Julian Assange, the
By Robert Meeropol
Rumors are swirling that the
to indict Wikileaks leader Julian Assange for
conspiring to violate the Espionage Act of 1917. The
modern version of that act states among many, many
other things that
obtaining information respecting the national defense
with intent or reason to believe that the information
is to be used to the injury of the
causes the disclosure or publication of this material,
could be subject to massive criminal penalties. It also
violate any of the foregoing provisions ... each of the
parties to such conspiracy shall be subject to the
punishment provided for the offense which is the object
of such conspiracy." (18
I view the Espionage Act of 1917 as a lifelong nemesis.
My parents were charged, tried and ultimately executed
after being indicted for Conspiracy to Commit Espionage
under that act.
The 1917 Act has a notorious history. It originally
served to squelch opposition to World War I. It
criminalized criticism of the war effort, and sent
hundreds of dissenters to jail just for voicing their
opinions. It transformed dissent into treason.
Many who attacked the law noted that the framers of the
Constitution had specifically limited what constituted
treason by writing it into the Constituton
war against them, or in adhering to their enemies,
giving them aid and comfort" (Article III, section 3).
The framers felt this narrow definition was necessary
to prevent treason from becoming what some called "the
weapon of a political faction." Furthermore, in their
discussions at the Constitutional Convention they
agreed that spoken opposition was protected by the
First Amendment and could never be considered treason.
It appears obvious that the Espionage Act is
unconstitutional because it does exactly what the
Constitution prohibits. It is, in other words, an
effort to make an end run around the Treason Clause of
the Constitution. Not surprisingly, however, as we've
seen in times of political stress, the Supreme Court
upheld its validity in a 5-4 decision. Although later
decisions seemed to criticize and limit its scope, the
Espionage Act of 1917 has never been declared
unconstitutional. To this day, with a few notable
exceptions that include my parents' case (read more
it has been a dormant sword of Damocles, awaiting the right political
moment and an authoritarian Supreme Court to spring to
life and slash at dissenters.
It is no accident that Julian Assange may face a
"conspiracy" charge just as my parents did. All that is
required of the prosecution to prove a conspiracy is to
present evidence that two or more people got together
and took one act in furtherance of an illegal plan. It
could be a phone call or a conversation.
In my parents' case the only evidence presented against
my mother was David and Ruth Greenglasses' testimony
that she was present at a critical espionage meeting
and typed up David's handwritten description of a
sketch. Although this testimony has since been shown to
be false, even if it were true, it would mean that the
government of the
But the reach of "conspiracy" is even more insidious.
It means that ANYONE with whom my parents could have
discussed their actions and politics could have been
swept up and had similar charges brought against them
if someone testified that those conversations included
plans to commit espionage. Thus, the case against my
parents was rightly seen by many in their political
community of rank and file Communist Party Members as a
threat to them all.
Viewing the Wikileaks situation through this lens, it
becomes apparent why the government would seek to
charge Assange with conspiracy. Not only Assange, but
anyone involved in the Wikileaks community could be
swept up in a dragnet. Just as in my parents' case, the
prosecutors could seek to bully some involved into
ratting out others, in return for more favorable
treatment. This divide and conquer approach would turn
individuals against each other, sow the seeds of
distrust within the broader community, and intimidate
others into quiescence.
This kind of attack threatens every left wing activist.
I urge all progressives to come to the defense of
Julian Assange should he be indicted for violating the
Espionage Act of 1917.
Robert Meeropol is the younger son of Ethel and Julius
"conspiring to steal the secret of the atomic bomb."
Since 1990 he has served as the Executive Director of
non-profit, public foundation that provides for the
educational and emotional needs of both targeted
activist youth and children in this country whose
parents have been harassed, injured, jailed, lost jobs
or died in the course of their progressive activities.