Assange Pleas Guilty and Will Be Freed

The only let him go so long out of kindness I suppose.

AP (“WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will plead guilty in deal with US and be freed from prison“):

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will plead guilty to a felony charge in a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that will allow him to walk free and resolve a long-running legal saga that spanned multiple continents and centered on the publication of a trove of classified documents.

Assange left a British prison on Monday and will appear later this week in the U.S. federal court in the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth in the Western Pacific. He’s expected to plead guilty to an Espionage Act charge of conspiring to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified national defense information, the Justice Department said in a letter filed in court.

The guilty plea, which must be approved by a judge, brings an abrupt conclusion to a criminal case of international intrigue and to the U.S. government’s years-long pursuit of a publisher whose hugely popular secret-sharing website made him a cause célèbre among many press freedom advocates who said he acted as a journalist to expose U.S. military wrongdoing. Investigators, by contrast, have repeatedly asserted that his actions broke laws meant to protect sensitive information and put the country’s national security at risk.

He is expected to return to his home country of Australia after his plea and sentencing, which is scheduled for Wednesday morning, local time in Saipan, the largest island in the Northern Mariana Islands. The hearing is taking place there because of Assange’s opposition to traveling to the continental U.S. and the court’s proximity to Australia, prosecutors said.

[…]

Assange is expected to be sentenced to the five years he has already spent in the high-security British prison while fighting to avoid extradition to the U.S. to face charges, a process that has played out in a series of hearings in London. Last month, he won the right to appeal an extradition order after his lawyers argued that the U.S. government provided “blatantly inadequate” assurances that he would have the same free speech protections as an American citizen if extradited from Britain.

[…]

The plea agreement comes months after President Joe Biden said he was considering a request from Australia to drop the U.S. push to prosecute Assange. The White House was not involved in the decision to resolve Assange’s case, according to a White House official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the case and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

NPR (“WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange strikes plea deal with the U.S.“) adds:

A federal grand jury in Virginia indicted Assange on espionage and computer misuse charges in 2019, in what the Justice Department described as one of the largest compromises of classified information in American history.

The indictment accused Assange of conspiring with then-military Private Chelsea Manning to obtain and then publish secret reports about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and sensitive U.S. diplomatic cables. Prosecutors said Assange published those materials on his site WikiLeaks without properly scrubbing them of sensitive information, putting informants and others at grave risk of harm.

“No responsible actor, journalist or otherwise, would purposefully publish the names of individuals he or she knew to be confidential human sources in a war zone, exposing them to the gravest of dangers,” said former Assistant Attorney General John Demers at the time of that indictment.

Manning was arrested in 2010 and served seven years in prison before President Barack Obama commuted her sentence.

Assange’s case attracted support from human rights and journalism groups including Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists, fearing the Espionage Act case against Assange could create precedent for charging journalists with national security crimes.

NYT (“Assange Agrees to Plead Guilty in Exchange for Release, Ending Standoff With U.S.“) adds:

His release was not unexpected. Earlier this year, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia suggested that U.S. prosecutors needed to conclude the case, and President Biden signaled that he was open to a rapid resolution. Top officials at the Justice Department accepted an agreement with no additional prison time because Mr. Assange had already served longer than most people charged with a similar offense — in this case, over five years in prison in Britain.

[…]

Mr. Assange and his supporters have long argued that his efforts to obtain and publicly release sensitive national security information was in the public interest, and deserved the same First Amendment protections afforded to investigative journalists.

Many of Mr. Assange’s supporters renewed those concerns even as they expressed relief that he would be released.

“The United States has now, for the first time in the more than 100-year history of the Espionage Act, obtained an Espionage Act conviction for basic journalistic acts,” said David Greene, director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation Civil Liberties, a nonprofit focused on First Amendment issues.

“These charges should never have been brought,” he said.

In 2021, a coalition of civil-liberties and human-rights groups urged the Biden administration to drop its efforts to extradite him from Britain and prosecute him, calling the case “a grave threat” to press freedom.

