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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

WikiThieves And False Analogies

Defenders of WikiLeaks have portrayed Bradley Manning and Julian Assange as heroes who only want transparency, and who did no real harm.

In fact, WikiLeaks has put lives at risk and damaged international attempts to rid Zimbabwe of the Mugabe regime.  And beyond that, Wikileaks has damaged our ability to conduct diplomacy, where off-the-record frank conversations are critical.

Defenders of WikiLeaks have constructed a justification that Manning is just another Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame someone who sought to bring truth to the historical account of major events, and Assange as merely a conduit.  Since Ellsberg is something of a folk hero to the left, the comparison has a superficial appeal.

Thanks go out to Floyd Abrams, one of the premier First Amendment lawyers in the country (and a Senior Partner at the law firm I worked at right out of law school) who represented The NY Times in the Pentagon Papers case, for destroying the Ellsberg analogy. 

In an Op-Ed in The Wall Street Journal, Abrams explains that unlike Manning and Assange, Ellsberg specifically held back a large stash of diplomatic documents:
In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg decided to make available to the New York Times (and then to other newspapers) 43 volumes of the Pentagon Papers, the top- secret study prepared for the Department of Defense examining how and why the United States had become embroiled in the Vietnam conflict. But he made another critical decision as well. That was to keep confidential the remaining four volumes of the study describing the diplomatic efforts of the United States to resolve the war.

Not at all coincidentally, those were the volumes that the government most feared would be disclosed. In a secret brief filed with the Supreme Court, the U.S. government described the diplomatic volumes as including information about negotiations secretly conducted on its behalf by foreign nations including Canada, Poland, Italy and Norway. Included as well, according to the government, were "derogatory comments about the perfidiousness of specific persons involved, and statements which might be offensive to nations or governments."

The diplomatic volumes were not published, even in part, for another dozen years. Mr. Ellsberg later explained his decision to keep them secret, according to Sanford Ungar's 1972 book "The Papers & The Papers," by saying, "I didn't want to get in the way of the diplomacy."

Julian Assange sure does. Can anyone doubt that he would have made those four volumes public on WikiLeaks regardless of their sensitivity? Or that he would have paid not even the slightest heed to the possibility that they might seriously compromise efforts to bring a speedier end to the war?

Abrams goes on to point out the there are valid grounds for an indictment of WikiLeaks under the 1917 Espionage Act and that "if Mr. Assange were found to have communicated and retained the secret information with the intent to harm the United States—some of his statements can be so read—a conviction might be obtained."

Thank you Mr. Abrams, for scraping off the gloss people like Glenn Greenwald are putting on the whole WikiLeaks affair.

Manning, Assange and the others involved in WikiLeaks should be prosecuted.  The real wonder is why this wasn't done months ago.

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  1. Look who runs Big White and the Justice Dept. There's your answer to why no prosecution. They hate the US as much as Assange does.

  2. Time to have a look at the supporters of Assange (an Australian by birth): Geoffrey Robertson, John Pilger, Jemima Khan.

    As you would be aware Robertson is totally up himself and has delusions of grandeur with regard to his own capabilities as a lawyer. He is the one who wanted to take the Pope before the human rights commission based upon some trumped up notion that the Pope prevents Africans who are either Muslim or animists, from using condoms.

    John Pilger is that creepy Marxist journalist who made his name during the Vietnam era, and I think he was in Laos and Cambodia... either way I have no time at all for the likes of Pilger (spit, spit).

    Yes, Assange should be charged with treason. What he has done in Zimbabwe is totally disgusting. He has endangered a person's life... just like he endangered many lives in Afghanistan.. of those who have been providing information against the Taliban.

    Assange should go to prison.. and as far as I am concerned he should get the death penalty for his espionage. Ditto for Bradley Manning who is no hero....

    BTW there are some cables that are actually quite hilarious. One person here in Australia, Mark Arbib has been accused of being a spy, even though he was only big noting himself at the American Embassy.

