Messenger: No man — Persian or Greek — no man threatens a messenger!
King Leonidas: You bring the crowns and heads of conquered kings to my city’s steps! You insult my queen. You threaten my people with slavery and death! Oh, I’ve chosen my words carefully, Persian. Perhaps you should have done the same!
Messenger: This is blasphemy! This is madness!
King Leonidas: Madness…? This! Is! SPARTA!
— “300″ (2006)
Julian Assange is the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks. Today he is behind bars because the messages WikiLeaks has brought to the world make some powerful people — particularly in the U.S. government — unhappy. The actual charges against Assange, often reported as “rape,” amount to having sex in Sweden without a condom. One of his accusers has ties to the CIA.
WikiLeaks has done more in recent weeks to protect freedom and democracy than the entire U.S. military and all of the politicians.
The Department of Justice is threatening to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act of 1917 (U.S.C. Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 37). This law is so broad that it can be construed to apply to foreign nationals overseas. Of course, if anyone at WikiLeaks is prosecuted for revealing secret information, then logically the DOJ would have to also go after a number of more established news organizations.
Glenn Greenwald, as you might imagine is all over this. Here he explains the logic of the Obama administration:
If you create an illegal worldwide torture regime, illegally spy on Americans without warrants, abduct people with no legal authority, or invade and destroy another country based on false claims, then you are fully protected. But if you expose any of the evils secretly perpetrated as part of those lawless actions — by publishing the truth about what was done — then you are an Evil Criminal who deserves the harshest possible prosecution.
Note that neither WikiLeaks nor Assange has yet been charged or indicted by the DOJ.
Contrary to some wild assertions of irresponsibility, WikiLeaks has posted to its website only 960 of the 251,297 diplomatic cables it has. Almost every one of these cables was first published by one of its newspaper partners which are disclosing them (The Guardian, the NYT, El Pais, Le Monde, Der Speigel, etc.).
UPDATE: Lieberman: ‘I Don’t Understand’ Why The Department Of Justice Hasn’t Charged Australian Assange With Treason (Get a clue, he’s not an American citizen!)
UPDATE: Irony? State Dept. criticizes Assange but plans to stage ‘Press Freedom Day’
Here is the gist of the story in Assange’s own words, from an op-ed in The Australian.
Democratic societies need a strong media and WikiLeaks is part of that media. The media helps keep government honest. WikiLeaks has revealed some hard truths about the Iraq and Afghan wars, and broken stories about corporate corruption.
People have said I am anti-war: for the record, I am not. Sometimes nations need to go to war, and there are just wars. But there is nothing more wrong than a government lying to its people about those wars, then asking these same citizens to put their lives and their taxes on the line for those lies. If a war is justified, then tell the truth and the people will decide whether to support it.
If you have read any of the Afghan or Iraq war logs, any of the US embassy cables or any of the stories about the things WikiLeaks has reported, consider how important it is for all media to be able to report these things freely.
WikiLeaks is not the only publisher of the US embassy cables. Other media outlets, including Britain’s The Guardian, The New York Times, El Pais in Spain and Der Spiegel in Germany have published the same redacted cables.
Yet it is WikiLeaks, as the co-ordinator of these other groups, that has copped the most vicious attacks and accusations from the US government and its acolytes. I have been accused of treason, even though I am an Australian, not a U.S., citizen. There have been dozens of serious calls in the US for me to be “taken out” by US special forces. Sarah Palin says I should be “hunted down like Osama bin Laden”, a Republican bill sits before the U.S. Senate seeking to have me declared a “transnational threat” and disposed of accordingly. An adviser to the Canadian Prime Minister’s office has called on national television for me to be assassinated. An American blogger has called for my 20-year-old son, here in Australia, to be kidnapped and harmed for no other reason than to get at me.
… Every time WikiLeaks publishes the truth about abuses committed by U.S. agencies, …politicians chant a provably false chorus: “You’ll risk lives! National security! You’ll endanger troops!” Then they say there is nothing of importance in what WikiLeaks publishes. It can’t be both. Which is it?
It is neither. WikiLeaks has a four-year publishing history. During that time we have changed whole governments, but not a single person, as far as anyone is aware, has been harmed. But the U.S. …has killed thousands in the past few months alone.
…In its landmark ruling in the Pentagon Papers case, the U.S. Supreme Court said “only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government”. The swirling storm around WikiLeaks today reinforces the need to defend the right of all media to reveal the truth.