Much of the conduct he is accused of is what “journalists engage in routinely,” the group contended. “News organizations frequently and necessarily publish classified information in order to inform the public of matters of profound public significance.”

But U.S. officials argued that Mr. Assange’s actions went far beyond news gathering, putting at risk national security. The material furnished by Ms. Manning, prosecutors claimed, endangered the lives of service members and Iraqis who worked with the military, and made it harder for the country to counter external threats.

An unsatisfying but fitting ending to a saga that has dragged on over 14 years. While I’ve never bought the idea that Assange was a “journalist,” he had no duty to safeguard US national security. Those who did, including the then-Bradley Manning, have long since been freed. (Or, in the case of Edward Snowden, fled to Russia.) And the actual US journalists who abetted Assange were—quite rightly since they did not abet the theft—never charged.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Intelligence, Law and the Courts, National Security, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Stormy Dragon says:

    It’s especially unclear to me how a non-US citizen living outside the US can be legally liable for espionage, unless we’re going to argue every single member of every other country’s security apparatus is actually a fugitive now.

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  2. Jon says:

    Townes van Zandt always deserves an upvote 🙂

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  3. Beth says:

    There is zero reason to use Manning’s deadname. It is offensive and you are better than that.

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  4. MarkedMan says:

    @Stormy Dragon: I’m pretty sure spying is a crime recognized by virtually every country. I mean, most espionage agents are foreigners. Recruiting a local is the exception, not the rule. Look at it this way – if a foreigner siphons money from your bank account, it’s still a crime and if the US or a State justice system can get the perp, they will try them. Why would it be any difference for espionage?

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  5. James Joyner says:

    @Beth: Chelsea Manning did not enlist in the United States Army, take an oath to the Constitution, betray said oath, and get convicted for espionage; Bradley Manning did. Similarly, Bruce Jenner, not Caitlin Jenner, won the decathlon in the 1976 Olympics. Given that those are the things for which Chelea and Caitlin became famous, it’s just bizarre to me to retcon history.

    I have been referring to Manning as “Chelsea” and using female pronouns for her since literally the moment she announced that change 11 years ago. But the crimes were committed while she was presenting as “Bradley” and used male pronouns.

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  6. Beth says:

    @James Joyner:

    https://youtu.be/q_XjlVrrU_A?si=ZxbVc15RrYFLqQyj

    As if Chelsea and deadname exist as separate people?

    You have forgotten your manners.

    Also, your response is illogical. Do I have to retake the Bar exam since I passed it under my deadname? Is that retconning history? Both Manning and Jenner are famous enough that use of their deadnames is unnecessary.

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  7. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    Chelsea Manning and Bradley Manning aren’t two different people…

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  8. Stormy Dragon says:

    @MarkedMan:
    Ken McCallum, head of MI5, is definitely engaged in espionage, but it would be super weird if the DOJ tried to indict him for it.

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  9. MarkedMan says:

    @Stormy Dragon: If McCallum was found to have spied on the United States then, yes, technically the US could try him as a spy. I think the crucial differences is whether the information gathering is illegal under the laws of the country. IANAL, but here’s how I understand it: If McCallum has agents that collect publicly and commercially available data and analyze it, that’s not a crime here. If he is sending people in to get incriminating evidence on a government official and then blackmailing them to reveal government secrets, clearly that’s illegal espionage and he (and his agents) could be charged. In Assange’s case, if I remember correctly, the case hinged on whether he was a journalist who simply received information from a spy (Manning), or whether he was an active participant who helped Manning steal the information, and whether he was a journalist at all. I admit my memory may be faulty as to the specifics.

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  10. Jay L Gischer says:

    In this instance, I would have referred to Manning as Chelsea, not Bradley, but it’s an area of usage I have struggled with a bit, generally along the lines that James has articulated. What happened happened.

    However, these days when I merely refer to something that happened to that person in the past, I use their transitioned name. “When Katy was born”, I might say of my trans daughter. We didn’t call her Katy then.

    The place that gives me trouble though is when I’m quoting someone from that era. For instance, when they were little, that one did a lot of point and grunt. She could talk, it was just more convenient to point and grunt. And to have her older sister translate for her.

