The Assange Arrest: Don’t Get Too Excited

The Assange Arrest: Don’t Get Too Excited April 12, 2019

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was arrested by London police Thursday morning, serving an extradition warrant from the United States. This could only happen because Ecuador, which had been allowing him to live at their embassy where law enforcement could not legally go, withdrew its protections and told the Brits they could have him.

British authorities arrested WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Thursday in response to a U.S. extradition request, and a U.S. federal court unsealed an indictment charging him with a single count of conspiracy to disclose classified information that could be used to injure the United States…

In an indictment unsealed hours later, Assange was accused of conspiring in 2010 with Chelsea Manning, a U.S. Army intelligence analyst then known as Bradley Manning, and others to publish secret military and diplomatic documents that Manning had collected.

On Facebook, I have seen over-the-top glee at his arrest, I assume because he published emails from the DNC and Clinton campaign manager Tony Podesta that hurt her chances in the 2016 election and helped elect Trump. But let me caution against such a reaction. Yes, in that circumstance it turned to be something bad for the left, but most of the material Wikileaks has published over the years has been documents from the government showing they’ve been lying to us or otherwise behaving badly. And this is something all liberals should be in favor of.

For instance, the one thing he has been charged with, publishing classified material provided by Chelsea Manning, was actually a very important set of leaks. It included unedited video of an American helicopter bombing journalists and American citizens in Iraq. That’s something the Pentagon had tried to cover up and the public needed to know about it. It also included diplomatic cables that showed major scandals at our embassies around the world. This is exactly the sort of thing we should want released to the public. It may be criminal, but that doesn’t make it wrong. Leaking the Pentagon Papers was illegal, but clearly the right thing to do. As the ACLU put it in their reaction:

Any prosecution by the United States of Mr. Assange for Wikileaks’ publishing operations would be unprecedented and unconstitutional, and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations. Moreover, prosecuting a foreign publisher for violating U.S. secrecy laws would set an especially dangerous precedent for U.S. journalists, who routinely violate foreign secrecy laws to deliver information vital to the public’s interest.

There are many, many examples of Wikileaks releasing something that the public had every right and need to know but that had been hidden by the government. Prior to 2016, most liberals generally favored what they were doing, though some expressed legitimate concerns about how they went about some of the leaks (they weren’t nearly careful enough to make sure innocent people were not identified quite often). And conservatives absolutely hated them and wanted them destroyed. After 2016 and the release of the DNC emails, they exchanged scripts and switched sides. So let’s be careful about analyzing this. There is both good and bad in their history. Sometimes reality is more complex than our emotional responses would like it to be.

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