CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The Rutherford Institute has denounced the U.S. government's attempts to extradite and prosecute Wikileaks founder Julian Assange for his part in disclosing information relating to government misconduct that is within the public's right to know. Assange was arrested on charges of helping U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning access and leak more than 700,000 classified military documents that raise significant ethical and legal questions about the government's war efforts abroad.
"In the absence of any real system of checks and balances among the three branches of government—i.e., with Congress, the courts and the Executive Branch working together to advance the government's agenda at the expense of the citizenry's constitutional rights—it is more vital than ever that the media serve as a check on the government. That is why freedom of the press is such an integral part of our First Amendment," said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. "America's founders understood the importance of the press in serving as a check on the government's power grabs, as well as maintaining an educated citizenry and a transparent government. But freedom of the press will not make much of a difference if journalists are afraid to shine a spotlight into the darkest corners of our government and pull back the veil on corruption and wrongdoing."
The government's prosecution of journalists and whistleblowers began under the Obama Administration and has continued under the Trump Administration. As Bloomberg News reported: "Eric Holder, attorney general under President Barack Obama, has prosecuted more government officials for alleged leaks under the World War I-era Espionage Act than all his predecessors combined, including law-and-order Republicans John Mitchell, Edwin Meese and John Ashcroft. The indictments of six individuals under that spy law have drawn criticism from those who say the president's crackdown chills dissent, curtails a free press and betrays Obama's initial promise to 'usher in a new era of open government.'"
The Trump Administration has continued the Obama Administration's crackdown on whistleblowers. Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks—a website that published secret information, news leaks, and classified media from anonymous sources—was arrested on April 11, 2019, on charges of helping U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning access and leak more than 700,000 classified military documents that portray the U.S. government and its military as reckless, irresponsible and responsible for thousands of civilian deaths. Included among the leaked Manning material were the Collateral Murder video (April 2010), the Afghanistan war logs (July 2010), the Iraq war logs (October 2010), a quarter of a million diplomatic cables (November 2010), and the Guantánamo files (April 2011). The Collateral Murder leak included gunsight video footage from two U.S. AH-64 Apache helicopters engaged in a series of air-to-ground attacks while air crew laughed at some of the casualties. Among the casualties were two Reuters correspondents who were gunned down after their cameras were mistaken for weapons and a driver who stopped to help one of the journalists. The driver's two children, who happened to be in the van at the time it was fired upon by U.S. forces, suffered serious injuries.
Manning, who was jailed for seven years from 2010 to 2017 for leaking classified documents to Wikileaks, was arrested in March 2019 for refusing to testify before a grand jury about Assange, placed in solitary confinement for almost a month, and remains in prison.