    The fun part is older sister would often embellish: “Billy wants a cookie. And he thinks I should have one too”. Katy hadn’t thought that but a shrug and a nod ensued.

    That’s what she said, that’s what we knew. I’m reluctant to edit it, but it will depend on the audience – with some people I might not want to get into the whole “my daughter is trans” thing right away.

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  11. Kathy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I recall reading that Assange aided Chelsea Manning in obtaining the classified info, either all or some of it. But I’ve not been able to find confirmation on that recently.

    If he did, that’s hugely different from only publishing classified info from a source. Legal terms aside, he’s an accomplice.

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  12. gVOR10 says:

    A bit off topic, but since we’re off into whether intel gathering is a crime, the New Yorker recently did a review of a book claiming the CIA has never been very good at what they do. Amongst other charges, the author says Saddam screwed up twice by assuming the CIA was competent. First he assumed we knew about his plan to invade Kuwait, and took our silence as a green light. Second, he assumed we knew he’d dropped his WMD projects. (Actually, IIRC, we and the IAEA inspectors did, but W and Cheney decided Chalabi and Curveball were providing more convenient intel.)

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  13. Gustopher says:

    @Beth:

    You have forgotten your manners.

    The manners and customs are changing, so it’s really more fair to say that he hasn’t learned the new manner, and is just stumbling through it.

    I do think Dr. Joyner only referring to Chelsea Manning by her dead name in his post was a bit clunky and rude. I don’t think he meant any ill-will by it, so I’m going to simply go with clunky.

    Also, your response is illogical.

    I would think that the logical approach would be to refer to someone by their present name, but include the name they were known as at the moment of notoriety once for clarity.

    “Soylent Green, previously known as your Aunt Harriet, is a delicious and nutritious food product. Soylent can be used to replace beef in most any traditional recipe, although it has a slightly gamier flavor.”

    This would also be similar to the traditional style of referring to someone by their full name and title at the beginning of an article, and then shortening it to the last name for brevity.

    It might not be the preferred approach, but it is a very logical approach.

    I’d also toss in that the most famous name change was Prince going by an unpronounceable and untypeable glyph for several years because of contract issues, leading to “the artist formerly known as Prince” becoming ingrained into the brains of a generation, and cementing the idea that people can and should be referred to by the name they were most known by.

    (This can also lead to constructions like “Prince, formerly known as ‘The Artist Formerly Known As Prince’” if you’re feeling cheeky)

    Both Manning and Jenner are famous enough that use of their deadnames is unnecessary.

    Where do you draw the line? A lot of the readers of this blog are old people with failing memories who sometimes need a little poke to remember things. 😉

    I get that for trans folks it’s a big deal because of trauma and people using the previous name as a weapon to invalidate who they are, but for everyone else it’s just like any other name change, and special rules for special circumstances is just hard.

    ——
    Was all of this comment just an excuse to write “Prince, formerly known as ‘The Artist Formerly Known as Prince’”? Maybe.

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  14. Jay L Gischer says:

    I’ve been pondering usage this morning and the issue of how to refer to something in the past that has since changed its name.

    For instance, when Pepsi-Cola was founded, it was known as Brad’s Drink. If I were to refer to that company in its earliest days, I would refer to it using the present name – Pepsi Cola. If it were relevant, or interesting, I might add “then known as Brad’s Drink”. For a trans person, the “relevant or interesting” bar is a very high one because of the pejorative, negating nature of refusing to use the new names.

    I think simple past tenses all work this way. The verb describes something that happened in the past, but the noun clauses all are present tense references.

    Of course, we are all dragging our feet about calling Google Alphabet, and Facebook Meta. But then, we don’t think corporations are people, right? Nobody’s right to exist has been challenged. There were probably folks who insisted on calling it “Brad’s Drink”.

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  15. Andy says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    There are lots of Russians and others from different nationalities who are indicted for similar crimes as Assange – these are people for whom evidence exists of direct involvement that allows an indictment to be brought. The difference between them and Assange is they are not likely to leave safe countries where they can be extradited.