  3. If we prosecute a foreign national for a crime that did not take place on US soil, we could be subjecting ourselves to a precedent that we will regret.

    I lean toward handling Assange via covert ops.

  4. 'Manning, Assange and the others involved in WikiLeaks should be prosecuted. The real wonder is why this wasn't done months ago.'

    Well as a lawyer, dude, you presumably know the answer and your wide-eyed wonderment is pathetic ... almost as pathetic as Abrams ridiculous fairy tale about what Assange would have done if he had been Daniel Ellsberg.

    How about commenting on what Assange has actually done, which is to release no more than a tiny fraction of the documents leaked to WikiLeaks? How about acknowledging that thousands of documents have been withheld because they have the potential to cause harm, and many of the released documents have been redacted in consultation with mainstream media organisations? But no, acknowledging these facts would spoil the fabricated narrative that devotees of the secretive state want to peddle.

    BTW please don't judge my fellow-countrymen's intelligence on the basis of Maggie's comment. Most Australians understand that people can't be charged with treason by a country of which they are not a citizen.

  5. If Assange has done something Ellsberg wouldn't have done, why is Ellsberg so supportive of Assange? He's thanked him publicly for what he's done, and has been very vocal in his support. People keep saying "Assange is no Ellsberg", but who would know that better than Ellsberg?

    You should also look at the history of what Wikileaks has done and the good things that have come out of the disclosures.

    Further, Ken L is correct in saying that only about 1% of the cables have been released, and the ones that have basically show that American diplomats are assholes. Maybe this will encourage them to behave more like gentlemen and ladies instead of resorting to insulting characterizations of others like so many frat boys at a kegger.

    Finally, Wikileaks offered to let the Pentagon redact the cables before they were released and the Pentagon declined, which you would know if you'd done your research.

  6. The fact that diplomatic cables have been stolen, and that some are being released while many more are being held back to be released later, does substantial damage to effective diplomacy regardless of the specific content released. The fact that the thieves offered to have the government acquiesce in the theft by negotiating over what would be made public is meaningless; Assange and his crew were very aware of the damage which would be done by revealing confidential communications with the Lebanese defense minister and the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe. Manning, Assange and the other Wikileaks operatives are entirely responsible for what happens to the subjects of the cables.

  7. Why is it that Bradley Manning's superiors have wholly escaped criticism and responsibility for his grand theft of documents?

    At Abu Ghreib, the MSM was yowling for the heads of the whole chain of command, up through Rumsfeld and GW Bush. The general commanding A.G. was relieved of her job. But under Obama, only the private at the bottom takes the fall?

  8. With all those antiAmerican leftists in the WH, State and Justice Department, we aren't surprised that there has been no indictments yet, we are only surprised that Obama hasn't awarded Assange the Medal of Honor or the Medal of Freedom. Such are the crumbs we must nibble on with this Administration.

  9. KenL could be very wrong. If Australians can be charged in the USA for murder, then Assange can be indicted and charged in the USA for the leaking of those documents.

    There are precedents for my line of thought on this subject. For example there have been Australians charged with online piracy of music and movies in the USA.

    If there is a secret Grand Jury, I do hope that they will be able to come to a conclusion soon about possible charges of treason against Assange.

    He has put too many lives on the line. It is not just the one in Zimbabwe, it also the lives of the Afghanis who have helped the Americans and the Australians as well as other foreign forces against the Taliban. Their names were released and if they are not already dead they are in danger.....

  10. You might be interested in this:


    It is worth a read. It is interesting to note that Peter North from the UK has echoed my own sentiment, except he wants to see Assange end up in Guantanamo Bay...

    Here is an extract worth repeating:

    "As to the morality of mass dumping, I have made the argument too many times to repeat it here. I am now completely robotic on this matter. My main observance would be to point out that there's a massive gulf between "public interest" and "the public are interested". Also the difference between loyal nationalist whistleblowing and internationalist espionage. Evidently there are those left and right who seem completely incapable of making the distinction."