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Former GOP congressman predicts new Sedition Act

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Desire to stop secrets outlet WikiLeaks from disclosing more US documents could lead to a new Sedition Act, according to former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA).

Try as they might, US officials will not be able to convict WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange under current laws and will resort to passing new draconian measures, Barr explained in a recent column.

Signed into law in 1798 by President John Adams, the Sedition Act made it a crime to publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against the government.

Of the 25 people charged with violating the Sedition Act, most were newspaper editors. The law expired in 1801 and those convicted were pardoned by President Thomas Jefferson.

"Jefferson was, of course, right in his view of this law (which expired before its constitutionality could be determined by the Supreme Court)," Barr wrote. "His wisdom is well-needed today to quell the blood thirst of those clamoring for Assange’s head because of WikiLeaks’ release of cables and e-mails critical of and embarrassing to, the government."

The US Department of Justice has said it was investigating whether it could charge Assange under the Espionage Act or with criminal conspiracy, but no formal charges have yet been issued.

"Many legal scholars, not prone to the pressures of public sentiment (which polls suggest strongly supports prosecuting Assange), correctly argue there simply is no proper basis for a case against the WikiLeaks founder under the Espionage Act, federal conspiracy laws, or other statutes," Barr noted.

"Reading the Espionage Act the way Assange’s critics would have us do, would open a Pandora’s Box of virtually unlimited reach," he wrote.


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