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  16. MarkedMan says:

    @Gustopher:

    “Soylent Green, previously known as your Aunt Harriet, is a delicious and nutritious food product. Soylent can be used to replace beef in most any traditional recipe, although it has a slightly gamier flavor.”

    Jeebus. Now I won’t sleep tonight.

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  17. MarkedMan says:

    @Gustopher:

    I’d also toss in that the most famous name change was Prince going by an unpronounceable and untypeable glyph for several years because of contract issues, leading to “the artist formerly known as Prince”

    Once I realized what Prince was doing, my opinion of him shot up. Because he couldn’t get out of a record contract, he was legally forbidden from putting that stage name on just about anything going forward. So he came up with a symbol that had no relationship to existing ones, which meant there was no precedent on how to pronounce it, and there was no way for many of the older technologies to render it. Then he absolutely refused (and made sure everyone working for him also refused) to give any hints whatsoever on how it should be pronounced. How did the first reporter hit upon, “The artist formerly known as “Prince””? I suspect they may have had a little behind the scenes help. But from then on every mention of him referred indirectly to “Prince” despite him honoring the terms of the contract. He never said “Prince”, himself. And he hawked that symbol relentlessly, so once you saw it on an album you knew immediately who it was: “Prince”. He even took to playing a guitar in that shape, which led to some rather infamous shadows of him at a Super Bowl

    Guy was a stone cold genius.

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  18. James Joyner says:

    @Jay L Gischer: But the change happened before anyone had heard of said cola and the basic concept hadn’t changed. But, for example, when I refer to a recent article in Newsweek, I mention that the name has next to no relation to the venerable newsweekly that bore that name.

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  19. just nutha says:

    @Gustopher: Speaking as an old geezer who is starting to have memory lapses, I’m more likely to lapse in the form of “that soldier who stole the documents” than confusing current and dead names. That said, the passage where Dr. Joyner referred to Manning using the dead names didn’t strike me as particularly inappropriate, and certainly not malicious. But Dr. Joyner is, unfortunately, rather tone deaf culturally, and I think we saw that quality in action there.

    ETA: It strikes me, in the interest of fairness, to note that I suffer from the same deficiency. Some say I’ve gone out of my way to cultivate the quality, and I won’t argue even though I think they’re being mean spirited.

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  20. MarkedMan says:

    we are all dragging our feet about calling Google Alphabet, and Facebook Meta

    Sorry to let my OCD turn me into a pedant, but Google still exists as a company, albeit as a subsidiary of Alphabet, and the service is still called Facebook, even though the company changed its name to Meta.

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  21. DK says:

    While I’ve never bought the idea that Assange was a “journalist,” he had no duty to safeguard US national security.

    Heh. I suppose sources he got murdered in Afghanistan and elsewhere were unavailable for comment re: his duties.

    Assange’s comments on those brown lives:

    “Well, they’re informants,” Mr. Assange defiantly told them. “So if they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them. They deserve it.”

    Such a sweetheart. Champion of humanity. It’s a too bad he didn’t publish Russian security documents: his buddy Putin would have him pushed out of the embassy window long ago.

    Anyway, I and the Biden government his fanboys hate wish him a long and happy rest of his life.

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  22. Jay L Gischer says:

    @James Joyner: Well that name change certainly happened before *we* had ever heard of it, yes. It was a long time ago. I’m not so sure that “nobody” had heard of it.

    I will routinely say things like “when Katy was born…” among people that all knew her before transition. Nobody is confused, and nobody thinks I’m trying to whitewash anything. I’m not quoting any document, which has her pre-transition name on it. I think that’s because nouns and noun clauses inherently reference things relative to the present, not the past. “Katy” (not her real name) is the person I was talking about, and the things mentioned happened to that person in the past.

    Now, it took me a while to get comfortable with this. It’s pretty personal in the case of your own child, and you have to resolve issues like “I didn’t make a mistake in naming her, or identifying her”.

    You want to be accurate, I get that. Manning’s gender, as far as I can tell, had absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the matter, or on her treatment by the military justice system. What she did, the impact it had, what she was charged with, etc. No bearing at all. The relevance of her transition is low. It might relate to her motivations, but I have no information that says it does. That’s purely speculation.

