Wikileaks: Where Do You Stand?

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Wikileaks founder Julian Assange

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange

In recent weeks, the news has been dominated by the Wikileaks disclosure of classified State Department documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most recently, in the name of freedom of speech, defenders of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange have been mounting hacking attacks on those trying to disavow him, ranging from Amazon.com and PayPal (for cutting off Wikileaks access) to the Swedish prosecutor who accuses him of rape.

Should the OPC's Freedom of the Press Committee be defending Wikileaks and Assange? We haven't done so, on several grounds. For one thing, we three FOP co-chairs don't agree with Assange's basic position that all secrets should automatically be exposed; if spilled, some would damage national security and risk lives, and we believe the New York Times did the right thing in weeding out such material before printing the Wikileaks dump.

For another, Assange needs no help from us in getting his viewpoint known, since everything he gets his hands on lands on front pages around the world. If anything, he enjoys a little too much freedom of the press.

Finally, we object to those defending him by somehow conflating the Swedish charge of rape with an attempt to silence Wikileaks. Changing the subject is a classic tactic to use against women claiming rape.

But this is not an open-and-shut case, and clearly an issue of moment for practicing journalists. We invite OPC members to weigh in on the issue and tell us what you think. Log in to the website, comment on this article and take the poll.

-- Jeremy Main, Larry Martz and Kevin McDermott

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Aimee Vitrak's picture
Aimee Vitrak on 21 December 2010 - 4:33pm
David Andelman's picture
David Andelman on 19 December 2010 - 10:38am

As the president of this august institution, the Overseas Press Club, I’ve refrained from weighing in until now, but have certainly followed the debate in this column with close and compelling interest. I should add the caveat that even now, my views do not in any sense represent the official position of the club (which may or may not adopt one), its Freedom of the Press Committee or the board of directors.

What I do believe is that WikiLeaks is, by and large, not an entirely negative phenomenon. I fear, however, that Julian Assange is perhaps a somewhat unfortunate, even distasteful, poster-boy for the whistleblower formula he espouses and for which he has become not only the champion but the prime mover. Yet WikiLeaks as an institution itself may be serving a critical purpose. In the Spring issue of the magazine I edit, World Policy Journal, we ran a letter from inside a federal penitentiary by Bradley Birkenfeld, who turned over to American authorities the names and Swiss bank accounts of hundreds of American tax evaders. He pointed out that by punishing any single leaker we inevitably turn off a host of such potential sources in the future. Yet the leaker, or carried to a contemporary extreme the whistleblower, has been a mainstay of our profession as journalists from time immemorial.

Many of us will recall the case of James Reston of The New York Times, who learned of the Bay of Pigs invasion before it took place, yet after a personal request from President Kennedy, refrained from publishing. Later, after its all but catastrophic failure, the President told Reston it would probably have been for the best had he ignored the presidential plea.

It is my firm belief that in the end, it should be up to each of us as professional journalists to make the ultimate decision whether to publish leaked information. In that sense, we make a host of critical decisions every day. Is the source of the leak credible? Does the information check out from other sources, and how do we source it in the first place? Is it of sufficiently compelling interest, in other words is it “news”?

As for Wikileaks, should we in fact excoriate the conduit of the unveiled information? In the case of the Pentagon Papers, should it have been The New York Times and Washington Post that were prosecuted (even in the face of the protection granted by the U.S. Constitution) or Daniel Ellsberg, the leaker? Of course many felt that it should have been those malignant souls who got us into the Vietnam war in the first place who should have been the targets of venom.

In the case of the latest WikiLeaks dump, this is a real mother lode. Contained here is a window into history as it is being made—uncensored, un-redacted. Many historians are clicking their heels that they will not have to wait until archives are declassified under a Freedom of Information Act request 50 years from now and then only heavily redacted. Journalists are delighted at the ability to shine a light into many of the darkest corners, the underside, of the events they are reporting every day. Ironically, even some foreign officials are privately pleased that their inner-most fears are being surfaced while maintaining some deniability as to the origins of these views.

