The Nightmare Espionage Act That is Killing Julian Assange and the First Amendment

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Carey Shenkman. Photo credit:

Carey Shenkman, attorney, author, and litigator specializing in civil and human rights, joins Robert Scheer for this week’s Scheer Intelligence, where Shenkman offers a sobering analysis on one of the most chilling attacks on press freedom exhibited in the Julian Assange case. Using his recently published book, A Century of Repression: The Espionage Act and Freedom of the Press, Shenkmen details the history of the Espionage Act and how civil liberties have continued to be eroded as a result of the existence of this law and the lack of revision.

Shenkman talks about the bipartisan disdain towards the Espionage Act in legal circles yet its continued use by bipartisan presidents brings the conversation to its flaws and disreputability: “Over the decades, you have folks that are coming out with law review articles saying that it's vague, verbose, that it makes no sense, and that ambiguity in the law is being exploited now to go after Julian Assange, to go after government whistleblowers. So there have actually been serious calls for its reform and repeal in recent years.” Assange faces 175 years in a U.S. maximum security prison after being indicted with 17 charges relating to the Espionage Act.

Going back to its inception during World War I, Shenkman explains what its true purpose was and how within the law, “you get a sense that this language of promoting disloyalty, of promoting opposition to the war, was actually used to go after conscientious objectors and folks that opposed entry into World War I.”

As for Julian Assange, the urgency behind bringing attention to the case is justified.  According to Shenkman, “We tried to dig through the history to see if a publisher has ever been charged for anything like Julian Assange has been accused of. And the answer is no. This is the first case in U.S. history of its kind. And it would set a precedent that would open the floodgates for prosecuting the press.”

Shenkman says if Assange is extradited, it will make his case a law school case for all the wrong reasons. Despite all the concern surrounding the overreaching power of the United States, this case could also open the door to countries around the world to extradite citizens from foreign countries for exposing their wrongdoings. As Shenkman mentions, “Assange is not a U.S. government employee. He's not even a U.S. citizen. And somehow the U.S. government says it has jurisdiction.”



Joshua Scheer