- By Charles HomansCharles Homans is a special correspondent for the New Republic and the former features editor of Foreign Policy.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hasn’t been charged with any crime in the United States yet, but he is preparing for the possibility that he will be sooner or later — in a statement released via Twitter on Monday, WikiLeaks announced that Assange had secured the assistance of Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz.
Dershowitz has been a staunch civil liberties advocate for decades — he represented Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel in the Supreme Court in 1972 after Gravel read the Pentagon Papers into the congressional record — although he’s as well known today for his work as a celebrity attorney (he’s represented O.J. Simpson, Mike Tyson, and Leona Helmsley, among others) and his outspoken defense of Israel. “This is the Pentagon Papers case for the 21st Century,” he told me today. “This is a very important test case, because it tests the reach of the First and Fourth Amendments to new electronic media. It’s every lawyer’s dream to help shape the law, not just react to it.”
Dershowitz says he was enlisted in Assange’s legal team by Geoffrey Robertson, an Australian attorney who cuts a similar profile in his own country and Britain — he helped hide his client Salman Rushdie after the Ayatollah Khomeini issued his fatwa against him in 1989 — and who signed on to Assange’s case in December. “I’ve been involved for a while now,” Dershowitz says. “I’ve been quietly advising them over the past weeks. I’ve spoken myself with Assange on several occasions.”
The U.S. Justice Department’s case against Assange, if it can make one, hinges on demonstrating some sort of collaboration between the WikiLeaks leader and his alleged source for his cache of U.S. government documents, Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is currently being held in a Marine Corps jail. A federal judge in Virginia agreed today to consider an order from the Justice Department compelling Twitter to hand over account information for Assange, Manning, and several other people associated with WikiLeaks — which Twitter has so far resisted — in an attempt to prove that the parties were communicating before Assange received the documents. Dershowitz wasn’t involved in today’s hearing, but says that “we will do what we can in this country to minimize the chances that [Assange] can be prosecuted here.”
“In a situation like this, you’re waiting to see what moves the government makes,” he says. “But I never wait passively. I always wait actively.”