Published On:Monday, December 13, 2010
Posted by Sri Lanka Guardian
EDITORIAL WASHINGTON POST
(December 13, Washington DC, Sri Lanka Guardian)
WIKILEAKS FOUNDER Julian Assange has irresponsibly released thousands of sensitive national security documents, including some that Pentagon officials say could put in harm's way Afghans who have cooperated with U.S. efforts. But that does not mean he has committed a crime.
Mr. Assange, an Australian, is in a British jail awaiting possible extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations. Many Americans would like to see him spend a good, long time behind bars - for different reasons. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, argues that Mr. Assange's actions violate the Espionage Act, a World War I-era law crafted to punish individuals who spy on the country during wartime. The Justice Department is reportedly assessing that possibility as well as other prosecutorial vehicles.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) goes further and has urged the administration to consider charges against media outlets that produced news articles based on the leaked documents. These organizations, Mr. Lieberman said in an interview with Fox News last week , have "committed at least an act of bad citizenship, but whether they have committed a crime - I think that bears a very intense inquiry by the Justice Department."
Such prosecutions are a bad idea. The government has no business indicting someone who is not a spy and who is not legally bound to keep its secrets. Doing so would criminalize the exchange of information and put at risk responsible media organizations that vet and verify material and take seriously the protection of sources and methods when lives or national security are endangered. The Espionage Act is easily abused, as shown by a criminal case that dragged on for years, before being closed last year, of two lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who did nothing more than pass along to colleagues and a reporter information they gleaned from conversations with U.S. officials. The act should be scrapped or tightened, not given new and dangerous life.
So is the administration helpless? No; it has every right to demand strict confidentiality from its employees and others who swear to protect its secrets. It has rightly filed charges against an Army intelligence specialist who it believes was the source of the leaked documents. And the government should repair its own house, by investigating its carelessness in allowing these documents to leak and taking steps to prevent a recurrence.
Julian Assange and the public's right to know
EDITORIAL: THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
EDITORIAL: THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
DURING the Vietnam War, Daniel Ellsberg released government documents now known as the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times. In response, the American government tried him for theft and conspiracy under the Espionage Act. The authorities also tried to steal Ellsberg's medical files in order to discredit him.
The Pentagon Papers exposed lies told by the US government to justify the war and their publication helped fuel opposition to the conflict. The charges against Ellsberg were eventually dismissed, the covert operations against him condemned. Ellsberg sees parallels between his case and the treatment of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. ''People … don't want to admit that they oppose any and all exposure of even the most misguided, secretive foreign policy,'' Ellsberg said recently. ''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.''
Men such as Ellsberg and Assange, who are prepared to face the consequences of revealing information authorities would prefer to hide, help keep our system of government healthy and strong. Unfortunately, those in power tend to take a different view. The 250,000 confidential American diplomatic cables are the latest documents published by WikiLeaks. Previous documents on WikiLeaks have exposed how the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been fought. These leaks have been embarrassing to the governments involved - particularly the US government.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has condemned the actions of WikiLeaks as illegal - a short-sighted response. The Australian government is investigating whether Mr Assange has committed an offence, but has so far got nowhere.
In the meantime, Mr Assange has been arrested in England because of rape allegations made against him in Sweden. The opposition spokesman for communications, Malcolm Turnbull, said last week that as an Australian citizen, Mr Assange was entitled to return to Australia if he wished. In relation to the rape allegations, we should allow the legal proceedings to take their course, but it is true that the timing of the proceedings have led some to wonder whether there is some political motivation behind them.
Critics of Mr Assange and WikiLeaks say that by releasing the confidential documents, the activist has put lives at risk. This has yet to be demonstrated, but certainly The Sunday Age does not support actions that would do so, or that would threaten national security. In releasing tens of thousands of documents, WikiLeaks may have made mistakes, but as a result of its actions we now know more about US and Australian diplomacy. And we have greater insights into how the US conducts its wars and determines its foreign policy.
WikiLeaks, acting with newspapers around the world including The Age and The Sunday Age, is publishing information that makes governments uncomfortable. This action affirms the role of the media, which have a duty to expose the secret machinations of those who wield power. In the US, the chairman of the Senate homeland security committee, Joe Lieberman, has suggested that because it published some of the leaked information The New York Times might be subject to criminal investigation. This would breach the First Amendment protecting freedom of the press.
The Australian government's condemnation of WikiLeaks is also deeply troubling. Attempts to silence Mr Assange and those who work with him threaten the free flow of information that makes democracy possible. Such attempts are dangerous and must be resisted.
First, They Came for WikiLeaks. Then...
EDITORIAL : THE NATION
In July the Washington Post published "Top Secret America," a series of articles based on a two-year investigation by Dana Priest and William Arkin. The report meticulously documented the growth of a vast secret government in the wake of September 11 encompassing at least 1,271 government organizations, 1,931 private companies and an estimated 854,000 individuals with top-secret security clearance. Secret America, Priest and Arkin wrote, has become "so large, so unwieldy and so secretive" that it is not only unaccountable, it is practicably unknowable—even to the officials charged with administering it. The series elicited much praise from fellow journalists, but from the government there was—nothing. The Post's report generated not one Congressional hearing, subpoena or reform. As far as we know, Secret America continues its work unchecked and unchastened.
The equanimity with which the government was able to breeze past the Post series is telling in light of the great ruckus caused by WikiLeaks and its slow drip of more than 250,000 State Department cables. The Post didn't tell secrets so much as outline the contours of the shadow world from which they originate; WikiLeaks rips off the veil. It's the exposure of these secrets that has the world's power elite so rattled. Pols and pundits are calling for the prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange under the Espionage Act of 1917. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that Assange be assassinated. As a magazine that champions free speech, The Nation defends the rights of leakers and media organizations to disclose secrets that advance a public interest without fear of retribution—or murder. If the Justice Department goes after Assange as an enemy of the state, what's next? The arrest of the editors of the New York Times, the Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and El País, the news outlets that collaborated with WikiLeaks?
By and large WikiLeaks has come to embrace the ethics that guide traditional news organizations' disclosure of secrets, and it should be afforded the same protections. WikiLeaks' critics assert—without evidence—that its leaks have endangered lives, but a senior NATO official told CNN in October that "there has not been a single case of Afghans needing protection or to be moved because of the [Afghanistan] leak." Critics characterize WikiLeaks' actions as indiscriminate document dumps, but at press time WikiLeaks had released only 1,095 cables, almost all vetted and redacted by its partner news organizations. WikiLeaks even asked the State Department to help redact the cables before they were released. It refused.
What's really at stake here is not individual privacy, the safety of sources or America's diplomatic leverage—it's the secret state. Over the past decade, our leaders have come to see secrecy as a casual right instead of a rare privilege. The cables released so far illustrate this corruption: routine, even banal, matters of diplomatic correspondence are labeled "NOFORN" (not for release to foreign nationals), "Confidential" or "Secret."
Beyond revealing the unprecedented scale of secrecy, WikiLeaks has also brought to light the antidemocratic actions secrecy protects. In Yemen, for example, the United States conducted secret airstrikes on suspected Al Qaeda targets, then conspired with Yemeni leaders to pretend that Yemen's military had done it (see Jeremy Scahill, "WikiLeaking Covert Wars," in this issue). Here is an instance where America's standing in the world was put at risk. But it's not WikiLeaks that did it. It's the policy of covert action and the lies told to cover it up.