Dec 14, 2010

Attacks on Assange: Shooting the Messenger?

A portrait of Julian Assange, the wikileaks founder. Made by Robbespierre, released under CC-BY-3.0. Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Assange.jpg
After wikileaks published the diplomatic dispatches, Politicians and political commentators around the world and from all parts of the political spectrum unsurprisingly use wikileaks to profile themselves for their voters and to get attention. Some reactions are quite shocking to some people not used to American politics. Some public voices call for assassination of Julian Assange, the founder and spokesperson of wikileaks.

Image credit: Robbespierre, released under CC-BY-3.0. Found on wikimedia commons.

Recently, Sara Palin wrote on facebook:

Assange is not a "journalist," any more than the "editor" of al Qaeda's new English-language magazine Inspire is a "journalist." He is an anti-American operative with blood on his hands. His past posting of classified documents revealed the identity of more than 100 Afghan sources to the Taliban. Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders?

 

Julian Assange is a highly controversial person. Vladimir Putin suggested he should be awarded the Nobel peace prize and Assange is leading in opinion polls for the Time person of the year 2010. Currently he is wanted in Sweden for questioning in relation to charges of rape, sexual coercion, and sexual molestation.

Search for "kill assange" on a search engine and you'll find thousands of people advocating black-ops operations or death penalty for assange, among other things to make an example of him and discourage other people to speak out or publish documents critical of the United States.

Sara Palin is not the only public person who uses strong expressions. I compiled some soundbites from U.S. politicians and political commentators that I found on youtube (The Young Turks and Fox Channel). I concentrated on reactions of politicians on wikileaks and assange and leave out demands for capital punishment of Mannings, a former intelligence analyst, who allegedly leaked the documents.

 

Surprisingly to me, incitement is not illegal in the United States. In turn, laws concerning hate speech outside of obscenity, defamation and incitement to riot are illegal in the United States, because they would violate rights guaranteed in the First Amendment of the Constitution, the same amendment that gives freedom of the press and freedom of speech. Instances of incitement qualify as criminal only if the threat of violence is imminent. This is different from other countries, say Germany, where there are restrictions on free speech; "Sedition" (incitement of hatred against parts of the population) is illegal in Germany.

I came across an article on TechCrunch asking "Why Is America So Furious About Wikileaks?" which I found had an interesting thought. It called these violent reactions to wikileaks or Assange stupid and then went on

The American diplomatic corps actually comes across as smart and competent in the Wikileaked cables. Unfortunately, the politicians they report to seem anything but. The scariest truth that Wikileaks has confirmed is that most of the world's decisionmakers, like most Wall Street 'wizards', are petty, bureaucratic, dogmatic, myopic, and hostile to any innovation, largely because they're not very intelligent. Not that smarts are everything, but it's hard to tackle complex problems when you don't fully understand them. It's easy to forget this in the tech world, which is (relatively speaking) a results-oriented meritocracy... until you step into most governments or megacorporations, and find that suddenly the ambient IQ has dropped 20 points.

 

In a Huffington Post article, Ron Paul Defends WikiLeaks On House Floor, I found an extract from a speech by Ron Paul, which I want to contrast with above comments.

 

WikiLeaks release of classified information has generated a lot of attention in the past few weeks. The hysterical reaction makes one wonder if this is not an example of killing the messenger for the bad news. Despite what is claimed, the information that has been so far released, though classified, has caused no known harm to any individual, but it has caused plenty of embarrassment to our government. Losing our grip on our empire is not welcomed by the neoconservatives in charge.

There is now more information confirming that Saudi Arabia is a principal supporter and financier of al Qaeda, and that this should set off alarm bells since we guarantee its Sharia-run government. This emphasizes even more the fact that no al Qaeda existed in Iraq before 9/11, and yet we went to war against Iraq based on the lie that it did. It has been charged by experts that Julian Assange, the internet publisher of this information, has committed a heinous crime, deserving prosecution for treason and execution, or even assassination.

But should we not at least ask how the U.S. government should prosecute an Australian citizen for treason for publishing U.S. secret information that he did not steal? And if WikiLeaks is to be prosecuted for publishing classified documents, why shouldn't the Washington Post, the New York Times, and others also published these documents be prosecuted? Actually, some in Congress are threatening this as well.

What is your opinion? Is Assange a traitor to the United States as some of the above claim? Does he overstep the freedom of free speech? Do the political commentators go to far? Should Assange be prosecuted?

Update: An earlier version of this post said he was wanted for alleged rape and molestation, however it is more accurate to say that he is wanted for questioning.

7 comments:

  1. What, specifically, is he (allegedly) guilty of under the law?

    Morally, I think he went too far - releasing those documents were likely to do more harm than good.

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  2. @Amelia: Good question! I think mostly comments asking for prosecution reference the Espionage Act.

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