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WikiLeaks: Why It’s Now About Free Speech & Taking A Stand

December 8th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Forget what you think about Julian Assange. It doesn’t matter whether you like him or loath him.
Nor does it matter if you think Assange and company were wrong to have distributed the leaks, or alternately if you think he’s the champion of transparency and democracy…..

None of this is the point. Not anymore.

The issue now is the dangerous nature of the campaign launched against Assange and WikiLeaks and what it points beyond itself to portend. This is about freedom of speech and freedom of the press. And it is a scary business.

My friend Marc Cooper has it right when he points to the column by Dan Gilmore at Salon as mandatory reading on the matter. Here’s the opening:

Journalists cover wars by not taking sides. But when the war is on free speech itself, neutrality is no longer an option.

The WikiLeaks releases are a pivotal moment in the future of journalism. They raise any number of ethical and legal issues for journalists, but one is becoming paramount.

As I said last week, and feel obliged to say again today, our government – and its allies, willing or coerced, in foreign governments and corporations — are waging a powerful war against freedom of speech.

WikiLeaks may well make us uncomfortable in some of what it does, though in general I believe it’s done far more good than harm so far. We need to recognize, however, as Mathew Ingram wrote over the weekend, that “Like It or Not, WikiLeaks is a Media Entity.” What our government is trying to do to WikiLeaks now is lawless in stunning ways, as Salon’s Glenn Greenwald forcefully argued today.

These are also acts of outright censorship. No, Amazon is not bound by the First Amendment. But if it’s bowing to government pressure, it’s helping a panicked government tear up one of our most basic freedoms.

consitutional lawyer/columnist Glenn Greenwald, who has taken the lead on a lot of this, also has a column on how so much of the mainstream media has been recklessly repeating falsehoods and misinformation about the leaks and their affect.

Yet, at the same time, a small but growing number of journalists and editors are speaking out with a rising sense of unease.

For instance here’s what senior editor Amy Davidson said at the New Yorker:

…Beyond Assange and his own legal situation, there is something disturbing going on: Joe Lieberman hounding private companies (before any legal actions has been taken); the way the site was repeatedly taken down; calls by politicians and journalists to kill the leakers or have them treated as enemy combatants (what does that mean? Guantánamo?); the Swiss bank account frozen (the Swiss say Assange had a false address on his form; but our ambassador there has also said some heavy-handed things to them); Visa and MasterCard stopping all transactions related to WikiLeaks. One could say that this is part of the bargain WikiLeaks signed up for—what did they think would happen? But, if it is permissible to use these measures against the site, why couldn’t they be used against any media organization that published classified information? Why WikiLeaks and not the Times, Guardian, or Der Spiegel (or The New Yorker)? If it’s because they and we are more respectable—what does that even mean? Any talk of creative uses of the 1917 Espionage Act, as by Senator Dianne Feinstein, should make one wary. (Glenn Greenwald has been following the legal side of the story.) Not that that much due process seems to have been involved in efforts to shut the site down. Does it just take the Administration saying something is illegal for it to be illegal?

Good question.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Free Speech, Future of Journalism | 15 Comments »

15 Responses

  1. don quixote Says:

    A critical issue of our times Celeste, freedom of information and it’s twins, freedom of thought and speech.
    The plotting, and conspiratorial abuses of power commited by the CIA/US State Dept (one in the same nowadays and with a secret budget of Billions or Trillions to boot), and kept secret from us citizens and taxpayers, has now had some light shone on it by Wikileaks.
    Now we are witnessing the mad rush to shut down Wikileaks and punish Assange so severely that anyone else who might consider to furnish this sort of information in the future will be so frightened of the consequences that censorship and conspiracy will prevail.
    So we get to witness the enemies of free speech and democracy in full sunlight, Lieberman threatening legal action against the NY Times for publishing some of the Wikileaks info, Feinstein threatening use of the 1917 Espionage Act? ect; ect; ect;

    Bullshit! From the NY Times about those threats by our “representatives”;

    “This is less about stealing than it is about copying,” said John G. Palfrey, a Harvard Law School professor who specializes in Internet issues and intellectual property.

    Intellectual property law criminalizes the unauthorized reproduction of certain kinds of commercial information, like trade secrets or copyrighted music, films and software files. But those categories do not appear to cover government documents, which by law cannot be copyrighted and for which there is no ordinary commercial market.”

    I wonder now how those phonies complaining that China is trying to control it’s citizens use of the world wide web and information are going to justify the persecution of Wikileaks and Assange and still look at themselves in the mirror in the morning.
    George Orwell was right, he just was off on his dates, about 25 or 30 years.

