Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Attorney General Eric Holder: Call off the Attack on WikiLeaks

There are 768 Holders listed in the Barbados phone directory. I appeal to anyone who knows U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to carry this message to him with your personal appeal. Persuade him to see the dark consequences of prosecuting Julian Assange, editor of WikiLeaks (, and restricting freedom of the press.

I am an American living in Barbados. I left Washington, DC, in 1990 when I realized the heart of man was more evil than one could imagine. The last straw was when journalist Danny Casolaro was found dead with his wrists slashed in a Sheraton Hotel bathroom in West Virginia in August 1990. The night before, he had described to friends the book he was writing that would blow the lid off the White House. The next day wire services reported his “suicide.” His manuscript disappeared. It took one year before Congress convened hearings into his death and concluded it was murder. Look up “Danny Casolaro” on It’s filled with more intrigue and treachery than a Ludlum novel.

If I couldn’t save the world, at least I could save myself, so I moved to paradise, and in the lyrics of Jimmy Buffet, “twenty more years slipped away.”

I watched the inauguration of President Obama under a tent at the U.S. Embassy with fellow Americans. When he was sworn in, I and the older couple sitting next to me surprised ourselves with spontaneous tears in our eyes. We remembered decades of struggling for equality and civil rights. Years of effort by millions of Americans was finally coming to fruition. I swelled with new-found hope when Obama was elected. I was doubly proud when Eric Holder, whose father and maternal grandparents were from Barbados, was appointed U.S. Attorney General.

In 2010, President Obama visited Turkey and urged it to improve freedom of expression and of the press as one of the prerequisites for admittance into the European Union. Turkey ranks 138 in Reporters Without Borders' 2010 Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index. Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code makes it a punishable offense to “denigrate” the Turkish nation which, plainly stated, means one cannot speak out against their government. The irony of Obama’s request is not lost.

What does it mean to be an American? Before one is 8 years old, long before studying the Constitution, a sense of justice is deeply instilled in every American child. We learn we can speak our mind without fear of reprisal. The concept of fairness is in our psyche. For this quality, Americans have been admired around the world. I grew up in a time where phrases such as “beacon of light,” “justice and freedom for all,” were more than empty platitudes. I remember a time when I was proud of my country, when I did not come under attack for my government’s policies every time I attended a dinner party. Now, more than ever, it is time to defend the U.S. Constitution.

In 1996, Congress made it a crime for anyone in the US who provides "material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization or attempts or conspires to do so." The present statute defines "material support or resources" as:

... any property, tangible or intangible, or service, including currency or monetary instruments or financial services, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, safe houses, false documentation or identification, communications equipment, facilities, weapons, lethal substances, explosives, personnel and transportation except medicine or religious materials.

Merely the verbal threat of naming WikiLeaks a terrorist organization has had a chilling effect on freedom of expression. After WikiLeaks began publishing classified diplomatic documents on Nov. 28, 2010, Amazon kicked it off its servers. Mastercard, Visa, and PayPal closed WikiLeak’s accounts, making it difficult for supporters to donate to Julian Assange, who now needs to raise 240,000 pounds for bail.

On Dec 3, 2010, the State Department warned employees not to access any WikiLeaks documents, On December 14, the US Air Force blocked numerous sites with WikiLeaks documents. The war against WikiLeaks continues to escalate. In spite of the fact that Julian Assange was voted online by an overwhelming margin to be Time magazine’s person of the year, Time chose someone else. An online petition sponsored by to stop the crackdown on WikiLeaks has received 700,000 signatures in two days (a rate of nearly one per second).

The First Amendment states categorically that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. . .”

The 1917 Espionage Act makes it illegal to obtain information with the intent to injure the United States. In 1918, Congress added the “Sedition Act” which prohibited various forms of speech including "any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States... or the flag of the United States...” The Sedition Act was an immediate disaster and was repealed in 1921.

Possession of information is only half the game. Guilt of espionage is dependent upon intent to injure the United States. WikiLeaks’ intent, as stated by Julian Assange, has clearly been to expose lies and criminal behavior by governments and make governments more accountable to their citizens. Release of the Iraq war logs shows that the U.S. knowingly did nothing when its Iraqi counterparts tortured people. The video release in May 2010 of the senseless US helicopter attack in Baghdad which killed 13 innocent persons, including two journalists, reveals seriously flawed US military standards of engagement. It is estimated the 4 million Iraqis have been displaced and over 60,000 killed in a war based on the Presidential lie of weapons of mass destruction. And now the US is mired in Afghanistan. Through public awareness and opinion, Assange hopes to bring an end to the war in Afghanistan. He has no intent to injure the United States.

Naomi Wolf, author of The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot (2006), wrote in the Huffington Post, Dec 10, 2010:

The Espionage Act was crafted in 1917 -- because President Woodrow Wilson wanted a war and, faced with the troublesome First Amendment, wished to criminalize speech critical of his war. In the run-up to World War One, there were many ordinary citizens -- educators, journalists, publishers, civil rights leaders, union activists -- who were speaking out against US involvement in the war. The Espionage Act was used to round these citizens by the thousands for the newly minted 'crime' of their exercising their First Amendment rights. A movie producer who showed British cruelty in a film about the Revolutionary War (since the British were our allies in World War I) got a ten-year sentence under the Espionage act in 1917, and the film was seized; poet E.E. Cummings spent three-and-a-half months in a military detention camp under the Espionage Act for the 'crime' of saying that he did not hate Germans. Esteemed Judge Learned Hand wrote that the wording of the Espionage Act was so vague that it would threaten the American tradition of freedom itself. Many were held in prison for weeks in brutal conditions without due process; some, in Connecticut, were severely beaten while they were held in prison. The arrests and beatings were widely publicized and had a profound effect, terrorizing those who would otherwise speak out. Presidential candidate Eugene Debs received a ten-year prison sentence in 1918 under the Espionage Act for daring to read the First Amendment in public.

