Over the years, the New York Times and the Washington Post have published explosive reports based on classified information. But neither they nor any other outlet has ever been charged with federal crimes.
“Julian learns of a war crime—he publishes it," said former CIA Agent and whistleblower John Kiriakou. "He puts video out there and that's what they hate him. They hate that they can't control him. Julian's not holding anything [back if they ask him to.]”
In contrast, says Kiriakou, mainstream media outlets will always consider, and often agree, to oblige the federal government’s request to not publish classified information in the name of “national security.”
In the estimation of USC law professor Jody David Armour, their acts are indistinguishable. “Anybody who thinks and looks and cares about the First Amendment knows that you can't distinguish Julian Assange from the New York Times," she said. Indeed, the Obama administration never prosecuted Assange because its lawyers could not distinguish his actions from those of periodicals like the Times and the Guardian.
Kiriakou, who was the first U.S. government official to confirm the usage of waterboarding as an interrogation tactic against suspected al-Qaeda prisoners, said a lot of what Assange exposed shouldn’t have been classified in the first place.
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“Julian exposed war crimes. It's actually a felony in this country—although it's never been prosecuted—to classify something as a crime for the purpose of covering it up or keeping the information from the public,” Kiriakou said.
Kiriakou said he doesn’t consider Assange a “leaker,” but a publisher who revealed important information about the U.S. government to the American people and the world.
“People have a right to know what their government is doing in their name," Kiriakou said.
"And that's exactly what he did. He's not a traditional whistleblower, but he's a publisher. If Julian Assange is punished for acting as a publisher, what a slippery slope this is. You know that the New York Times and the Washington Post are gonna be next. And then it's an assault on the Constitution."
Watch the full discussion: