My parents were executed under the unconstitutional Espionage Act — here’s why we must fight to protect Julian Assange

Robert Meeropol writes:

Rumors are swirling that the United States is preparing 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: “Whoever, for the purpose of obtaining information respecting the national defense with intent or reason to believe that the information is to be used to the injury of the United States” causes the disclosure or publication of this material, could be subject to massive criminal penalties. It also states that: “If two or more persons conspire to 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 U.S. Code, Chapter 37, Section 793.)

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: “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying 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, 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.

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4 thoughts on “My parents were executed under the unconstitutional Espionage Act — here’s why we must fight to protect Julian Assange

  1. Ian Arbuckle

    I’m no lawyer but I reckon that if the US justice system attempts to prosecute and gets a conviction on the bases of this deliberately vague law against Assange it would just show the country to be heading down the hole to an Orwellian Police empire, in which laws are applied politically and willy-nilly. I also feel that some of WikiLeaks’ documentation has shown American war crimes as well as other illegalities. Surely it is beholding upon anyone with information pertaining to such crimes to make that information known “by any means” which more than justifies his actions as a journalist. Damaging America is not the question here. Anyway I doubt it could ever get that far. I’m sure Assange has a well thought out “insurance policy”, which is probably on an emergency auto release.

    Furthermore I could well imagine that the attempt to prosecute Assange would have the reverse effect than that desired by the US administration. That is to say, it would make a great many would-be whistle blowers so angry with their “dark empire” growing darker that a flood of damning revelations of US wrongdoing will flow and umpteen Wikis will take up the cause. They certainly will not be short of volunteers.

  2. Norman

    It will be interesting to see how far the Government of the U.S. will go with this. I agree with Ian above, what ever happens, this could open the floodgates to exposure. Whether the so called brains in the administration will recognize this, is another matter. As with all seeming arrogant despotic regimes, they become erratic, irrational, etc., when they are exposed. As to the legality per the S.C.O.T.U.S., that will be the telling clue to the enigma, since they or at least 5 of them profess to believe the Constitution means what it says, not something that pops into their head to fit the moment, though I wouldn’t wager on it being so, especially after they modified the 1 person, 1 vote, to allow Business & Unions to give unlimited amounts of money, in essence buying the elections, congress, even the president. I believe that falls under the right wing conservative mantra of a activist court.

  3. Frigga Karl

    When power becomes anachronic, operating with a espionage act of 1917 in order to get Julian Assange indicted, then the fall of this power is near. This recent convulsive movement of the USpower makes it even more ridiculous in the eyes of the world. There is an ICC Complaint filed against the last administration (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et) by UIUC Prof. Francis Boyle and Lawyers Against the War; International Arrest Warrants Requested. Until now the ICC did not reply. As we all know the previous and the current US administration are potential criminals and ‘its media’ is just the propaganda arm of the power, the chasing with this shady espionage act the man who has the courage to show this quagmire,then the administration has lost its legitimacy in the eyes of the world. Now it is a matter of time when this power will be declared nul and void. The violence expressed by the actual representatives (lynch mob) shows the degree of incapability to understand the world of today. No Mac Carty anymore, no Ku Klux Klan, no execution of refusniks as in 1917. If Bin Laden sits on their table they have to explain and also the 9/11 because the hasty precipitance to war and the cynical stance for their own citizen asphyxiated under a mountain of lies is reason enough to look at Cheney and Rumsfeld as the possible instigators of the 9/11 attacks. Their cynical stance for the folks is caracteristic. I have no doubt that this mayor crime is the acting of their madness in reciprocal support with the zionist madness also an anachronic colonisation ideology.

  4. Christopher Hoare

    I think Chris Hedges summed up the situation exactly with “2011: A Brave New Dystopia” reported here yesterday — the US is transitioning from a “Brave New World” to a “1984” police state where nothing matters but the imperative of maintaining power and authority. I hope you all read the entire article.
    I wouldn’t place any more faith in the Supreme Court than I would in the Congress and administration — Assange has thrown down the gauntlet and the integrity of US authority is at stake. The fact that last time they did this, with Osama bin Laden, they wound up with egg on their face is beside the point. They won’t understand this any more than they understand the ‘terrorist’ multiplication effect of drone murders.

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