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Posted by on Dec 12, 2010 in International, Law, Media, Politics, Society | 0 comments

The War Against Wikileaks, Julian Assange, and the First Amendment

Jack Goldsmith has seven thoughts on Wikileaks, and they may surprise you:

  1. “I find myself agreeing with those who think Assange is being unduly vilified. …”
  2. “I do not understand why so much ire is directed at Assange and so little at the New York Times. …”
  3. “In Obama’s Wars, Bob Woodward, with the obvious assistance of many top Obama administration officials, disclosed many details about top secret programs, code names, documents, meetings, and the like. I have a hard time squaring the anger the government is directing toward wikileaks with its top officials openly violating classification rules and opportunistically revealing without authorization top secret information.”
  4. “Whatever one thinks of what Assange is doing, the flailing U.S. government reaction has been self-defeating. …”
  5. “As others have pointed out, the U.S. government reaction to wikileaks is more than a little awkward for the State Department’s Internet Freedom initiative. …”
  6. “… Once information is on the web, it is practically impossible to stop it from being copied and distributed.  The current strategy of pressuring intermediaries (paypal, mastercard, amazon, various domain name services, etc.) to stop doing business with wikileaks will have a marginal effect on its ability to raise money and store information.  But the information already in its possession has been encrypted and widely distributed, and once it is revealed it is practically impossible to stop it from being circulated globally. …”
  7. “The wikileaks saga gives the lie to the claim of United States omnipotence over the naming and numbering system via ICANN. …”

Let’s review some of the events in the war against Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange, to date:

  • The Wikileaks website was hit by a “mass distributed denial-of-service attack” on November 28, the day it published the first batch of diplomatic cables.
  • Two days after the release of the first set of diplomatic cables, Interpol issues a “Red Notice” for Julian Assange to be arrested on months-old allegations of rape that were initially dismissed when they first surfaced in August. Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing finds the timing “interesting,” and comments that it “[c]ertainly sounds simpler than arresting him for the leaks.”
  • On November 30, the Washington Post reported that the Pentagon and the Justice Department were trying to find a way of charging Julian Assange under the 1917 Espionage Act. (The link immediately above is that article.)
  • Calls for Assange to be killed, either by execution for treason (impossible, since Assange is not a U.S. citizen) or by extrajudicial assassination, started appearing in the media. A few examples: A former consultant to Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper told a Canadian Broadcasting Company interviewer that “Obama should put out a contract and maybe use a drone or something” to “assassinate” Assange. William Kristol urged the Obama administration to “harass, snatch or neutralize Julian Assange and his collaborators, wherever they are” — which, given the policies both this and the previous presidential administrations have advocated and implemented, it’s difficult to see as anything but a recommendation that Assange be abducted and/or murdered. Sarah Palin called Assange an “anti-American operative” who needed to be hunted down “with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.” One Fox “News” analyst declared Wikileaks to be a “terrorist organization,” counseled the Obama administration to get Australia to revoke Assange’s passport, then ask whatever country is hiding him (this was before Assange was arrested in London) to extradite him to the United States and put him on trial in a military tribunal. This same individual advised that Army PFC Bradley Manning (who is being accused of passing the diplomatic cable documents to Wikileaks) should be charged with and tried for treason and executed. Mike Rogers, a Republican member of Congress from Michigan, also thinks Manning should be executed. An editorial at the Washington Times also rails about Assange “aiding and abetting terrorists,” and says he should be assassinated. Mike Huckabee told reporters at a book signing that “Whoever in our government leaked that information is guilty of treason, and I think anything less than execution is too kind a penalty.”
  • The Library of Congress announced on December 3 that it “is blocking access to the Wikileaks site across its computer systems, including those for use by patrons in the reading rooms.” The Department of Education has also blocked access to Wikileaks on its computers, and employees at the Department of State and at the Department of Commerce have been instructed not to look at Wikileaks.
  • Officials at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs have passed on to students a warning they received by email from the  State Department’s Office of Career Services to the effect that “[t]alking about WikiLeaks on Facebook or Twitter could endanger their job prospects.” State Department spokesperson Philip Crowley first denied that any such warning had been given — then, “[w]hen asked why Columbia — which confirmed to the New York Times earlier today that an email had been sent from its offices — would have sent the message, Crowley said, ‘If an employee of the State Department sent such an email, it does not represent a formal policy position.’ ” Cute, huh?
  • On December 6, the BBC reported that Swiss authorities had shut down Julian Assange’s bank account at PostFinance. Prior to that, PayPal closed Assange’s account and Amazon, which had initially allowed Assange to use its servers, changed their minds.
  • Assange, who was arrested in London on Tuesday, was today put into an isolation unit in Wandsworth prison. According to one of his attorneys, this was “presumably” done “for his own safety.”

Daniel Ellsberg, who strongly supports Wikileaks and Julian Assange, put out a statement a few days ago, in part to counter the claim being made by many of Wikileaks’ detractors that Assange is no Daniel Ellsberg. The truth, Ellsberg says, is just the opposite:

As part of their attempt to blacken WikiLeaks and Assange, pundit commentary over the weekend has tried to portray Assange’s exposure of classified materials as very different from — and far less laudable than — what Daniel Ellsberg did in releasing the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Ellsberg strongly rejects the mantra “Pentagon Papers good; WikiLeaks material bad.” He continues: “That’s just a cover for people who don’t want to admit that they oppose any and all exposure of even the most misguided, secretive foreign policy. The truth is that EVERY attack now made on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange was made against me and the release of the Pentagon Papers at the time.”

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