One would expect, in the wake of the incalculable damage done to America’s diplomatic position in the world by WikiLeaks’ revelation of illegally-obtained diplomatic cables, that condemnation of WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange would be nearly universal among everyone who is not openly rooting for the demise of America. And indeed, when Oliver Willis steps off America-hating bus (see here, here, here, and here) then you know that it is carrying a very light load indeed.
However, a small but determined band of morally vapid internet commentators are so blinded by their desire to see America fail that they cannot see that it is a bad thing for both America and the world at large for secret diplomatic cables to be spilled out into the public. These individuals generally fall into two camps.
The first more or less consists of professional America-hater Glenn Greenwald and his many sock puppets. The Glenns go beyond defending Assange and WikiLeaks; they think Pfc. Bradley Manning (the alleged leaker of the documents) is a hero who should be lauded, and Assange is only to be blamed for not being heroic enough to murder several dozen American soldiers in order to steal the information himself. Thankfully, Glenn speaks for no one on this issue other than his Internet alter-egos, so we need not concern ourselves with his “arguments,” which may be summarized thusly: Manning and Assange have harmed the United States, therefore what they did was both good and legal. QED.
However, a second group, typified by pseudo-libertarian Doug Mataconis (who has been busy lately trying to earn his America-hating Merit Badge at Greenwald’s feet), has apparently realized that defending Manning does not cut ice with people who don’t already hate America, and so they have apparently decided to mount a tenuous and laughable defense of Assange based on supposed legal technicalities. Mataconis and others like him have argued on twitter and elsewhere all day that a) WikiLeaks did not substantively break any laws, and b) even if they committed an act in violation of U.S. law, since WikiLeaks’ servers are outside United States jurisdiction, by definition this does not amount to a violation or U.S. law. Or something. The basic gist of this argument is that Assange is just a reporter publishing some stuff someone happened to give him and there’s nothing illegal about that.
This argument has a number of problems. The first is that, if we properly understand how Manning actually intercepted the information in question, it would seem to constitute a clear violation of the Wiretap Act. And the Wiretap Act makes it a crime not only to illegally obtain the information, but also to “use” it or (under circumstances) disseminate it. That is not to say anything about whether Manning or Assange may be in violation of any number of other federal criminal statutes which may cover both the dissemination and receipt of this particular kind of material. The argument that these crimes become “not crimes” because WikiLeaks took the information and hosted it on their servers in Sweden (or wherever they are) is also facially ludicrous. If you receive some stolen property in Michigan (in violation of the laws of Michigan) and then move that property to Wisconsin, it doesn’t mean that you haven’t committed a violation of Michigan law just because the Michigan cops have to extradite you rather than arrest you directly.
The real substance of this contention is the argument, based loosely on the myth that has arisen out of the Pentagon Papers case, that it is never illegal, under any circumstances, for any organization that fancies itself to be “the press” to publish any information it comes across, under any set of circumstances. Of course, the Pentagon Papers case stood for no such proposition, instead only answering the narrow question of whether the government counld exercise prior restraint on the Press for publishing the information; whether the government can come down like the Fist of God upon a sleazebag who owns a website after having already published certain material is of course a different matter.
Under the theory advanced by Mataconis, if a Russian spy through espionage came by the names of every covert CIA operative throughout the world and passed them on to some guy with a blog, the Government could not punish that blogger for publishing the names of the operatives, even if the Government advised the blogger beforehand that the list was obtained illegally through espionage. If a case exists on the record standing for such a proposition (which would surely invalidate a number of Federal statutes still on the books concerning the dissemination of classified information), the proponents of this theory have certainly not offered any proof of it.
Of course, reason, common sense, and the desire most Americans have to see America prosper all lead most ordinary Americans to conclude that Assange and WikiLeaks are not worthy of a defense of the kind Mataconis and Greenwald have mustered. Some, however, are bereft of all three traits set forth in the previous sentence and so jump immediately to the absurd position that Assange must be right and America must be wrong. Their arguments speak to their motivations.
Of course, as far as I am concerned, Assange is a foreign national involved in illegally obtaining classified information that is vital to America’s national security and distributing it to our foreign enemies. In other words, he is a spy who has been caught spying. Under the traditional rules of engagement he is thus subject to summary execution and my preferred course of action would for Assange to find a small caliber round in the back of his head. Alternately, however, I would also support his arrest and lifetime incarceration (provided he’d be housed in a particularly notorious State prison), as would virtually everyone I know who doesn’t cheer for the defeat and humiliation of America in the world.