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Jeremy Scahill & Glenn Greenwald: Criminalizing WikiLeaks is a Threat to Journalists Everywhere

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Swedish prosecutors recently dropped the investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Assange has always denied the allegations, which he calls a pretext for his ultimate extradition to the U.S. to face prosecution under the Espionage Act. Since 2012, Assange has taken refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. It’s not clear whether he will emerge any time soon. Last month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions confirmed that the U.S. has prepared a warrant for Assange, calling his arrest a “priority.” To talk more about Julian Assange, we speak with two of the founders of The Intercept: Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we wrap up, I wanted to ask about—about Julian Assange. The Swedish government has dropped the investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by Julian Assange. He was never charged. What does this mean, Glenn? Glenn, you’re, of course, the person who won the Pulitzer Prize for your work covering Edward Snowden. Right now, Julian Assange has been in the Ecuadorean Embassy for almost five years. But if he steps foot outside, even though Sweden has dropped this investigation, after questioning him at the embassy, the British government [inaudible].

GLENN GREENWALD: I think it’s obviously, you know, a shame—and I think everyone ought to agree—that when there are allegations of this type that are made and then denials issued by the person who was accused, it’s in everybody’s interest to try and make sure that these claims are adjudicated, not through online debate, but in a court of law with due process. And the fact that it hasn’t been and apparently won’t be, I think, is horrible for everybody involved.

The reason why that happened—and a lot of people bear the blame for it, but the primary reason is that what the Ecuadoreans said all along was that “What we’re concerned about, the persecution we’re protecting him from, is not the allegations in Sweden, but the concern that if he goes to Sweden, he will then be turned over to the United States and be prosecuted for political crimes, namely, publishing documents.” And the Ecuadoreans always said, “If the Swedish would just give us assurances that turning over Julian to the Swedish authorities will not result in him being extradited to the U.S., we will put him on the next plane to Stockholm to face these claims.” And Julian has said the same thing. And the Swedish refused, categorically, to give those assurances, which is why the Ecuadoreans perceived persecution and gave asylum, on top of which the prosecutors took many, many years to question Julian in the embassy, which they were offering all along and could have done five years ago and didn’t.

Now we’re in a situation where the Swedish investigators have said, “We don’t think we can proceed anymore, so we’re dropping the charges,” which means every fair-minded person should not assume Julian to be innocent, but also not guilty, because there’s been no due process. And so, why is he still in the embassy? The reason he’s still in the embassy and can’t leave is exactly what the Ecuadoreans fear, which is that the United States government has made clear, under Trump, that they intend to prosecute WikiLeaks and Julian Assange under an espionage statute enacted in 1917 for the, quote-unquote, “crime” of publishing documents. And the British, of course, as being the British, are entirely subservient to the wishes of the U.S. government and will arrest Julian the minute he steps out, and undoubtedly turn him over to the U.S. So the irony is, he’s not been convicted, the charges are now dropped, and yet he seems to be in greater legal—

AMY GOODMAN: Not even charged.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right, he’s never been charged. The case has been dropped. The investigation has been dropped. And yet he’s in greater legal jeopardy than ever, because Jeff Sessions and Mike Pompeo and Donald Trump, apparently, want to prosecute him for the crime of reporting on documents. And there’s a lot of people in the U.S. media who, even though that precedent would be a grave danger to their own press freedom, seem to be either acquiescing to it or overtly supportive of it. And it’s a really dangerous situation.

JEREMY SCAHILL: I think a lot of what is missed in the criticism of Assange and WikiLeaks from news organizations is that what they do to WikiLeaks, and if they do charge Julian Assange with espionage, if they do criminalize what WikiLeaks is doing, that’s a threat to journalists everywhere. And regardless of what you think of Julian Assange as a person or the allegations that originally surfaced in Sweden, this is a tactic that the U.S. government uses all the time. That’s what the whole embedded journalism program is part of in the military. Embedded journalists—remember Victoria Clarke, Bush’s spokesperson on military stuff. During the invasion of Iraq, unembedded journalists were basically fair game, and if we end up killing you, that’s your problem, but if you’re embedded, you have to go through the censors, you’re working with us.

Look at the way that also journalists talked about this recent Israel leak story in the Oval Office when the Russians were there. CNN, all of these publications rushed in front of the cameras and microphones to say, “We coordinated our coverage with the U.S. government to make sure that we wouldn’t say this, this or this.” Now, that’s fair. You should ask the U.S. government, I think, when you’re publishing documents. Let’s hear your argument for why they shouldn’t be. The idea that Evan Pérez on CNN used the term “coordinated” to talk about what they were doing with the U.S. government in—you know, before publishing things is really the sharpest contrast that you can draw: WikiLeaks versus journalists who go and say, “Mr. President, is it OK if we publish this?” That’s a problem. And that’s why, regardless of what you think of WikiLeaks, if you are not against their prosecution under this, then you’re going to be part of a drawing back of press freedom in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: We are wrapping up in 30 seconds, Glenn, but tomorrow we’re going to broadcast an exclusive interview with the ousted Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. You’ve just flown in from Brazil. As a kind of introduction to this, can you say what’s happening there?

GLENN GREENWALD: It’s hard to imagine anyone more vindicated than she. The argument that a lot of us made against the impeachment was that if you impeach her, the people in Brazil who will take over are the single most corrupt faction. They’re like a criminal organization. The president of the country just got caught on tape three months ago endorsing and directing bribes. There is all kinds of unrest in Brasília. My husband was just there yesterday. And you have no idea, now that we’ve unraveled democracy, what the result will be.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we will talk about that with Dilma Rousseff tomorrow on Democracy Now!, as well as Glenn’s analysis of what’s happening now with the president, Michel Temer, sending thousands of troops to Brasília. Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, both co-founders of The Intercept. And Jeremy has just started a new weekly podcast called Intercepted. Check it out.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we speak with Toronto journalist and activist Desmond Cole. Stay with us.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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Journalist Desmond Cole on How the Toronto Star Tried to Silence His Activism for Black Liberation

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