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Long live Wikileaks

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Warning: it might be illegal for you to look at this picture, or read this story Warning: it might be illegal for you to look at this picture, or read this story

Politically Incorrect

 

The news has been full of the tale of WikiLeaks, an international website that exists solely for the purpose of ‘leaking’ information that governments, and others, would prefer to see kept as confidential.

The announcement that the website was in possession of 250,000 diplomatic cables that it planned to release was greeted by a firestorm of rhetoric on both sides of the fence: those who praise the work of WikiLeaks, and those who see it as treasonous, at best.

“In a free society we’re supposed to know the truth,” opined Congressman Ron Paul. “In a society where truth becomes treason, then we’re in big trouble.”

The editor-in-chief of Wired.com is another supporter of the website. “The greatest threat we face right now from WikiLeaks is not the information it has spilled and may spill in the future, but the reactionary response to it that’s building in the United States that promises to repudiate the rule of law and our free speech traditions, if left unchecked,” said Evan Hughes.

Not all, of course, are supportive.

“WikiLeaks presents a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States,” said Peter King, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee of the United States House of Representatives.

A former advisor to the Canadian government, Tom Flanagan, went even further. “I think Assange [one of the original founders of WikiLeaks] should be assassinated.” So did Jeffrey T. Kuhner of the Washington Times: “We should treat Mr. Assange the same way as other high-value terrorist targets: Kill him”

At the heart of the matter, at least here in these United States, are concepts dear to my own heart as well: freedom of the press and freedom of speech. Without someone willing to provide information that’s not otherwise readily available, there is no such thing as investigative journalism. In the 16 years that I’ve worked with and on the River Journal, I have received hundreds of documents ‘leaked’ to me by people who felt the ‘real story’ of something was not getting out.

But is Julian Assange, a journalist? Is WikiLeaks the media?

Does it really make a difference?

With the advent of the Internet, we have entered a new age of information; likely, our struggles are not much different than when Gutenberg invented his press and the world was faced with the populace as a whole suddenly having an access to information unheard of before. To try to define who or what has the ‘right’ to disseminate that information today will only serve to limit what is available to a supposedly free people.

This is not just hyperbole: in response to WikiLeaks, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has actually suggested that we re-think the First Amendment. “I think he  [Assange] needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And if that becomes a problem, we need to change the law.”

This is not the first time the U.S. has faced a challenge to the rights inherent under the term “freedom of the press.” Daniel Ellensberg (who supports WikiLeaks) has been much in the news of late, with comparisons drawn to his leaking of the Pentagon Papers, a study of US decision-making regarding the Vietnam War, back in 1971. And in 1979, a small monthly magazine in Madison, Wisc. was in the middle of a much similar controversy. The Progressive, you see, was seeking to publish a story detailing how to make an H-Bomb. The government, in United States of America vs. The Progressive, sought to prevent him from doing so... and lost.

With those examples, it’s tempting to suggest this current controversy is not merely a tempest in a teapot but is, at worst, an opportunity being seized by a faction of government that would like to re-write both the Constitution and its Bill of Rights in such a way as to limit the freedoms inherent in the documents.

After all, the diplomatic documents in question were so “sensitive” and of such “potential harm” they were accessible to anywhere from 500,000 to 600,000 people.

And let’s not forget: Julian Assange is not a U.S. citizen. WikiLeaks is hosted on servers in Sweden, a country with a constitution that grants total protection to information providers. Should WikiLeaks even be subject to American law?

Nonetheless, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has suggested his department is looking at a number of options for prosecuting Assange; including invoking the Espionage Act.

As reported by ABC News, the Espionage Act is broadly written and defines as criminal anyone who possesses or transmits any “information relating to the national defense” which an individual has “reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation.”

They quote Benjamin Wittes, a legal analyst with the Brookings Institution, who wrote on his blog “[The Espionage Act] criminalizes all casual discussions of such disclosures by persons not authorized to receive them to other persons not authorized to receive them... in other words, all tweets sending around those countless news stories, all blogging on them, and all dinner party conversations about their contents.” 

And he added, “Taken at its word, the Espionage Act makes felons of us all.”

That is also not hyperbole. The federal government has warned employees not to read information on WikiLeaks, and to not even discuss the information posted. Some college presidents have also warned students who might be interested in a future career in government to steer clear of any contact with the controversial website.

There are some issues it is simply important enough to take a stand on, and for me, this is one. In the interest of putting my money where my mouth is, let me say I’ve looked at the WikiLeaks website, I’ve discussed the  information it’s posted, and I’m doing my part to disseminate the information. 

If you want to see what the fuss is all about, you can visit the WikiLeaks website by typing 213.251.145.96 into your computer’s browser.

But be aware, if you do, I may yet get to ask that ubiquitous Internet question: “What four words would you say if you woke up next to me in jail?”

 

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Author info

Landon Otis

Tagged as:

Homeland Security, WikiLeaks, Ron Paul, Evan Hughes, Peter King, Tom Flanagan, Jeffrey T. Huhner, Julian Assange, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, First Amendment, Senator Mitch McConnell, Daniel Ellensberg, Pentagon Papers, US vs Progressive, The Progressive, Eric Holder, Benjamin Wittes, Politically Incorrect

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