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NYT and Guardian editors may say they back Assange but WikiLeaks claims that the Guardian's new book about WikiLeaks "contains malicious libels." (Credit: Twitter)

The New York Times’ executive editor Bill Keller and The Guardian’s editor Alan Rusbridger both commented during a Columbia University panel that they would back Julian Assange if the U.S. government were to prosecute him for WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked documents, YahooNews reported.

Also participating in the panel was Harvard law professor and former assistant attorney general under George W. Bush, Jack Goldsmith. Goldsmith stated: “I think the political pressure to bring [criminal charges] is enormous.”

Rusbridger reportedly said:

“If, God forbid, ever this came to court, I would be completely side-by-side with him in terms of defending him with respect to what he did.  Completely shoulder to shoulder.  I’ve got great admiration for him in a lot of stuff he’s done

Keller reportedly said:

“In terms of his right to be protected for publishing secrets, I think we do stand by him.  I think the Times’ lawyers would prefer I not declare what I’d do in a court of law. Outside a court of law, I agree it would be very difficult to come up with a prosecution of Assange in a way that wouldn’t be applicable to us. Whatever one thinks of Julian Assange, certainly American journalists, and other journalists, should feel a sense of alarm at any legal action that tends to punish Assange for doing essentially what journalists do. That is to say, any use of the law to criminalize the publication of secrets.”

As Gigaom.com explained, Keller’s remarks in support of WikiLeaks mark a continued move toward identifying WikiLeaks as journalism.  Keller is “almost ready to admit WikiLeaks is journalism,” Gigaom.com wrote.  In December, Keller commented that WikiLeaks wasn’t his “kind of news organization” but that WikiLeaks was acting in  a “more journalistic fashion.”

In his January essay for the New York Times magazine, Keller reiterated that he views WikiLeaks as a source and that  he “would hesitate to describe what WikiLeaks does as journalism.”  He also called Assange “elusive, manipulative and volatile.”

Also during the panel discussion, Keller said three of its journalists working on WikiLeaks have had their e-mail accounts hacked and that the Times is investigating, according to.Wired.com.

As iMediaEthics wrote, the Times is considering building its own “EZ Pass lane for leakers” where the public could easily and anonymously submit leaked information to the Times.  YahooNews reported that Keller commented further on the possible drop box, stating:

“Technically, it’s not that hard.  But the biggest question is, if something comes in over the transom, and it’s anonymous, how do you vet it? That’s why we have not yet decided to go ahead with this project. We may, but that’s a question we have to get past.”

Likewise, the Guardian and Der Spiegel are also considering their own drop boxes for leakers, according to the Guardian’s Rusbridger.

WikiLeaks Lawsuit?

WikiLeaks tweeted Feb. 2 stating that it “will be taking action” over claims made in The Guardian’s book about WikiLeaks, TechCrunch noticed.  In a tweet, WikiLeaks wrote: “The Guardian book serialization contains malicious libels. We will be taking action.” Will The Guardian still support Assange if Wikileaks sues them for libel?

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The Guardian’s book, WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy, was published Jan. 31.

Also, despite speculation published online this past week that Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier accused of leaking U.S. documents to WikiLeaks, holds dual American-British citizenship, Manning’s attorney, David E. Coombs, stated Feb. 2. that “PFC Manning does not hold a British passport, nor does he consider himself of British citizenship.” Read Coombs’ complete statement here.

Assange’s Mother Calls On Australia’s Prime Minister

Christine Assange, Julian Assange’s mother, called on the Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, to apologize to her son, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Gillard has called WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked documents “illegal” and “grossly irresponsible” according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

In response, Christine Assange called her son “highly honoured.”  Christine Assange reportedly stated:

“It would appear that the prime minister is not only uninformed about one of her own highly honoured citizens but also completely out of step with prevailing world opinion.”

Julian Assange recently “became only the third person in 14 years to be awarded the Sydney Peace Foundation’s gold medal — an award previously given only to the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela and Japanese Buddhist leader Daisaku Ikeda,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

As the Sydney Morning Herald reported in a separate article, Assange was awarded for his “exceptional courage and initiative in pursuit of human rights.”

Assange’s mother previously commented on her son’s work in early December and relayed his comments from Wandsworth Prison to the media.

Julian Assange likewise made a request of Gillard recently, but not for an apology.  Rather, Julian Assange “called on” Gillard to “take ‘steps to bring me home and protect [the organization’s] people,” Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty reported Feb. 5.

Assange is set to “face extradition charges to Sweden” on Feb. 7.

See more of iMediaEthics’ coverage of WikiLeaks here.

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Will NYT, Guardian Editors Still Back Assange If Wikileaks Sues For Libel?

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