Belmarsh Tribunal demands freedom for Assange and end of Espionage Act

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has a new comrade-in-arms: Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg is challenging the US government to sue him.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been in the British high-security prison in Belmarsh since 2019 and is fighting against his extradition to the United States. At the third “Belmarsh Tribunal,” the father of all whistleblowers, Daniel Ellsberg, challenged the US government to sue him as a “co-conspirator.” He was also in possession of the information about the drone war that Wikileaks published with journalists. The Wau Holland Foundation-supported tribunal on Friday in Washington was followed online by 5,000 viewers.

Ellsberg hopes the challenge will set a precedent to finally end the US Espionage Act. The 1917 law originally targeted spies. In the meantime, however, it is increasingly being used against whistleblowers, as lawyers Jesselyn Radack and Ben Wizner underlined in their pleadings. Radack is representing ex-drone pilot Daniel Hale, who was sentenced to three and a half years in prison. Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union is representing Edward Snowden, who was exposed to mass surveillance by the NSA and fled to Russia.

The indictment of Assange under the Espionage Act further expands the law. For the first time, the US judiciary is not taking action against the whistleblower, but against those who publish leaked information. That is why the major editorial offices that have worked with Wikileaks and a number of politicians have now backed Assange. A country that extradites a publisher from abroad and convicts him in the US under the Espionage Act is a changed country, Wizner warned.

Ellsberg wants to force a landmark judgment on the unconstitutionality of the Espionage Act. First, the law effectively abolishes the First Amendment right to freedom of expression. In addition, it corresponds in many respects to the principles of the rule of law. For example, defendants are denied access to the evidence of their accusers. Whether the US judiciary will respond to the request made by the leaker of the Pentagon Papers is anything but certain. One is probably not keen on an indictment against him, said Ellsberg.

Civil rights attorney Margaret Ratner hopes to take Kunstler Assange’s indictment down another route. Together with media lawyer Deborah Hrbek and several journalists, she personally sued the CIA and its then-boss Mike Pompeo. Pompeo had lawyers and journalists spied on during Assange’s visits to the Ecuadorian embassy – among other things by frisking the laptops and telephones left by the embassy staff. A few days ago, Pompeo asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, because national security had been affected and the interventions had taken place abroad. However, Kunstler sees the chance that the undisputed fact of spying on privileged communication between lawyer and client would make it impossible to bring charges against Assange in the USA.

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