  2. Answering The Question Says:

    I guess people thought the Patriot Act and that type of mentality would come to an end under the current administration. Nope. Same old same old. Surprise surprise.

  3. Answering The Question Says:

    Where did all of our outrage go? We we’re outraged about this crap prior to Jan. 2009. Now we just go along like little sheep.

    The war? No biggie now. Gitmo? It’s cool. The Patriot Act? Better things to talk about.


  4. Celeste Fremon Says:

    ATQ, I think there’s a lot of outrage out there and the WikiLeaks thing is bringing it to a boil.

  5. Pokey Says:

    Russia has suggested that Julian Assange should be awarded the Nobel peace prize, and I am with them.

    Makes a lot more sense than the last guy who got it!

    Also from what I can tell, about the charges against Assange, the charges are trumpted up we are all reminded of that the old saying — Hell has no fury like a woman scorned (and its Hells Bells if there are two of them like this case).
    Again, the only Politician that I am proud of is Ron Paul, who has defended Julian Assange and attacked the TSA for their Cancer causing body scanners and the gate rape of women and children.
    Now Obama/Big Sis is putting a 1984 looped video messages in Walmarts – “Report suspicious activity to your local police or sheriff” all over the country.

    So please remember what big sis says:


  6. Answering The Question Says:

    Here’s irony for you.
    Celeste, Don Quixote and Ron Paul are all on the same page re: Assange.

  7. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Ron Paul has been entirely clear and sane on the issue. One of the few.

  8. John Moore Says:

    One has to balance between freedom of speech and security. The Supreme Court has implied (in the Pentagon Papers case) that the government can both use prior restraint (read the ruling carefully), and prosecute post facto the publishers of secrets which damage the country in violation of the law. That NY Times members have not been charged is a matter of politics, not Constitutional law.

    But the Wikileaks case goes beyond that. Assange has a stated goal of harming the US war efforts. Pur more precisely, he is out to defeat us, in a way which will get our own people and our allies killed, which is the act of an enemy in wartime. He is also not a US citizen and not in US jurisdiction.

    Hence any actions taken against him outside our borders fall under the rules of how we deal with other enemy combatants, and we know how Obama treats them.

    The actions within our borders, such as Lieberman’s, are hardly the behavior of a police state. The government has a duty to investigate Amazon or anyone else who aids an enemy – just as Amazon has a perfect right to win in the courts. A Senator has a right, as an American, to state his opinion on the action.

    He does not have the power, and Amazon knows this, to harm Amazon as a result of their hosting the site. Hence this is hardly a significant act of government intimidation. Other internet providers acted on the same real motivation as Amazon: to remove service (their right as private companies) for public relations purposes.

    Also, journalists have their own house far out of order. From Woodward and Bernstein acting as pawns of our nation’s secret police (the AD of the FBI) in removing a president, to the NYT printing secrets and knowlingly seriously damaging our ability to defend ourselves, it’s pretty clear that the weight of danger is abuse of freedom of speech, not suppression thereof.

    If journalists are really for all these freedoms, they should make all internal memos at all news outlets available on the internet in real time. Otherwise, there’s hypocrisy afoot.

  9. Sure Fire Says:

    There’s only one question here, did Assange break the law? I think he did. Freedom of Speech isn’t absolute and to act as if it is doesn’t make it so.

  10. John Moore Says:

    He broke the Espionage Act in the US. Who knows what laws he broke in Sweden. There is one question, though, beyond that, Sure Fire – Bush and Obama have both used warfare means, in addition to legal means, against those waging war against us. In this case, that would most likely mean cyber-war, and use of intelligence assets to sabotage his operation, discourage those who cooperate with him, disrupt his organization, and damage his reputation.

  11. John Wright Says:

    Sure Fire says:
    “There’s only one question here, did Assange break the law? I think he did.”

    That might be the case but he’s Australian, not American.

    John Moore says:
    “He broke the Espionage Act in the US.”

    He’s Australian, not American. American laws don’t apply to foreigners.

  12. Answering The Question Says:

    So why are we allowing KSM to be tried in an American civilian court?

  13. John Moore Says:

    “He’s Australian, not American. American laws don’t apply to foreigners.”

    That is not true. We have tried foreigners for violating our laws plenty of times. Ask Manuel Noriega, now a resident of our federal prison system.

  14. Answering The Question Says:


  15. Answering The Question Says:

    “American laws don’t apply to foreigners”

    So then, I would assume you think giving enemy combatants who are captured on the battlefield the same rights as an American citizen who is arrested for stealing a car is a bunch of bullshit. Right?

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