The Espionage Act: Indicting journalists in a war against freedom of the press.


Then Donald Trump takes power and immediately begins using the playbook refined and sharpened by his predecessor, President Obama.

This isn’t a Trump thing or an Obama thing. It’s a top-down government power thing, and the unsurprising province of a two-party system power-sharing arrangement.


…Mark Ruffalo [reading Eugene Debs’ speech]: For in every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism or religion or both to deceive and overawe the people.

Jeremy Scahill: On June 16, 1918, the prominent Socialist labor leader Eugene Debs delivered a speech in Canton, Ohio. In the speech, Debs argued against U.S. involvement in World War I and he praised activists who had been organizing against the military draft or had been convicted of sedition. At the time, Debs was one of the most prominent socialists in the United States and his speech came on the heels of the Russian Revolution and the rise of global socialist and communist movements. Eugene Debs had run for president four times as of the day of that speech. Here is actor Mark Ruffalo reading part of that speech.

MR [reading Eugene Debs’ speech]: The working class who fight all the battles, the working calls who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish their corpses had never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace. Yours not to reason why. Yours but to do and die. That is their motto.

JS: Soon after that speech, Eugene Debs was arrested and he was charged under a new law in the U.S. that had passed just a year earlier. It was called The Espionage Act. Debs and his lawyers argued that his anti-war speech was protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. And they lost. And Debs was sentenced to ten years in prison. The case eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court where the justices voted unanimously to uphold the conviction of Eugene Debs. “I believe in free speech, in war as well as in peace,” Debs told the jury during his trial. “If the Espionage Law stands, then the Constitution of the United States is dead.”

From his prison cell, Debs ran for a 5th time for president of the United States on the Socialist Party ticket. He got nearly a million votes, almost three and a half percent — the most ever won by a Socialist at that time. In 1921, President Warren Harding commuted Eugene Debs sentence, but he did not pardon him. Though he did invite Debs to meet him at the White House.

Congress ultimately amended parts of the Espionage Act, but the thrust of the law has remained in effect to this day. Anarchist Emma Goldman was also prosecuted under the act. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed after being convicted under the law …

This isn’t a Trump thing or an Obama thing, either one. It’s a power thing, and the province of a two-party system power-sharing arrangement.

Indicting a journalist? What the new charges against Julian Assange mean for free speech, by Julian Borger (The Guardian)

By bringing new charges against the WikiLeaks founder, the Trump administration has challenged the first amendment

By indicting Julian Assange under the Espionage Act, the Trump administration has crossed a line that every other US administration has shied away from: challenging the first amendment in defence of government secrets.

The only reason the 102-year-old act does not criminalise national security journalism is because no administration has sought to put it to the test. The law bans the publication of government secrets and offers no explicit protections to the press under the amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech.

Until now, most legal observers have argued that the law would not survive scrutiny by the supreme court if it were ever used against journalists.

The Obama administration debated whether it could be used against Assange after his organisation, WikiLeaks, published military communications from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as a huge trove of diplomatic cables. But Obama’s team ultimately decided against taking that step.

Matthew Miller, who was a justice department spokesman at the time, recalled: “The justice department in the Obama administration thought it would be very dangerous to charge Assange with publication, as the Espionage Act doesn’t make any distinction between journalists and non-journalists.

“The second reason – which we never got to – was that no one was sure if it would withstand constitutional scrutiny. It probably wouldn’t,” Miller said. “That said, the supreme court has changed significantly since then, and maybe the DoJ [department of justice] has made that calculation” …