Skip to main content

Lieberman: US should bring charges over WikiLeaks

The chairman of the US Senate's Homeland Security Committee has called for the New York Times and other news organisations to be investigated for publishing material outed by whistle-blowing web site WikiLeaks.

But in classic bit of fence-sitting, Senator Joe Lieberman wouldn't be drawn on exactly what the newspaper had done wrong. He told Fox News (opens in new tab) that the NYT "had committed at least an act of bad citizenship".

No... we couldn't fine that one on the statute books either. But it seems the bout of legal uncertainty is catching.

Just moments before, US State Department press spokesman Philip Crowley told a press briefing: "What WikiLeaks has done is a crime under US law."

However, Crowley didn't see fit to reveal exactly which law Assange is alleged to have broken.

It appears to be becoming an everyday occurrence for the Australian.

Assange's British lawyer Mark Stephens claims Swedish authorities have never explained exactly what charges have been laid against his client in his native language, English - an allegation which, if correct, puts them in clear breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Confusion has arisen around the globe over the nature of the charges Assange faces in Sweden, in part due to the labyrinthine nature of Swedish laws on sexual offences.

Prosecutors have charged Assange with one count of rape, two counts of sexual molestation and one count of unlawful coercion

The charges follow allegations by two Swedish women that involve disputes over the use of condoms, and the accusation that Assange attempted to have sex with one of the women while she was asleep.

In the US, amid calls for Assange's assassination, US presidential hopeful Sarah Palin urged authorities to prosecute the WikiLeaks editor with treason (opens in new tab) - forgetting, of course, that he is not a US citizen.

US attorney general Eric Holder has said that he has considered prosecuting Assange under the Espionage Act 1917 (opens in new tab).

Such a move would be risky for the US government. US courts have proved reluctant to apply the Act simply to protect government officials from embarrassment.

In the 1988 case of United States v. Morison CBS, Judge James Dickson Philips stressed the importance of not "converting the Espionage Act into the simple Government Secrets Act which Congress has refused to enact."

If tested at the highest level, the Act itself could be struck down as unconstitutional.

Assange was remanded in custody by Westminster magistrates, after refusing to provide fingerprints, DNA or an address.

In his press briefing, Crowley denied that the US had any involvement in Assange's arrest and detention in London, calling the case "an issue between Britain and Sweden" - though Australian newspaper The Age reports that US officials are believed to have held "informal talks" with Swedish authorities over the possibility of Assange being transferred to US custody.

We've heard whispers they're even talking about receipt of stolen goods.

Prepare for the sound of more barrels being scraped. monitors all leading technology stories and rounds them up to help you save time hunting them down.