What Julian Assange/Wikileaks does is not illegal

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While I wait to see if Wikileaks is going to open access to the embargoed State Department cables for non-privileged media outlets, I want to point out two things that I think are really important to keep in mind about all of this.

John Kampfner of The Independent attributes the media's anger at Wikileaks to having their subserviance to the government exposed so publicly and often. It isn't a reach to say that Wikileaks has taken on the traditional role of government accountability long since abandoned by the "real" press. Kampfner's story is largely critical of the British press, but everything he says applies equally to the American press as well. From petty, privacy-invading smear jobs like this one by the New York Times targeting Julian Assange personally, to their heavy and unquestioning reliance on propaganda fed to them by government officials always insisting on anonymity.

The definition of a failed press is one that repeats whatever it is told by those who have the power it admires and wants for itself, at the expense of an informed public.

While not every article written on Assange suffers from such ill intent, most of them appear to be based on jealousy (for being consistently scooped by Wikileaks) and anger (for being revealed as government propagandists).

The other important thing to remember is that contrary to the claims of government propagandists (or alternatively the truly ignorant and misinformed), nothing Wikileaks has in regards to U.S. intelligence dumps is actually illegal.

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, a person I lose respect for seemingly by the hour, said today that Wikileaks people are "criminals first and foremost". Given that Julian Assange is not an American citizen and isn't in any U.S. territory, it should go without saying that Assange is not subject to American law. And that's without stopping to address the absurdly anti-democratic edict that anyone who doesn't something the United States disapproves of is automatically a criminal, no due process or trial needed.

The United States is not the world police and foreigners living in foreign countries are not required to pledge loyalty to the stars and stripes and abide by our laws. That kind of extra-imperialist thinking is simply deranged.

Moreover, Glenn Greenwald wrote on Salon that the United States is actually one of the few countries that doesn't criminalize the release of classified/secret information by non-government/military persons:

He's not alone in being unaware that the U.S. -- unlike many other countries -- does not have a general criminal prohibition on disclosing state secrets.  It is, of course, illegal for those with an affirmative duty to safeguard secrets (such as government and military employees) to leak certain categories of classified information, but it is generally not illegal for non-governmental third parties -- such as media outlets or private citizens -- to publish that information.  That's why it's extremely difficult to prosecute newspapers for publishing classified information -- such as when The New York Times published the Pentagon Papers or the story of Bush's illegal NSA spying program, or when Dana Priest exposed the CIA's network of secret black sites.

It's expected for the U.S. Press Secretary to state the official opinion of the government, and in service of that, to distort the truth, misstate facts, and even outright lie. It is by definition a post of pure propaganda. That is precisely why it's important to see such statements for what they are.

No government likes having its secrets revealed (yet most are the worst abusers of privacy) and of course they expected to react harshly to leaks such as this. There's nothing inherently wrong aggressively defending national security and even being overaggressive in that area.

However, it is important for an informed society to think for itself and not blindly accept every single thing the government says -- and even what the media writes, as it drifts closer and closer adopting government as its official constituent rather than the people. Leaks such as this threaten that base of power by bringing accountability to government by revealing petty, embarrassing and even damaging behavior, and replacing the media as the primary conduit of information to the people.

This is to say nothing of the truly deranged lunatics calling for the summary extra-judicial execution of Assange (who has literally done nothing but publish information attained by others) and the categorization of Wikileaks as a terrorist organization.

One wonders if such lunacy would exist if Wikileaks were publishing classified governments from Iran's nuclear power program, or something from China's buried/censored human rights record. It also wouldn't be a real stretch to see the people agitating for his murder to be handing him a medal, if that were the case.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Paul William Tenny published on November 29, 2010 4:18 PM.

Is Wikileaks more important than their namesake? was the previous entry in this blog.

Obsessive government secrecy serves itself, not you, and still endangers lives is the next entry in this blog.

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