A letter sent by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) to a former WikiLeaks staff member reveals US officials are attempting to put together a case against Julian Assange based on the Espionage Act.
Crucially, conviction under the 1917 law geared toward protecting the nation's military secrets and most sensitive security matters could result in life in prison or even the death penalty for Assange.
The DOJ letter addressed to former WikiLeaks spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg for the intent of requesting an interview outlined “possible violations of United States federal criminal law regarding the unauthorized receipt and dissemination of classified information,” according to a translation from the German, later published to WikiLeaks' official social media.
The German language site which first posted Domscheit-Berg's DOJ letter observed that:
This accusation can be charged under the Espionage Act of 1917, a World War I era federal law intended to protect military secrets which has also been used to charge Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. Convictions under the Espionage Act can be punished by death.
US Department of Justice is attempting to build a case against Julian Assange based on the Espionage Act. Convictions under the Espionage Act can be punished by death.https://t.co/TFjfPzHk6t— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) April 26, 2019
It was further noted that under British law a suspect can't be extradited if it's known the person could be tried under a death penalty case:
The death penalty is not only inhumane and archaic, it has legal consequences: The United Kingdom is not allowed to extradite Assange if he faces the death penalty.
However, UK authorities have previously claimed to have received assurances from Washington that Assange's US extradition request is not for a capital offense.
WikiLeaks has offered the new DOJ letter as proof that neither the US courts nor the mere "assurances" of US officials are trustworthy. Especially not when Assange's life is hanging in the balance.
A federal grand jury in Virginia issued an indictment against Assange on March 6 which appears to be limited to going after Assange for a computer hacking conspiracy with Manning, which carries a maximum of five years in prison. But WikiLeaks has from the start considered this a ploy in order to transfer Assange to US soil, where more serious and potential capital offense charges can be brought.
The original German letter issued by the US DOJ can be found here.
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United States Department of Justice
United States Attorney’s Office
Eastern Judicial District of Virginia
Dana J. Boente
United States Attorney’s Office
2100 Jamieson Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22314
March 7th, 2018
Subject: Daniel Domscheit-Berg
Dear attorney to Mr. Domscheit-Berg:
At the request of the United States, the German authorities have requested that your client be voluntarily questioned. This letter sets forth the terms under which your client would be heard about possible violations of United States federal criminal law regarding the unauthorized receipt and dissemination of classified information.
First, your client will answer all questions fully and truthfully and will provide all information, documents and records held or controlled by your client or to which your client has access and which are related to the subject of the interrogation.
Second, except as noted below, if the United States prosecutes your client, no statements or other information provided by you or your client during the course of the interrogation will be admissible in the government’s taking of evidence in court (case-in-chief) or in the imposition of penalties.
Third, the United States is permitted to reuse and pursue any investigative notices, statements or information that your client recommends or provides. Such derivative information may be used against your client at any time in the course of any criminal or civil proceedings. For example, if your client provides the information necessary to gain access to his electronic devices, this Agreement does not prohibit the disclosure of information obtained through a lawful search warrant on such devices.
Fourth, the United States may use such statements and information in cross-examination and rebuttal if your client appears as a witness at any stage of a civil or criminal proceeding and makes statements that differ from the statements or information provided by your client during the interrogation. In addition, the United States may use such statements and information to disprove further evidence offered or received or factual evaluations presented by or on behalf of your client that differ from the statements or information provided by your client during the interrogation.
Fifth, your client will be subject to prosecution for such violations, including, but not limited to, false testimony and obstruction of justice, if your client intentionally provides the government with false, misleading, or statements and information designed to obstruct justice. Any prosecution could be based on statements or information provided by your client during the interrogation, and the statements and information provided by your client during the interrogation could be used against your client.
Sixth, your client and the government agree that there will be no compromise negotiations or discussion of pleas at the interrogation session. However, should the hearing later be construed as a case of compromise or discussion of pleas, your client will wilfully and voluntarily waive any rights he may have under Federal Rules of Evidence 408 and 410 and Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(f) that would not otherwise permit the use against your client of statements made during such negotiations or discussions.
Seventh, neither you nor your client will disclose the existence or manner of this Agreement to anyone other than your client’s family, without prior consultation of the U.S. Attorney’s Office or a court of competent jurisdiction.
Finally, the offer (proffer) to your client will be made in accordance with the agreements set forth herein. There are no promises, agreements or understandings between the parties other than those set forth in this Agreement and no amendments to this Agreement shall be effective unless signed in writing by the parties with the same formalities as in this Agreement.
If your client wishes to be heard under the conditions set out above, you and your client sign this letter as indicated below and return the original to me.
Acting United States Attorney
Kellen S. Dwyer
Assistant United States Attorney