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WikiLeaks: Should the U.S. Charge Assange with Espionage?


WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was in hiding after his release of thousands of secret documents related to United States foreign policy. The U.S. Justice and Defense departments were determining whether they can charge the Australian citizen with a crime under the Espionage Act. Should Assange be prosecuted? What about the newspapers in the U.S. who published the stolen classified documents?


Comprehension and Critical Thinking Questions

  1. What is WikiLeaks?
  2. Who is Julian Assange?
  3. What was the purpose of the 1917 Espionage Act?
  4. How might the 1971 case of New York Times v. United States, which dealt with the publication of stolen secret documents related to the Vietnam War, apply to the WikiLeaks case?
  5. The New York Times was one of many newspapers that has printed the leaked documents. How did the Times justify its publication of the documents?
  6. The Espionage Act provides in part: “whoever, for the purpose of obtaining information respecting the national defence with intent or reason to believe that the information to be obtained is to be used to the injury of the United States, or to the advantage of any foreign nation… takes, makes, or obtains, or attempts, or induces or aids another to copy, take, make, or obtain, any … document, writing or note of anything connected with the national defence… shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000, or by imprisonment for not more than two years, or both.”
  7. Do you believe Assange should be prosecuted under the Espionage Act?
  8. Should newspapers who printed the illegally-obtained documents be prosecuted? Explain.
  9. Is press freedom an unlimited right? If not, what are the limits, and do the limits change when the U.S. is at war? Is the U.S. currently at war?