NEW YORK -- WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange called out the Obama administration for its aggressive pursuit of leakers and criticized media coverage of suspected WikiLeaks source Pfc. Bradley Manning during a conference call Wednesday about the soldier's legal situation.
"A little over four-and-a-half years ago, we embarked on a mission to bring the 1st Amendment to the world," Assange said, adding that by 2007 both China and Iraq had banned the anti-secrecy organization. "Little did we realize that our greatest struggle would come in 2010 as we tried to bring the 1st Amendment to the United States."
Assange has never said that Manning leaked his organization hundreds of thousands of classified documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, and international diplomacy carried out by the State Department. Still, Assange describes Manning, who's currently being held at Leavenworth penitentiary, as a hero.
The WikiLeaks founder also described how the prosecution of Manning -- and potentially his own organization -- under the Espionage Act of 1917 could have a chilling effect on investigative journalism. Such a prosecution, Assange argues, would create a situation where the relationship "between a source and journalist is interpreted as a conspiracy to commit crimes."
Under the Espionage Act, anyone who publishes or even discusses classified information could be punished. For that reason, prosecuting Assange for publishing the War Logs or Cablegate documents is a challenge for the government, which has nevertheless convened a grand jury to look into the matter. Countless news organizations similarly published entire WikiLeaks documents or relied on their contents for reports. So the federal government may instead try and prove that Assange worked with Manning in leaking the documents. So far, no such link has been proven -- and, indeed, efforts to imply such a link have been discredited.
Assange, responding to a question from The Huffington Post, described much of the media coverage of Manning's situation as "appalling." He continued:
There have been some good journalists that are starting to break through that. I see that the Washington Post has been improving its coverage. Glenn Greenwald, from Salon, has always been on this issue, dealing with it in a comprehensive and robust manner.
That we saw, for example, with Frontline last night -- once again a concentration on salacious and really quite irrelevant personal factors. There are many, indeed, perhaps most, people in the United States from divorced parents. But how many have spent the last year without conviction in a military prison. The answer is one.
It's not the first time Assange has criticized news organizations for delving into Manning's personal problems, including how he grappled under "Don't Ask Don't Tell." In November, Assange blasted the New York Times for a Manning profile that "removed all higher-level political motivations from him and psychoanalyzed him down to problems in his childhood and a demand for attention."
WikiLeaks was pushing back on the PBS Frontline documentary before it even ran Tuesday night. During a live-chat Wednesday on Frontline's website, producers Marcela Gaviria and Martin Smith responded to WikiLeaks' claim the day before that the film would be hostile to the whistleblower organization.
"WikiLeaks had determined that our intentions were hostile before they even saw the program. The fact that we asked hard questions of Assange was to give him the opportunity to respond to his critics. Assange had more on-air time than any other interviewee. We are pleased that Assange agreed to participate in our hour and applaud the transparency that WikiLeaks claims to support. Ultimately we think our documentary is fair to Assange."