Yes: Assange willfully set out to destroy the West, should face punishment
The United States may soon have the opportunity to request the extradition of WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange to its shores, which would allow criminal proceedings against him to finally begin.
Given his focused mission to cause momentous damage to the United States by disclosing secret and highly classified information, prosecution would be totally justified.
Let’s put this in context.
I am a strong supporter of exposing government corruption and wrongdoing. I also believe whistleblowers are the appropriate mechanism of last resort for accomplishing that goal.
But there’s a process whistleblowers must follow. It may not be perfect, but it allows abuses to be identified without compromising national security interests.
Whistleblowers in the intelligence community, including those working in the Defense Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, have such paths outlined in a precise manner.
The process allows for the exposure of corruption while protecting classified information and ensuring that whistleblowers do not face retaliation. This is a balanced approach that protects all parties.
Those who operate outside of the process — Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, the recent leakers at the CIA and those who leaked the information on former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn — are criminals. They broke the law and blatantly ignored the avenues established for whistleblowers.
Manning was accordingly charged and convicted. Snowden, still hiding abroad, should be tried and convicted. The more recent leakers must be too.
These leakers all assumed roles well beyond their job descriptions. They perceived themselves as singularly possessing the authority and the judgment to determine right and wrong and, in turn, jeopardized the security of the country — not to mention their colleagues.
Assange is no different. While he may not have actually physically stolen information, Assange has claimed possession of stolen materials and published them for the world to see. His public comments and actions clearly outline his motives and desire to fundamentally damage the West, the United States in particular.
There will be thousands of pages of legal debate written about Assange. The back-and-forth will focus on whether his actions constitute a new type of newsgathering and are thereby sheltered free speech.
They’re clearly not, though, and he ought to be tried and found guilty.
Moving forward, Congress must strengthen whistleblower protections, direct our intelligence agencies to better secure sensitive and classified data, and put in place a modern legal framework to prosecute those who leak and make available classified information. These measures will ultimately protect the United States and its citizens from traitors and individuals seeking its demise.
No: Assange is a political prisoner who’s exposed crimes and atrocities
Tribune News Service
Julian Assange is a political prisoner who has never been charged with a crime.
That few people know this and that large media outlets have conveniently ignored this fact is an indictment of all Western political leaders and journalists who claim to care about human rights and civil liberties but remain silent — or worse — about one of the world’s most famous prisoners of conscience.
In 2015, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that the governments of the United Kingdom and Sweden had arbitrarily detained Assange. They ordered his release and compensation.
He is, in effect, imprisoned in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where the government of Ecuador has granted him political asylum. If he tries to leave, he will be extradited to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning in a criminal case in which no charges have been brought.
But the real threat is that Sweden would extradite him to the United States, where a grand jury would likely indict him. In fact, it’s considered likely that a sealed indictment has already been prepared.
He would be imprisoned pending trial and could face life in prison or even the death penalty.
But Assange has not committed crimes. He and his WikiLeaks organization have committed acts of journalism, focusing in particular on defending human rights and civil liberties. That’s why he’s received so many journalism awards.
WikiLeaks’ real offense has been exposing the crimes of the most powerful people in the world.
Thanks to WikiLeaks, millions have seen the classified video of the U.S. military gunning down 18 people in Iraq, including two Reuters employees, in July 2007.
In July 2010, WikiLeaks published the Afghan War Diary, which included more than 75,000 previously secret reports from the U.S. military in Afghanistan.
The Iraq War Logs, which recorded over 66,000 civilian deaths in Iraq, were also released by WikiLeaks, exposing the widespread use of torture by Iraqi forces. The files indicate the U.S. may have known about the torture when it was turning over thousands of prisoners to Iraqi custody.
The thousands of diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks in November 2010 — in collaboration with major news outlets including The New York Times and The Guardian of London —also revealed human rights abuses, corruption and other crimes by various governments.
WikiLeaks also developed a methodology for protecting whistleblowers who expose abuses and crimes. Human rights advocates throughout the world have used WikiLeaks documents to challenge governments and defend their citizens in court and in the realm of public opinion.
It is not surprising that the most powerful people in the world, especially in the United States, would want to silence and punish someone who exposes their crimes and atrocities.
What is surprising, or should be, is that they could get so much help in doing so.
A former chairman of the U.S. House intelligence committee, Pete Hoekstra is a senior fellow at the Investigative Project on Terrorism. Readers may write him at IPT, 5614 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 34, Washington, D.C., 20015. Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. Readers may write him at CEPR, 1611 Connecticut Ave. N.W., suite 400, Washington, D.C., 20009.