Without question, sources and methods should likely be protected in some fashion. The problem is, who is to be the “decider”? Is it the same people who created this material in the first place? Their intention is all too often to sweep their colossal errors under the carpet of history, hoping that a half century hence they will be gone or the material of only marginal interest and of negligible ability to influence the events that they’d polluted. In this immediate case we are debating, as Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6 observed to me recently, most of this series of WikiLeaks are barely classified—confidential or perhaps secret, but hardly top secret or higher (though not surprisingly, he’s opposed to the WikiLeaks operation).

In the end, I suppose, we must deal with WikiLeaks as we deal with any of the world’s most responsible news media. Certainly, I would hope none of us espouses the concept of some governmental authority deciding what should appear on the front page of The Times tomorrow (as was the case with Soviet media in the communist era). If such material passes the litmus test of responsible journalists and commentators, the public has a right to know.

Joel Whitney's picture
Joel Whitney on 21 December 2010 - 11:27pm

Well said, David.

Linda Holmes's picture
Linda Goetz Holmes on 18 December 2010 - 3:35pm
No, I don't think the Freedom of the Press Committee should defend Assange. By not redacting names, he has put some people's lives at risk. Now suddenly he is calling his people "journalists." Ah me!
Richard Garella's picture
Rich Garella on 17 December 2010 - 8:06pm

Should the OPC's Freedom of the Press Committee be defending Wikileaks and Assange from what? Since Wikileaks is not accused of rape, I assume you must mean from attacks on their rights to publish. If that's the case I disagree with all three of the grounds you cite.

Firstly, the fact that the three FOP co-chairs disagree with "Assange's basic position" is irrelevant. It is not for you to withhold support for press freedom because you disagree with the philosophy of the person in question. It's your role to support press freedom, period. Separately, you may argue -- we in the press need to argue -- about ethics and propriety. But if you, the FOP committee, pick and choose whose press freedom to defend, you become a collaborator with those who would restrict that freedom.

Secondly, whether Assange gets on the front page a lot is hardly a concern. He does not control how he is portrayed there. He does not own these front pages. Your statement, "If anything, he enjoys a little too much freedom of the press" is frankly chilling if it isn't a joke. As co-chairs of the FOP Committee I would urge you to take the position that there is no such thing as too much freedom of the press. (However, it is reasonable to allocate your efforts and maximize your impact. I'm not saying you should spend all your time on this case when there are others crying for attention.)

Thirdly, that you "object to those defending him by somehow conflating the Swedish charge of rape with an attempt to silence Wikileaks" should have no bearing on your decision  whether to support Assange's and Wikileaks's rights. It seems that it is you who are conflating the cases. Why predicate your response on your disapproval with some of Assange's defenders, and over a matter that you yourselves seem to say is unrelated?

Your concern should strictly be for press freedoms. Will journalists and the rest of us for that matter retain our freedoms or not? Even in the absence of formal charges against Assange and Wikileaks for publishing the cables, I hope it is the role of the Freedom of the Press Committee to oppose what appears to be a campaign to institute new forms of prior censorship. While it is true that all freedoms are balanced against each other, you are speaking to press freedom. Rather than attempt to balance press freedom against other freedoms I urge you to support press freedom at every turn. The rest of society is there do the balancing. In other words, you're not the court, you're an advocate of press freedom. I hope.

Many of the commenters here are focusing on whether it is a good thing or a bad thing that Wikileaks has done. That's an important debate to have, but it has nothing to do with the question raised above. Whether Assange is an utter bastard or not, whether the publication of the cables endangers national security or not, whether he is a rapist or not, the right to publish information is fundamental. Ellsberg has it, I have it, you have it, Assange has it. Or none of us has it.

Allan Swenson's picture
Allan Swenson on 16 December 2010 - 1:14pm

Anyone who provides classified information that risks lives of military or civilians is as bad as a terrorist. This is NOT a freedom of expression issue.  This character should be held responsible for any lives lost because of his arrogant Wikileaks exposure of government files.

