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Wikileaks: Do-Gooder or Scoundrel?

November 29, 2010 1 comment

I have a developing opinion of this Australian guy who runs Wikileaks and who seems to have made it his business to embarrass the United States on a quarterly basis. The journalist part of me is tempted to view him with a certain amount of patience. The American part of me wants to deck the punk.

This last batch of leaks- diplomatic cables that amount to juicy, cocktail-party gossip about half the world’s leaders- are amusing and interesting in a People magazine sort of way, but I see little news there. Julian Assange’s motives behind this latest leak are not clear to me.

But the fellow does seem to have quite the persecution complex. The NY Times, for example, did not get these latest documents directly from Assange. It got them from the British newspaper, The Guardian. Apparently, Assange did not like this article written about him last October in the NY Times, so he decided to leave them out of the document dump.

A friend asked this morning if Assange can be charged with treason. Well, he’s not a U.S. citizen, hasn’t pledged loyalty to this country, and has not openly aided and abetted the “enemy,” though just to be fair, it would be nice if the guy found some embarrassing documents that paint equally unflattering pictures of the bad guys.

Treason is a very carefully worded provision that appears in Article 3, Section 3 of the U.S. 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.” It is also a capital offense that can be punished by death and less than 20 people have ever been convicted of it in the entire history of the United States.

The guy who is in a very deep pool of trouble is Private Bradley Manning, the Army Intelligence analyst who has leaked a lot of this stuff to Assange. Treason is such a big charge, that it doesn’t appear even Manning will be accused of it. But it appears he will be prosecuted for at least two violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and if convicted will be spending many years in a military prison (Fred Kaplan explains all this in Slate).

And here’s a great take on all this from Peter Beinart at the Daily Beast:

For better or worse, this is the world we now live in. But living in it is one thing; celebrating it is another. When journalists gather information that genuinely changes the way we see some aspect of American foreign policy, or exposes government folly or abuse, they should move heaven and earth to make sure it sees the light of day. But that’s a far cry from publishing documents that sabotage American foreign policy without adding much, if anything, to the public debate.

So Beinart argues for restraint on the part of the media. Some outlets, like the NY Times have cooperated with the government and the State Department in particular, and so explains here.

Since this Assange guy leaks absolutely everything he gets his hands on, irrespective of its importance, substance or consequence- it really is up to the media on how to play it and what NOT to reveal, including the names of people whose lives he regularly puts in danger in his haughtily high-minded pursuit of what he sees as “the truth.”

Even “Pentagon Papers” leaker, Dr. Daniel Ellsburg, who generally sides with Assange’s right to leak his little heart out, says there are some things that should be kept secret.

So, I guess my opinion is still forming about Wikileaks. But it’s only the principle of watching over government for things like waste, fraud and abuse that keeps me from wanting to throttle this smug, paranoid, self-important former criminal hacker.

The convictions were from the early 1990’s, but in the interests of the truth, I thought it was fair game to put out there. You can read more about Assange’s hacking into government networks and bank mainframes, here. He got a plea deal from a judge who said Assange didn’t mean to be malicious, just got carried away with his own curiosity. Otherwise he would have spent ten years in federal prison.

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