Wiki Crimes? No Laughing Matter …

Update 6 a.m. Tuesday: CNN is reporting that Assange has been arrested in London on sex crimes charges.

But leave it to SNL to try anyway.

I’ve held off commenting on the WikiLeaks scandal, mostly because it’s so complex that I’m not sure I could do it justice with the little time I have available for blogging. But I’ll try anyway.

Julian Assange has developed quite a following and no doubt fancies himself a hero for releasing secret U.S. military, intelligence, and diplomatic documents into the public domain. Two of my friends, for example, have urged their friends on Facebook to join pro-WikiLeaks groups or donate money to the organization. I respect both of these people, but fail to see how the release of these documents helps the case for what Time magazine calls “WikiLeaks’ war on secrecy.”

As a former reporter and freedom-of-information advocate, I support the idea that we should err on the side of the sunshine. But you do reach a point where the sunshine, in the case of the WikiLeaks Afghanistan document dump, irreparably harms U.S. interests by exposing the identities of valuable intelligence operatives who could be killed in reprisal.

Or, in the case of the recently released diplomatic cables, it will likely inhibit candid communication among diplomats for fear that their frank assessments will end up on the front page of The New York Times. How could anyone think that exposing our intelligence sources to death, or putting a chilling effect on the exchange of ideas, is a good thing?

I tend to agree with the those who say that Assange should be brought up on criminal charges. But the problem is that laws on publishing classified material are murky. Moreover, Assange is not a U.S. citizen and does not reside here. And persuading a sovereign nation to extradite him is highly problematic, especially if the alleged crimes are considered political in nature.

So we’ll probably just have to live with this fellow unless we want to dispatch an assassin to put a bullet between his eyes. Oh, I forgot. That option is no longer available, thanks to the Ford administration.

Be Sociable, Share!
  • Fred Baumgarten

    You are seemingly offended by an attempt at humor about Assange, but you are comfortable making a semi-serious — or is it truly serious? — suggestion that Assange be murdered in cold blood? For what? Ever hear of innocent until proven guilty, and due process, and trial by jury, and all that quaint old stuff?For a guy — and to be fair you are like many others in your camp who are making blatant and disgusting calls for Wild West bounty hunting — who forever is bemoaning the "death of civility" (again, like many of your compadres), perhaps you can educate us on what's "civil" about encouraging someone's assassination — or joking about it. I'm not sure which.While you're at it, perhaps you could also explain your last remark, since, in fact, one of the hallmarks of the Nobel Peace Laureate President (that would be Obama) is that he has by fiat authorized the assassination of anyone her deems a terrorist — INCLUDING AMERICAN CITIZENS. Sorry I don't have the link handy, but I think you can find it pretty easily if necessary.And even if that were not true (which it is), are you seriously suggesting a return to the "good old days" when we empower our government to secret assassinations and all the rest? Apparently so. Funny how that works: It's a travesty — worse, socialism! — when our government intrudes on our private lives, for example trying to guide us to make healthier choices. But when the government assumes the ULTIMATE POWER — of life and death over human beings — well, that's just way too cool. Shootem'up, boys! (And just to keep our consciences clear, we'll pretend that's not the most fundamentally un-democratic kind of government of all — despotism. (Yes, it's true, our President now claims the same power as Josef Stalin to kill citizens he decrees to be enemies of the state, or to ship them off to the Gulag — er, I mean Gitmo.)As for the WikiLeaks, I'm not entirely convinced this isn't some manufactured spy novel, but I am sufficiently convinced that there's nothing — not one single thing — in the "leaks" that puts a single person at risk (except the millions of innocent people of Iran who again find themselves in the crosshairs thanks to the strangely incriminating "revelations"). The "I'm shocked, shocked!" (a favorite phrase of yours, no?) reactions of Hilary et al. are the quintessence of political kabuki. How ridiculous! We said mean things about the other guys — oooohhhh, how very disturbing!!!Bah.

  • Terry Cowgill

    Wow, that's quite a riff, Fred.For the record, I never suggested assassination nor even joked about it. I said if that's what you want to do, then it is prohibited by executive order. Obama lifted a portion of the order to make it lawful to assassinate terror suspects. But I think labeling Assange a terrorist would be a stretch.And your last 'graph suggests you think I'm only writing here about the leaked diplomatic cables. How about the classified Afghan war info WikiLeaks published in October? Now if you don't think that naming U.S. Afghan intel operatives is putting those Afghans at severe risk, then there's not much point in continuing this exchange.Have a pleasant evening.

  • Fred Baumgarten

    Is that true? Naming Afghan intel operatives?

  • Fred Baumgarten

    You're free to toss me off your blog (again), as I'm sure you've been looking for an excuse to do, Terry. But to say this (in your own words, correct?):"So we'll probably just have to live with this fellow unless WE WANT to dispatch an assassin to put a bullet between his eyes. Oh, I FORGOT. That option is no longer available, thanks to the Ford administration." [You sound a tad disappointed there, or is that too much of a "riff" for you to take?)And then deny that it's a suggestion, flip or serious, to assassinate the guy — well, that's just plain disingenous.But sadly that's what this blog has become, so it's no loss to me to get the boot. I just hope for your sake you'll take some responsibility for your words.