    It is possible, though I don’t consider it likely, that a reader might know who Bradley Manning is but not Chelsea Manning. I consider that a low likelihood. This is different from Caitlin Jenner, whom I would expect is a less known name (at least among some demographics) than Bruce Jenner. I think if I wrote about Caitlin for a general audience, I would refer to her consistently as Caitlin, but mention parenthetically that Caitlin came out publicly in 2015, transitioning from Bruce, the name she was known as when she won those medals.

    Anyway, I don’t see as big a divergence with Chelsea Manning, so I wouldn’t feel obliged to clarify for my readers. But of course, it’s going to depend on the target reader.

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  23. James Joyner says:

    @DK: Oh, I’d not shed a tear if he wound up dead. But , unlike Manning and Snowden, he’s never held American citizenship or sworn to protect our secrets.

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  24. MarkedMan says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    It is possible, though I don’t consider it likely, that a reader might know who Bradley Manning is but not Chelsea Manning. I consider that a low likelihood.

    While I wouldn’t go that far, I did have to make an effort to recall that Chelsea Manning who ran against Ben Cardin for a Senate seat here in 2018 and who has been in the media for various reasons was the same person who was known as Bradley Manning during all the Assange drama and its related fallout. It just took a moment to recall it, but it wasn’t on the top of my head. I think it is reasonable and adds clarity to refer to her as “Chelsea Manning (who was known as Bradley Manning when these events were in the news)”.

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  25. just nutha says:

    @MarkedMan: Encountering a random headline involving Chelsea Manning a few years after the event, I found it necessary to look up who Chelsea Manning was related to the crime described in the headline. I’ll cut the average cracker slack on being more likely to know the dead name.

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  26. SenyorDave says:

    If you were putting a sports almanac book, who would have won the olympic gold medal in these two events:
    #1. 1960 gold medal winner, light heavyweight boxing – Muhammed Ali or Cassius Clay
    #2. 1976 men’s Decathalon – Caitlyn Jenner or Bruce Jenner
    For #1, Wikipedia has it as: Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali)
    Olympics.com only has Cassius Clay
    For #2, Wikipedia has Caitlyn Jenner, but a footnote says: Jenner underwent gender transition in 2015.
    History.com has: American Caitlyn Jenner—who was competing as Bruce Jenner
    Olympics.com just has William Bruce Jenner, with a picture of Jenner at the time.
    If something is literally past history and we are talking about the “history books”, History.com’s method for Jenner seems pretty good, it seems like it is pertinent that she competed as Bruce Jenner.
    If we are talking about a person today, I don’t see why the dead name would need to come into play unless it was specifically pertinent to the issue at hand.

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  27. James Joyner says:

    @SenyorDave: It would be really weird to list a woman as the winner of the 1976 Olympic decathlon. Indeed, we’d have to retcon the record books, as Caitlin would have broken all of the women’s records.

    And, yes, Olympic records should have Clay winning the 1960 boxing gold and NCAA record books should have Lew Alcindor, not Kareem Abdul Jabbar. But there’s no logical inconsistency in saying that Ali and Jabbar did those those things, as it’s simply a name change and not an entire change of identities.

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  28. Pylon says:

    @James Joyner:

    No retconning is needed since Jenner never competed in women’s events. You are creating problems where none exist. And I suspect both Manning and Ali would take issue with your description of their respective “changes”. Ali would say that he underwent more than a mere name change. Manning said “I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible.”

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  29. Kathy says:

    @James Joyner:

    James, you just don’t use someone’s dad name unless it’s absolutely necessary for some rather important purpose or reason. A minor inaccuracy does not qualify.

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  30. Jay L Gischer says:

    James, I really don’t want to pile on you over this. I think of you as in the “supports trans people” column. So, in the spirit of discovery and learning, I submit to you that I just did a google searh on the phrase ‘Chelsea Manning running for office” and got a lot of first sentences from major media outlets on the story from 2018. Some mentioned she was trans, others did not. Not a single one mentioned her previous name.

