December 18, 2010
So determined is the U.S. government to corner Julian Assange, it plans to offer Pfc . Bradley Manning a plea bargain deal if he agrees to testify against the Wikileaks founder. Earlier in the week it was revealed that a secret grand jury was empaneled  in northern Virginia to look at indicting Assange, who was released from jail yesterday in the United Kingdom.
“We have heard today from one of my US lawyers that there may be a US indictment for espionage for me coming from a secret grand jury investigation,” Assange said  from the East Anglia mansion of a supporter and friend where he is staying following his release from the London prison. “There are obviously serious attempts to take down the content by taking us down as an organization and taking me down as an individual.”
Assange has denied any knowledge  of Army Specialist Bradley Manning before the media published his name. Manning was charged earlier this year with obtaining the classified video of a 2007 helicopter attack that killed two Reuters journalists and ten other people in Iraq. Manning stands accused of downloading 250,000 U.S. State Department documents and passing them on to Wikileaks.
“I had never heard of the name Bradley Manning before it was published in the press,” Assange told ABC. “WikiLeaks technology (was) designed from the very beginning to make sure that we never know the identities or names of people submitting us material. That is, in the end, the only way that sources can be guaranteed that they remain anonymous.”
The Pentagon has denied reports stating that Manning is being tortured at the Marine brig at Quantico, Virginia, while awaiting possible court martial.
The Oakland-based Courage to Resist project said today that Manning spends at least 23 hours a day in solitary confinement in a small cell. Jeff Paterson , director of the Oakland-basedCourage to Resist project, told the Washington Post his group considers Manning’s treatment a form of punitive punishment.
It appears likely the Justice Department will attempt to link Manning directly to Assange. Adrian Lamo, the former hacker who turned Manning in to the government, told the FBI that Assange had provided Manning with an encrypted internet conferencing service and a dedicated server for uploading the data ultimately released by Wikileaks.
The Justice Department is reportedly concerned that Julian Assange will not be successfully prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986. It is likely that if Assange is indicted and extradited to the United States, his attorneys will mount a vigorous defense based on the First Amendment and freedom of speech and the media.
A case against Assange based on the Espionage or Computer Fraud acts will likely fail if there is no solid evidence the Australian conspired with the intelligence analyst Manning.
The case against Manning may also flounder. “Convincing Manning will likely be easier said than done, as the private clearly had a strong belief in the importance of releasing the documents, and reports of his mistreatment in detention are unlikely to make him any more friendly to the idea of a plea deal,” writes Jason Ditz .
According to an Opinion Dynamics Corp. poll conducted for Fox News on December 14, a majority of Americans support prosecuting Julian Assange despite the fact he is not a U.S. citizen.
“When voters were asked whether ‘the owner of the website’ who received and leaked the classified government information should be arrested and put on trial, two-thirds (66 percent) think he should, according to a Fox News poll released Friday. When the focus was placed on the person who ‘stole and leaked the information,’ the feeling is even stronger, as 83 percent favor arrest and trial,” Fox News  reported on Friday.
78 percent of respondents said the government has the right to keep classified national security information secret, even though 42 percent said they think the leaks of U.S. State Department cables were “just embarrassing” and did not seriously damage diplomatic relations.
Only 16 percent believe the government should be transparent.