  • Terry Cowgill

    From the NYT after the publication of the Afghan War Diaries:But now, WikiLeaks has been met with new doubts. Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders have joined the Pentagon in criticizing the organization for risking people’s lives by publishing war logs identifying Afghans working for the Americans or acting as informers.A Taliban spokesman in Afghanistan using the pseudonym Zabiullah Mujahid said in a telephone interview that the Taliban had formed a nine-member “commission” after the Afghan documents were posted “to find about people who are spying.” He said the Taliban had a “wanted” list of 1,800 Afghans and was comparing that with names WikiLeaks provided.“After the process is completed, our Taliban court will decide about such people,” he said.http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/24/world/24assange.html————-No Fred, I suppose it would not trouble me if someone — even the U.S. government — were to extinguish the life of this pathetic man who has endangered the lives of those who have tried to help us root out the people who want to kill you and me.How's that for taking responsibility for my words?Funny how you despise this blog (and my previous one) but somehow manage to keep coming back for more. You must be a glutton for something.

  • Alexkees1973

    "Oh, I forgot. That option is no longer available, thanks to the Ford administration." That option is not available when it comes to foreign leaders. Assange is not a foreign leader. Instead of killing him how about doing what the Israelis did to one of their nuke scientists? Kidnap him and then put him on trial. I fear we lack that capability.

  • Fred Baumgarten

    So, yeah, they've arrested him and they're holding him without bail on the charge of…wait for it…breaking a condom! Well, that'll teach him.Terry, I'm glad you've come out firmly in defense of your support for giving the government the power of to kill anyone, anywhere, anytime. Anyone else you'd like to see in the crosshairs while you're at it? Don't forget American citizens are fair game, too! I would have suggested Josh McDaniels, but fortunately my pathetic Broncos fired him just last night.I'm willing to concede the point that the leaks could have jeopardized the lives of a few Afghan sources, and I don't approve of that. But let's put this in perspective. The U.S. government kills thousands upon thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan…and Yemen and Pakistan…and no one gives a fig. Suddenly we're all het up about a few double-agents. Hmmm. Remember, in fact, that one of the first WikiLeaks involved the turkey shoot of Iraqi civilians — including JOURNALISTS — from a helicopter? There's nothing in the WikiLeaks that getting the heck out of all these countries where we don't belong (and whose connection to "the terrorists" is tenuous at best) wouldn't cure.Alex Kees, assuming you're serious, thank you for confirming the fact that I really do now live in the Soviet Republic of Amerika.

  • Terry Cowgill

    Fred, once again, you have totally misrepresented what I've said, but it's really not worth my time and effort to correct you.Alex, I think yours is a interesting suggestion, if indeed it was a suggestion.Another issue WikiLeaks raises is the loss of the role of journalists as gatekeepers. It used to be that when sensitive material was leaked, journalists would use their best judgment about what to report and what not to.And while journalists have used bad judgment here and there, I prefer to trust them with the material than a guy who uses the Internet for a mass document dump with little or no context.

  • Fred Baumgarten

    "No Fred, I suppose it would not trouble me if someone — even the U.S. government — were to extinguish the life of this pathetic man who has endangered the lives of those who have tried to help us root out the people who want to kill you and me."What part of that have I misrepresented?

  • Terry Cowgill

    I never "[came] out firmly in defense of [my] support for giving the government the power of to kill anyone, anywhere, anytime."Your words, not mine.

  • VictimsRevenge

    Wow all of this animosity makes me want to contribute my two cents worth. I personally think it's fair game to leak anything to the net as long as it's not part of your job description to defend the integrity of the organization that you were sworn to uphold.If classified government documents are leaked, then how classified could they be. Maybe that’s the real problem, maybe we should find out how they get the information, and then do something about that. On the other hand if we did what Terry suggested, and killed everyone, and anyone that decides to leak this information it would be every bit as effective as the method that I described, a little harsh, but effective.

  • Terry Cowgill

    Victim, I agree that the biggest problem is the leaker. He should be tried for treason.

  • Peter Halle

    Hi Terry. I am not defending Assange in any way, but isn't treason a crime against your own nation or sovereign? He's an Aussie, I believe, though he probably thinks he is a citizen of the world.

  • Terry Cowgill

    Peter, when I suggest putting "the leaker" on trial "for treason," I'm talking about Assange's source, alleged to be U.S. Army PFC Manning. The legal case against Assange himself is indeed problematic, as both you and I have pointed out on this page.

  • Terrence McCarthy

    Fred, Fred, Fred. Tis the season. Light a fire ( In the fireplace! )Have an eggnog or two. ( 3?) Relax. Relax. Relax.You're making a fool of yourself.

  • Fred Baumgarten

    Oh, that's a very coherent statement, Terrence. Political discourse at its most civil and refined. Ho ho ho.

  • Terry Cowgill

    Poor Fred. I think you're looking to get booted off so that you can play your cherished role of victim.

  • Matt

    Frankly, and clearly at the risk of being severly chastised, it seems to me that the solution is fairly simple. Pvt. Manning should be tried in a military court for treason. According to Article III of the Constitution "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.". He has clearly given our enemies "aid and comfort.". If found guilty he should be executed. Assange should not be tried. He isn't an American citizen and thus really shouldn't be bound by American law (which is too often extraterritorial and shouldn't be as it is a symptom of our drift towards empire). Equally, he should not benefit from any of the Constitution's protections (if anyone still does!). The President should simply use his authority under multiple Congressional resolutions (most recently The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists – HJ Res 4) to treat him as any enemy of the United States during wartime and kill him.

  • VictimsRevenge

    Allow me to clarify a point I made. When I say it’s fair game to publish this leaked information, I mean legally, not morally or ethically.

  • Terry Cowgill

    I agree, Matt, about the impracticality of trying Assange for treason. But I believe there is precedent for indicting non-US citizens for violations of US law and then asking the host country to extradite. But as I pointed out, that, too, would be difficult.