In her book, Wolf warned that “Step Ten” of the Ten Steps to closing an open society is to rename dissent “espionage” and criticism of government “treason”.

On November 29, 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder stated that Wikileaks “puts at risk our national security.” Holder went on to declare that, "To the extent there are gaps in our laws, we will move to close those gaps."

On Dec. 3, 2010, the Senate Intelligence Committee formally urged Holder “to bring criminal charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The Committee’s letter stated, “If Mr. Assange and his possible accomplices cannot be charged under the Espionage Act (or any other applicable statute), please know that we stand ready and willing to support your efforts to ‘close those gaps’ in the law…”

And so, Congress and the Justice Department are colluding to pass a law (expressly forbidden by the First Amendment) to abridge free speech and free press and criminalize WikiLeaks. A grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, is investigating possibilities of indicting Julian Assange under the 1917 Espionage Act. Assange’s lawyer has heard that the Swedes are proposing to drop their charges so Assange can be extradicted to the US if more significant charges come through from the grand jury.

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee plans to hold a hearing Thursday, Dec 16, 2010, on the Espionage Act and the legal and constitutional issues raised by WikiLeaks.

Senator Joe Lieberman has urged Obama to designate WikiLeaks and its officers as enemy combatants, paving the way for non-judicial actions against them. Exactly what is a “non-judicial action”? It means the President, acting independently of the courts and Congress, can issue an order to assassinate anyone designated an “enemy combatant,” including American citizens. The President and military have a “kill or capture” list and Al-Awlaki, an American, is on the hit list.

The court ruled “that there are circumstances in which the executive's unilateral decision to kill a U.S. citizen overseas is . . . judicially unreviewable."

The Obama administration takes the position that the Geneva Convention prohibiting torture of prisoners does not apply to those held as “suspected terrorists”.

Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? To a trial by jury? To habeus corpus, the Constitutional guarantee that a person may not be detained indefinitely? He or she has a right to be charged with a crime and brought before a court. After years of extraordinary renditions, secret prisons, and prisoner torture under the Bush years, Obama swept to victory with the promise of stopping torture and closing Guantanamo Bay prison. Obama has not delivered on his promises. The Justice Department, under the direction of Eric Holder, has argued to dismiss court cases, because to present the “evidence” would jeopardize “State Secrets.”

As a U.S. citizen, I want to know what are these State Secrets? This executive privilege allows the President to prevent public disclosure of evidence in court by claiming that its release would endanger national security. And increasingly, the Department of Justice has used the privilege not only to prevent public disclosure of documents, but to dismiss entire cases brought by victims of illegal policies, claiming that the subject matter of the case itself is a state secret.

In April 2009, Holder’s Justice Department invoked the state secrets privilege as a grounds for dismissing the case brought by AT&T customers alleging the government monitored, without warrants, the domestic telephone communications of millions of ordinary Americans. So let me get this straight: government officials can monitor my communications without my knowledge or approval to determine if I am breaking the law, but I cannot monitor my government to determine if it is breaking law.

In Mohammed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, in 2010, the Obama administration asserted the state secrets privilege to seek dismissal of a case brought by five victims of the Bush administration’s “extraordinary rendition” program — which transferred prisoners to foreign countries for interrogation under torture. The victims were not permitted to sue the US government for redress for being kidnapped, held without charges, and tortured.

How can it be that the accused is no longer allowed to know of what he is accused and to face his accusers? That victims can no longer sue the perpetrators of crimes? Since when can judges decide that evidence cannot be heard because it jeopardizes government secrets? If governments were not hiding criminal behavior, they would not need “State Secrets” executive privilege. That is why the world needs WikiLeaks. Secrecy is the primary tool of tyranny. When governments engage in criminal behavior and lies that lead to wars, death, and destruction, that government forfeits its right to confidentiality. The public’s right to know in order to keep their government honest trumps the government’s right to secrecy. That’s the conflict of interest that a court may one day examine.

On September 23, 2009, Holder issued a revision of the U.S. State Secrets policy, and committed the Justice Department to not invoke the privilege for the purpose of concealing government wrongdoing or avoiding embarrassment to government agencies or officials. The policy further requires the approval of the Attorney General, that is, Eric Holder himself, prior to the invocation of the states secret privilege.

To prosecute Assange will be the undoing of the United States. Please, if you know Eric Holder personally, persuade him to drop the persecution and prosecution of Julian Assange and protect freedom of the press. Call him on his mobile or go sit at Eric’s kitchen table over a Banks beer and help him find the moral strength to just “say no” to the campaign against Assange and WikiLeaks. An open society requires freedom of expression and a free press, not secrecy.

Amy L. Beam, Ed.D.


December 14, 2010

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