    When I searched for “Bradley Manning running for office” I turned up most of the same links – apparently Google knows that they are the same person – there was only one link that used the name “Bradley”: A link from Politico in 2012, before she came out as trans.

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  31. Gustopher says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    Manning’s gender, as far as I can tell, had absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the matter, or on her treatment by the military justice system.

    I find it incredibly unlikely that her treatment in the military justice system was not affected by her gender. She was put in isolation and the conditions that she was put in were compared to torture by people well versed enough to not just be speaking in hyperbole.

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  32. Gustopher says:

    @SenyorDave:

    For #1, Wikipedia has it as: Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali)
    Olympics.com only has Cassius Clay
    For #2, Wikipedia has Caitlyn Jenner, but a footnote says: Jenner underwent gender transition in 2015.
    History.com has: American Caitlyn Jenner—who was competing as Bruce Jenner
    Olympics.com just has William Bruce Jenner, with a picture of Jenner at the time.

    I am bothered that Wikipedia does not have a standard of either “Name At The Time (now Current Name)” or “Current Name (competed as Name At The Time)”. The order being inconsistent bothers me. Pick one and stick to it. Something that is both factually correct, and acknowledges the person as they are.

    Olympics.com has it just about as bad as can be: using only the previous name, and implicitly saying that the person they later became isn’t valid.

    Dr. Joyner’s “the then-Bradley Manning” is closer to Olympics.com version, but likely more of a stumble than a carefully thought through policy of deadnaming.

    IMDB seems to have a policy of listing people in the cast by their current name, and then a parenthetical with the name they used at the time. At least for Elliot Page.

    That said, there are very, very few people who have an earlier name notable enough that people know of their accomplishments and/or crimes by that name. Typically referring to someone by their current name causes less confusion and is just the right thing to do.

    Whatever great lawyer stuff Beth did before transitioning is just Beth doing that. It doesn’t matter, and causes no real problems other than being slightly harder to fact check.

    If she was a named plaintiff in a Supreme Court case Deadname v. the Bison in Yosemite Park and had changed her name to simply Beth (like Cher or Madonna), I don’t think we would rename the case. (unless there is a precedent for renaming cases. There has to be a case with a woman plaintiff or defendant who later got married and took her husbands last name — if the standard is to rename the case, then that’s the standard. Roe v. Wade stayed Roe v. Wade, even when we found out the identity of Roe)

    ETA: bolded the important bit.

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  33. Beth says:

    @James Joyner:

    So, funny story, a woman actually did the Men’s 1976 Decathlon. No need to alter any record books or anything other than to correct the name.

    We also have a bit of language we could handle this. Just a slight repurpose of “née”. As in “Chelsea Manning (née deadname)”. I despise that, but I could live with it if it was limited. I also make use of f/k/a on legal documents when I absolutely have to (deeds) and only once.

    @Gustopher:

    Less fun story, when I changed my name the ARDC, the arm of the IL Supreme Court that regulates attorneys, told me that they would not remove my deadname from the master roll of attorneys. I told them that’s a massive safety issue and massive unwarranted intrusion into my privacy. I was told the public’s interest in knowing that I’m trans is more important than my safety. I told her “I hope I don’t get my fucking brains splattered across my office because a bigot with too much time on his hands decides to go hunting.” She then disclosed that her kid was trans. I told her that was good, she at least has an idea how unsafe that makes me. She cried.

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  34. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    as it’s simply a name change and not an entire change of identities

    I think we’ve found the gist of the disconnect.

    I’m pretty sure that neither Muhammad Ali nor Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would agree with this analysis of “simply a name change”. I’m also pretty sure that Caitlyn Jenner has a better claim to have always been Caitlyn, from long before the name change, than Kareem has to have always been Kareem.

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  35. Zachriel says:

    @Kathy: I recall reading that Assange aided Chelsea Manning in obtaining the classified info, either all or some of it. But I’ve not been able to find confirmation on that recently.


    WikiLeaks Founder Pleads Guilty and Is Sentenced for Conspiring to Obtain and Disclose Classified National Defense Information

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