The Arresting Story of Julian Assange

It isn’t just national security, although that is a concern.

It isn’t only the interference in our election, the making of Donald Trump, although that is a stain on history.

What makes me glad to see Julian Assange carried away is primal.

It wasn’t so much a perp-walk as a drag-along. CNN was on it:

London police have arrested WikiLeak’s founder, Julian Assange.

Alisyn Camerota, April 11, 2019

Some reactions were predictable.

In 2016, then candidate Donald Trump had been giddy about the hacking of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

WikiLeaks! I love WikiLeaks!

At rally in Wilkes-Barre, PA

I love reading those WikiLeaks!

In Wilmington, OH

In all, he publicly loved WikiLeaks over 160 times in the last few months of his campaign for President.

After Julian Assange was taken into British custody, he went all Sergeant Schultz over it.

I know nothing, I see nothing, and I say nothing. I know nothing!

from Hogan’s Heroes

Or as my President, who has trouble pronouncing origin, translated it from the orange German:

I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It’s not my thing.

Hillary Clinton was on stage at an event in New York:

The bottom line is he has to answer for what he has done, at least as it’s been charged. I do think it’s a little ironic that he may be the only foreigner that this administration would welcome to the United States.

Members of the British Parliament reportedly broke into loud cheers at the news of the arrest.

Friends who help me occupy our little corner of the ideological universe were, for the most part, cautiously gleeful. Assange did seem to go out of his way to attack Democrats and to occasionally befriend the more horrific denizens of the racially motivated parts of the rightmost fringe.

Yet a free press has exposed dangers to the Republic. A free press is an institution we should not, itself, expose to danger.

News personalities are also cautious. Will freedom of the press be threatened? Alisyn Camerota, the CNN reporter who announced the arrest, has an associate who helped out. Jeffrey Toobin is CNN’s legal analyst:

The WikiLeaks case, as far as the United States is concerned, has really raised very profound issues about press freedom and spying and what the differences between the two. You know, one of the the difficulties that the government has always had with WikiLeaks is how to define it. Because, you know, what journalists do frequently is receive classified information from sources and then publish it.

In one view of what WikiLeaks has done is that’s it! He has received information that the government doesn’t want published, and put it out on the internet. So how do you define what he’s doing as different from what Bob Woodward of The Washington Post does or The New York Times does where CNN does? Now we all sort of understand intuitively the difference. But defining the difference in a principled legal sense is not easy.

Some on the European left are openly dismayed.

Activist Naomi Colvin has been a supporter of Assange for years:

I think WikiLeak’s words are changing the world. In 2010, 2011, not only did they bring forward information of undoubted public interest, it has significantly expanded public understanding of diplomacy and the way the world works, but behind the scenes.

British journalist Vaughan Smith, a personal friend of Assange, compares him to others persecuted by society, both in modern and in ancient times.

There’s something about the way we deal with people in our society who stick out, who provide us with discomfort, sometimes discomfort that perhaps is good for us. I think you can judge a society by the way you do that.

I mean you can take an Alan Turing, for example, or Socrates. Generations in the future might view Julian Assange as completely different.

He’s managed to promote, you know, a huge discussion on transparency, which is an incredibly important discussion. And I think that’s what this is about.

This isn’t justice. This is a vendetta.

I have an opposing view about the part Mr. Assange occupies in what Dr. King called the arc of the moral universe.

In 2013, three years before Russia began its involvement in sabotaging US elections, Associated Press conducted a study into the tactics of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. They spoke with ordinary, non-activist people. Private information about rape victims had been published with abandon. Survivors of sexual abuse had found themselves suddenly part of public knowledge. Medical files belonging to ordinary citizens were published. A gay man in a harsh country was outed for no apparent reason.

Julian Assange had already spoken in 2010 about those harmed by unredacted revelations.

We’re faced with no easy choices. We are faced with certain economic constraints. We are faced with the reality that publication often brings justice and justice delayed is justice denied. We can’t sit on material like this for 3 years, with one person to go through the whole lot line by line to redact. We have to take the best road that we can.

