Are Julian Assange and WikiLeaks Really The Bad Guys?

Last updated on February 9th, 2013 at 05:32 pm

Glenn Beck's Wanted List

Glenn Beck Labels Julian Assange and WikiLeaks Really Bad Guys

This morning Glenn Beck was railing on about WikiLeaks and how the government should have shut them down after they published diplomatic cables to and from the U.S. State Department. This we expected. But then he scoffed that the government shut down the copyright infringers making faux Prada bags and yet allowed WikiLeaks to prosper (if being under DDoS attack can be seen as prospering). Aside from the issue that WikiLeaks isn’t located in the US and isn’t under our laws, for a brief moment, Glenn Beck kind of made sense.

Here’s your Professor of Doom this morning:

While Beck’s general comparison has some validity, he missed the finer points of the issue. WkiLeaks is hosted by PRQ, a Sweden-based company providing “highly secure, no-questions-asked hosting services.” Beck might want to note that even if our government wished to override precedent set by the Supreme Court in the New York Times Co v United States case in which case it was ruled that “(I)n absence of governmental checks and balances”, per Justice Stewart, “the only effective restraint upon executive policy and power in [these two areas] may lie in an enlightened citizenry – in an informed and critical public opinion which alone can here protect the values of democratic government”, it’s forbidden by Swedish law for any administrative authority to make inquiries about the sources of any type of newspaper.

Beck assumes we should shut down WikiLeaks like we shut down the Prada infringers, in order to enjoin publication of the cables. In doing so, Beck skips over the tug of war between a transparent government and the protection of U.S. national security, the eternal tango between the need to limit power without rendering it impotent. As Lord Acton warned, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

But of course, the Right isn’t interested in limiting power when it comes to issues of national security. They want President Obama to shut down WikiLeaks like the Decider would have. For a look at the reasoning behind this, The Village Voice has exposed the Right’s feelings about WikiLeaks:

National Review’s Jonah Goldberg asked, “Why wasn’t Assange garroted in his hotel room years ago?” Goldberg asserted that the leaks were “going to get people killed, including brave Iraqis and Afghans who’ve risked their lives and the lives of their families to help us.” Nonetheless, he lamented, “Even if the CIA wanted to take him out, they couldn’t without massive controversy. That’s because assassinating a hipster Australian Web guru as opposed to a Muslim terrorist is the kind of controversy no official dares invite.”

“WikiLeaks About To Leak Again and The Obama Administration Is Limp,” wrote Chandler’s Watch, further claiming that the White House “responds to the WikiLeaks bunch with cookies and milk” and suggesting its “possible complicity in this WikiLeak matter.”

The Right will always support the expansion of governmental powers under the guise of “security”, so this is no surprise. The general gist of the Right’s reaction is Obama should have assassinated Julian Assange, but since he’s too chicken to, the Right is happy to have our national security at risk if it allows them to use the information to bring down Obama.

“Which may be why Morrissey was moved to wonder, “What’s the ‘anti-war’ motive, though, in releasing a few hundred thousand diplomatic cables? Progressives are forever telling us that we need to rely less on Defense and more on State, and yet it sounds like today’s leak will do much greater damage to the latter than the previous leaks did to the former.””

Yes, that’s the question; Why is WikiLeaks doing this and why do some of the Left support it? WikiLeaks states that its “primary interest is in exposing oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we also expect to be of assistance to people of all regions who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations.” So the goal is to reveal unethical behavior in government. How does revealing the opinions of diplomats about other heads of states combat either repressive or unethical behavior?

The argument for transparency is a legitimate one, but that’s not the exact argument being put forth in defense of WikiLeaks. However, in addressing the delicate balance between transparency and unlimited power, it’s worth noting what Nancy Kranich put forth in her public policy report, The Information Commons: “[I]f the public’s right to know is to be protected in today’s world, citizens must have optimal opportunities to acquire and exchange information. The stakes are high, for as the Supreme Court noted years ago, American democracy requires ‘the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources.'” Exceptions are routinely made for issues of National Security, but nonetheless, active citizens of a democracy will always engage in push-back against the secrecy of their government.

In the past the Left has supported WikiLeaks in revealing military secrets that they hoped would expose the US government’s agenda and lead to ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so one can argue that the Left feels that exposure of the government will lead to a stronger argument for peace. But are the chances of peace higher after the WikiLeak’s cable dump? The leaked documents will destabilize our diplomatic efforts and hinder the State Department’s efforts to continue dialogue with our allies, and for these reasons a cessation of war is not the inevitable result of the WikiLeak’s dump.

I suspect that two things will come out of these documents that were not intended. One, the Right will be far more embarrassed by documents released than President Obama (that is, by rational readers) and two, the Left will discover just why Obama has appeared to walk back his anti-war stance to the degree that it can be argued he did such (I don’t subscribe to this notion, but it’s a legitimate complaint, especially in light of how much of the support Obama received from the Left was based upon the differences between his and Hillary Clinton’s reactions to the invasion of Iraq).

Destroying our diplomatic efforts is no way to wage war for peace. WikiLeaks appears to be acting irresponsibly in the manner that they’ve gone about publishing these documents, but Glenn Beck’s suggestion that President Obama should shut them down is more of the Right’s knee-jerk support for anything defense oriented. There are legitimate needs for having the ability to expose governmental corruption and thereby attempt to hold a government accountable and responsible to the citizens. However, copyright-protected Prada bags are not the same as sensitive government documents. Leave it to Beck to classify them as such.

Julian Assange and WikiLeaks can provide an important service to the oppressed and to all citizens concerned with governmental abuses of power. In this specific case, even had the US government wanted to shut them down by legal means, they lack the authority to do so, but the government’s inability to shut them down doesn’t automatically infer that WikiLeaks acted responsibly or ethically.

As he’s wont to do, Beck’s assertion that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are “really bad guys” oversimplifies a complex matter. While they aren’t bad guys, the road to hell was paved with good intentions, and I’m afraid they’ve paved the road to hell for US diplomatic efforts. In the inevitable war between transparency and state secrets, neither should be automatically subordinate to the other without sober consideration for the consequences.

Sarah Jones

Listen to Sarah on the PoliticusUSA Pod on The Daily newsletter podcast here. Sarah has been credentialed to cover President Barack Obama, then VP Joe Biden, 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and exclusively interviewed Speaker Nancy Pelosi multiple times and exclusively covered her first home appearance after the first impeachment of then President Donald Trump. Sarah is two-time Telly award winning video producer and a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. Connect with Sarah on Post,  Mastodon @PoliticusSarah@Journa.Host, & Twitter.

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