White House Ramps Up Efforts To Criminalize Wikileaks, As Witnesses Refuse To 'Cooperate'

from the this-is-the-new-transparency? dept

We've discussed a few times how, despite all the promises of transparency and protection for whistleblowers from President Obama, the Obama administration has been by far the most aggressive presidential administration in going after leakers and trying to charge them with crimes. So it was little surprise that the feds were putting tremendous pressure on folks like Bradley Manning to admit to a "conspiracy" involving Wikileaks. Manning refused to play along, so now the feds are broadly widening their investigation, issuing all sorts of random subpoenas on people with very, very distant relations to Wikileaks, seeking something (anything!) that can be used to bring charges under the Espionage Act.

Meanwhile, many who are being called as witnesses are refusing to participate, and may face jailtime themselves:
But it also highlights a very important potential controversy: the refusal of numerous witnesses to cooperate in any way with this pernicious investigation. One witness who has appeared before the Grand Jury has already refused to answer any questions beyond the most basic biographical ones (name and address), invoking the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to do so, and other witnesses are highly likely to follow suit.

One option for federal prosecutors when facing a witness who refuses to answer questions on this basis is to offer them immunity, meaning that nothing they say when testifying can be used to prosecute them (they can still be prosecuted, just not with the aid of anything they say while testifying). Such an offer then precludes further invocations of the self-incrimination privilege as a grounds for refusing to answer questions, as it means there is no longer any danger that the witness could incriminate themselves by testifying. In the event the government makes such an offer, the court would almost certainly compel the witness to answer questions. But at least some of those witnesses -- ones who have already been subpoenaed or are likely to be -- intend to refuse to answer questions anyway, risking an almost-certain finding of contempt of court, which typically carries jail terms as a means of forcing testimony.

One witness or potential witness who is considering that form of civil disobedience told me they view the attempt to criminalize WikiLeaks as such a profound assault on basic freedoms, including press freedoms -- one motivated by a desire to conceal government wrongdoing and illegality -- that they would rather be imprisoned than cooperate in any way with those efforts. That is the mindset of true principled heroism, and if it actually comes to that, anyone committed to transparency and preservation of press freedoms should do everything possible to support such persons in any way they can...
This whole thing seems like a massive waste of resources by the Administration, seeking to punish whistleblowers and the press for revealing information that wasn't sensitive, but merely embarrassing.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2011 @ 3:07pm

    And if someone were to stand up to a villainous government in the name of the freedoms promised by the constitution, that person would be a patriot and hero...even if that government was our own.

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