U.S. dilemma: No easy way to charge Assange
Government lawyers weigh a variety of laws that might be employed
WASHINGTON — What did Attorney General Eric Holder mean when he said Monday that "there are other statutes, other tools that we have at our disposal," beyond the laws against espionage, that could be used to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange?
For one thing, government officials say, the Justice Department is considering whether a federal law dealing with theft of government property would apply. Part of that statute makes it a crime to receive or keep property that's known to have been stolen. The law applies to anyone who receives it with intent to "convert to his own use or gain."
It was used in 1984 to prosecute a US naval intelligence analyst, Samuel Morison, who gave top secret photographs of a Soviet aircraft carrier to a British publication, Jane's Defense Weekly. Only Morison was prosecuted, not the publication. He was sentenced to two years in prison.
And in 2001, a former analyst for the Drug Enforcement Administration, Jonathan Randal, was prosecuted under that same law for giving unclassified information to a London newspaper. Once again, the newspaper was not charged. Randal pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in prison.
Another federal law makes it a crime to retain classified information that was obtained by improperly accessing it on government computers. The law applies only to the person who actually gets it from a computer and does not directly criminalize retaining classified information that was obtained by someone else. But some legal experts think it could be used to charge someone who's an accessory after the fact.
That brings us back to the espionage laws, which the government clearly is considering.................................
The government faces a considerable obstacle with the espionage laws: They've never before been used to charge a recipient who publishes classified information.
But a senior Justice Department official says the government may be preparing to argue that it's not going after newspapers that actually publish the information in the traditional sense. It would instead claim that WikiLeaks is functioning as a kind of storehouse, gathering and maintaining the material in clear violation of the law.
And there's another obstacle. Before federal prosecutors could put Julian Assange on trial, they'd have to get him here. The U.S. has extradition treaties with several European countries, including Sweden. But some do not apply to crimes considered political. Assange's lawyers could argue that any U.S. prosecution was politically motivated. In any event, the extradition process can take months to work through the courts overseas. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40554656/ns/us_news-wikileaks_in_security/#