US Investigation Of WikiLeaks’ Assange Is Misguided

The US government has no business investigating Julian Assange for publishing secret diplomatic messages, says Wayne Rash

Does WikiLeaks count as free press?

Now comes WikiLeaks and Assange. There are some significant differences involved. First, the US Constitution only guarantees the rights of Americans. Assange is an Australian living in a variety of places in Europe. Right now he’s in England, in jail. Second, WikiLeaks isn’t exactly The New York Times nor The Washington Post. In addition, from every report I’ve seen, Assange doesn’t conduct himself as a journalist, there’s no real reporting going on – simply the release of illegally obtained documents.

I should also note that from every indication I’ve seen, Assange is an arrogant and perhaps narcissistic person not fit for polite company. But that’s beside the point.

What’s not beside the point is that the publication of documents that are embarrassing to the State Department is a form of protected expression in the United States. If it’s protected in the US, it seems hypocritical to take action against it elsewhere. Besides, if Assange is eventually dragged into a US court, wouldn’t the First Amendment apply to him then?

So instead of wasting time and a steadily diminishing supply of US taxpayers’ dollars on chasing someone who is engaged in an activity that would be legal in the United States, why not spend the time and money on the actual criminals and the people who enabled them?

Catching the real criminals

We already know who actually stole the documents. That man is Army PFC Bradley Manning who knowingly took the information from communications he knew to be secret. He intentionally broke both the law and the oath he took when he joined the military. He had no way of knowing that the documents he sent to Assange would turn out to be relatively innocuous. He instead used his personal pique as a reason to betray the trust placed in him.

Likewise, Manning’s superiors who clearly were derelict in their duty to properly supervise him, to meet existing regulations on the use of computers on secure networks and who looked the other way when he popped a writable CD into a computer on a secure network need to be held accountable. The military has a clear chain of command, and thus a clear chain of responsibility in issues like this. Yet nothing seems to be happening to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.

Assuming that the DOJ can manage to avoid doing something stupid as they did in the Ellsberg case, trying Manning should be a no-brainer. He clearly, and admittedly, performed a treasonous act. His superiors enabled that act and should be hunted down and tried along with him. Their neglect opened the door for this release of classified information and they should pay for that neglect.

But going after WikiLeaks and Assange for this is both pointless and an offense against the spirit if not the word of the Constitution. Attorney General Eric Holder should go after the real criminals and stop trying to kill the inconvenience of a free press.