLeaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.” Most press organizations, and almost all that consistently challenge the state, are non-state. WikiLeaks has published state secrets, undoubtedly considered hostile acts by those states, but how is it an intelligence service? Pompeo is arguing that WikiLeaks cannot be considered part of the press, consequently it’s not protected by the First Amendment.

As for the “abetted by state actors like Russia,” WikiLeaks has consistently denied it received the DNC emails from Russia, and nobody has proven otherwise. The best technical evidence indicates those DNC emails were directly downloaded to a portable storage device, indicating an inside job, and not remotely hacked, by Russians or anyone else.

Pompeo argued that “we have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.” This is straight from Orwell: you are free to say what you want, as long as you don’t say anything against the government. He claimed that WikiLeaks “pretended that America’s First Amendment freedoms shield them from justice,” and, “they may have believed that, but they are wrong.” Now where would WikiLeaks get such a crazy idea? How about the plain language of the First Amendment?

Finally, Pompeo threatened: “To give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now.” Any government “secrets” the press publishes with the full approval of the government probably aren’t going to be terribly revealing. It’s the secrets the government doesn’t want revealed, the ones that are generally “misappropriated,” that reveal the most important secrets, which an informed and free people must know if they are to call their government to account.

From the excerpts quoted above, and the video of the relevant part of speech below, make up your own mind as to who’s perverting the Constitution.

Freedom of the press protects the rights of the press, but more importantly protects the right of all of us to be informed, especially about what was once considered “our” government. It amplifies the freedom of speech. Even a small newspaper reaches more people than someone shouting from a street corner.

If Assange and WikiLeaks are tried and convicted in a US court as “a non-state hostile intelligence service,” the government can slap that label on any person or organization publishing or otherwise disclosing its secrets. The case would probably make its way to the Supreme Court. If the court accepted the Pompeo exception to the First Amendment, freedom of the press and speech would become two more of the Constitution’s dead letters.

Just the prosecution of Assange and WikiLeaks would have a chilling effect. Not that most of the US’s supine mainstream and social media would be chilled. The mainstream media that have spoken out about Assange and WikiLeaks have come down on the side of the government. The social media companies, de facto arms of the government, are shutting down politically incorrect voices. Neither mainstream or social media have anything to lose from the termination of First Amendment freedoms because they don’t say, or allow anyone else to say, anything the powers that be don’t want heard.

Trump is a wild card on WikiLeaks and Assange. WikiLeaks’ disclosure of the DNC emails helped his campaign. He praised it back then, but now appears ready to prosecute. Trump administration officials and Trump himself often say one thing while Trump does another. It is not a given that Assange will be either extradited by the British government or prosecuted in the US.

Few totalitarian regimes take their people’s rights away all at once. It’s done gradually to reduce dissent, until that Kristallnacht moment where it’s impossible to evade the reality: there are no rights left. If the Trump administration prosecutes Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, that sinking feeling in your stomach will be the realization that the last remnant of your rights are gone, that the government and Trump are your enemies.

If Assange and WikiLeaks are prosecuted, who will dare tell the truth about the government? Trump will have destroyed one of the last vestiges of individual rights—and the freedom that goes with it—that once made America great.