One of those interviewed by Associated Press was Arthur Caplan. He is a Professor of Bioethics at the NYU Langone Medical Center.

So sometimes people involved with WikiLeaks say “Look, we’re doing a tremendous amount of public good. We’re advancing the public interest, and if a few people get harmed, you know, that’s going to be the price. You can’t make omelets without breaking eggs.”

I find that argument totally unacceptable.

The careless damage actually went way beyond those covered by the AP news study.

One act of carelessness came with the news that put WikiLeaks into public consciousness. In 2010, Assange published documents that included information about military atrocities committed by American troops. Also published were the identities of those who had reported planned terrorist attacks in return for promises of anonymity. There had always been a flow of behind the scenes information, but the election of Barack Obama made it a tsunami. Ordinary people, far from America’s shores, saw Obama as evidence that America would keep its promises.

WikiLeaks made some effort to redact many of the names. But the redaction had been careless. Some names were published. Identifying information on others – street names, occupations, other data – made thousands of actual names unnecessary. 77,000 such documents were released. In the months that followed, a measurable spike was seen in the murders of suspected informants and their families.

Years later, WikiLeaks apologized:

It was strategically a very wrong thing to do, although at the time it seemed tactically wise. It was wrong and we regret it.

Wikileaks, via Twitter, November 24, 2013

So that there be any misunderstanding, Assange clarified exactly for what he was apologizing. It was not for accidentally revealing the names of those who had helped prevent acts of terrorism.

It was for attempting any redaction at all.

Strategically redaction legitimizes the false propaganda of “information is dangerous”, confining moves. Gains are only tactical.

Wikileaks, via Twitter, November 24, 2013

The next 390,000 documents, over 5 times as many as had been published, dealt with Iraq. This time there was no effort to redact the names of those who suddenly found themselves in mortal danger.

Although I am not a lawyer, the televised explanations by legal experts seems compelling. A legitimate news reporter may publish information that is received, even if it is classified. There are some constraints of conscience. For example, the identities of rape victims are carefully concealed unless explicit permission is received.

Criminal acts are also forbidden. Reporters do not themselves break into files, even if those break-ins are electronic. They do not assist in, or even encourage, criminal acts. If they do, they can expect to be prosecuted. It seems that Mr. Assange is credibly accused of all of those acts.

As to comparisons of Mr. Assange to heroes of the past, I cannot match the evident education of Assange defender Vaughan Smith.

…Alan Turing, for example, or Socrates.

Age takes its toll on my fading memory. My knowledge of distant history has become a bit vague. I do not recall the story of Socrates deliberately exposing innocent people to deadly retaliation.

And Alan Turing? He did break codes. In fact, his breaking of enemy codes helped bring victory in World War II. That victory, and the end of the holocaust, should bring additional attention to the persecution of that hero for his sexual orientation. If, like Mr. Assange, Alan Turing deliberately exposed others to physical danger by publicizing their sexuality, my own education is even less complete than I had suspected.

As to Vaughn Smith’s overarching judgement,

This isn’t justice. This is a vendetta.

Mr. Smith is partially correct.

We are restricted by law.

Justice would be much less merciful.

Many thanks to our friend and partner Burr Deming of Fair and Unbalanced.

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Posted by on April 14, 2019. Filed under COMMENTARY/OPINION. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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3 Responses to The Arresting Story of Julian Assange

  1. Glenn Geist Reply

    April 15, 2019 at 9:11 am

    You can’t talk people out of their heroes or of what people make them into. We seem to need them though, no matter how much trouble they cause.

    • Michael John Scott Reply

      April 15, 2019 at 2:35 pm

      Men need Gods, or they think they do, so the closer they can get to worshipping one here on earth they happier they think they are.

  2. Timmy Mahoney Reply

    April 15, 2019 at 8:40 pm

    Julian Assange is a disgusting traitor who should be shot.

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