The U.S. Army analyst accused of downloading classified diplomatic cables toWikiLeaks has been in custody since May. And the Australian founder of the WikiLeaks Web site faces his own legal difficulties.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in the midst of a four-day overseas tour, says she is reassuring other foreign ministers that Wikileaks will not obstruct American diplomacy.
But what U.S. authorities want to obstruct is the freedom of Bradley Manning, the American soldier who allegedly leaked the classified information. It’s still unclear what they’ll do with Julian Assange, the man who published it on Wikileaks.
Assange is in hiding, the subject of a worldwide manhunt. The international crime agency Interpol has him on its most wanted list. Sweden seeks him on sexual assault charges. And in the United States “There’s an ongoing criminal investigation into the leaking and the posting of all these documents,” said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
“We are taking aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information,” said Mrs. Clinton.
What charge might the U.S. file? Espionage, for one. Revealing classified information. But consider this: the act is nearly 100 years old. It’s never been tested against modern electronic, media. And if it is? Legal scholars say the public’s right to know would be the defense
There is plenty of evidence, 250,000 documents. But with espionage, the government must prove that the classified information damaged national defense. And that might reveal other secrets.
Pat Rowan is a former U.S. assistant attorney general for national security:
“The most harmful documents, the ones that pain the U.S. government for them to be in public, are the same ones that someone in a trial would have to stand up and point to and say, ‘Here’s why it’s harmful.’ That further shoves the knife in further and turns the handle a bit,” said Rowan.
But Assange is not on U.S. soil. He is an Australian, thought to be hiding in England. Rowan says officials should ignore public and foreign pressure to charge him.
“You wait for two or three or four or five years for him to go from a place where he thinks he’s safe,” said Rowan. “Perhaps he decides to travel around the world because his mother is sick, he goes through an airport in a country where you have good connections with and he’s detainted there and brought to the U.S. That’s the way the government usually prosecutes these kinds of cases.”
Meantime, Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning is in military custody south of Washington. He is charged with leaking classified documents. Manning could be court martialed and, if convicted, jailed for several decades.
Jonathan Tracy will be an observer at Manning’s trial. He’s a former judge advocate with the U.S. Army.
“It’s a serious case so if it’s true that he did do this, the military commander is going to consider that a significant breach of law and will want to charge him at a court martial,” said Tracy.
Manning is supported by at least two Web sites. And in addition to his military defense attorney, he has hired a former Army lawyer as a civilian counsel. Manning has been in jail for six months.