WikiLeaks is a non-profit media organization dedicated to bringing important news and information to the public.
Certainly, there are many who do not agree with WikiLeaks’ view of itself that they are a “media organization” or even journalists. Some are even going so far as to say that Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, is a terrorist and should be killed.
I completely disagree with those who argue that Assange is a terrorist. While he has disseminated a lot of information that some governments intended to be kept secret, I have seen no factual basis to the claims that he has put lives in danger. Sure, some foreign diplomats may lose their jobs and relations with America may be a bit tougher than normal for a while, but he has not killed anyone or, as far as I can tell, conspired to do so.
He may well be guilty of espionage under the broadest definition of the term as defined by the Espionage Act of 1917. The problem that I have with trying Assange on espionage charges is that if you charge Assange, then you should also try the New York Times, Der Spiegel, and The Guardian, as they too are all disseminating the information. For disseminating information is all Assange and these major newspapers have done. Assange did not steal the information himself, he simply published it; something that journalists and news organizations have been doing for a very long time in this country. (NB: Stephen Carter has a very well-written piece on the possibility of charging Assange with espionage here).
I do not, however, agree with all of the information that Assange has leaked nor the tactics that he has used, soliciting leaked material from around the world. He may not be committing the crimes himself, but he is asking others to. Moreover, I do not fundamentally agree with how many Assange supporters are handling their dissatisfaction with what is going on, cyber attacking websites that do not support Assange, such as Amazon.com, Visa, PayPal, Mastercard, etc. It seems to me that if you support Assange and WikiLeaks on First Amendment grounds, then you should also support the First Amendment rights of those who oppose them.
At the end of the day this comes down to an issue of free speech and First Amendment rights. I believe that Assange’s actions, while not exactly the same as countless others who have solicited and disseminated classified information in the name of journalism, are in the same vein and spirit. Moreover, I think it is simply outright hypocritical and disingenuous of the US to attempt to prosecute Assange when they would never do such a thing to the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the Wall Street Journal.
Stephen Carter says it well:
We should be deeply troubled by the notion that our government might be devising schemes to prosecute people for what they have said or written.
P.S. Some have pointed out, very sharply, that the leaked cables should actually reassure Americans. For what the government has been saying publicly largely matches what they have been doing and saying privately.