The Frontline Club's picture
The Frontline Club on 27 January 2011 - 4:07pm

Where is the evidence for these leaks putting lives at risk, Allan?

And surely the real risk to civilians is 'the military' when it engages on ill-founded and poorly managed wars?

The use of the word terrorism is absurd. Where is the terror in leaking?

I recall being a British Army officer in Northern Ireland 30 years ago being shot at by people we called terrorists then. The bullets were paid for by Americans.

Vaughan Smith, in a personal capacity from the 'Mansion'.

Ian Williams's picture
Ian Williams on 16 December 2010 - 10:03am

I have to disagree with Larry Mertz.

 

JFK was sponsoring an invasion which was illegal under US law, since it did not have Congressional mandate, and illegal under international law, not to mention being a major blunder. Far from being treasonous it was the public  and patriotic duty of the NYT to expose the story. That is another reason to support WikiLeaks... recent history is filled with ill-conceived wars planned and carried out in inept and illegal ways, and the more public light and attention to such blunders and crimes, the better for all concerned.

Cait Murphy's picture
Cait Murphy on 15 December 2010 - 7:14pm

It might become a free-speech issue, but it is not one yet. He is being prosecuted for rape, and while the charge is dubious, it is not one related to press freedom. If the U.S. or any other country attempts to prosecute him for the actual leaks, then and only then does this become a free-speech issue.

My own opinion is that this WikiLeaks was wrong. Diplomats need to be able to be candid; confidentiality is the norm in many professions -- including journalism -- and is not inherently troubling. But being wrong and being criminal are two different things. I suggest the committee not do anything until he is charged with something directly related to the leaks.  

Owen Matthews's picture
Owen Matthews on 15 December 2010 - 4:33pm

Holstein, what do Assange's motivations have to do with this? He received a fantastic trove of leaked material and decided to publish - as did the New York Times, the Guardian and others. As journalists, that was the only choice open to them. Would you prefer the alternative scenario, of media editors deciding to remain silent in the interests of - what? National security? So far I see nothing particularly secret to have come out of the published cables. Of patriotism? Again, nothing in the cables seems to jeopardize US lives or interests. By your logic, the Pentagon Papers should not have been published because they embarrassed the administration - which was the "motivation" of both leakers and publishers. Frankly I am amazed that this is even being debated among a community of journalists. Debate between journalists and the government, perhaps. But if you are a journalist your clear obligation is to publish - unless you are clearly endangering lives. If you don't agree, I respectfully suggest that you are in the wrong profession.  

Sudip Mazumdar's picture
Sudip Mazumdar on 16 December 2010 - 7:55am

I totally agree with Owen. Why are we even debating this issue ? Assange's motivation or his alleged rape accusation have nothing to do with the lies, murder, artifice, dangerous obfuscation etc that have been perpetrated in the name of national security. This is a common ruse of all governments. None of the arguments against not publishing these has been proved right. No source has been killed. No national security has been threatened. If at all, the liars and the cheats and killers have been exposed. Instead, people have come to know in greater and horrifying details how governments work. We will fail in our duty as journalists if we let the issue be clouded by extraneous consideration. For the first time in history we have a situation where ordinary citizens feel empowered by the knowledge of their governments' wrong doing and this strengthens democracy and makes people in power more accountable. Let's throw our weight behind moves for greater disclosure of such lies and deceit.

William J. Holstein's picture
Bill Holstein on 15 December 2010 - 3:27pm

I'm not convinced that this is a free speech issue that the American media should embrace. We have to ask ourselves, what is the motivation of Julian Assange? Is he discharging the noble Fourth Estate functions of the media, which is to serve as a check and balance against the executive, legislative and judical branches of government? Or is he trying to tear down governments and the global economic system to advance his radical ideals of anarchy? I think the evidence supports the latter view.

I'm not happy that the Swedes are trying to nail him on rape charges that appear to be very thin, at best. But I find it hard to think of Assange as a media hero.

Larry Martz's picture
Larry Martz on 15 December 2010 - 6:15pm

There are no absolute rights, including freedom of the press; all rights are constrained when they conflict with other rights. As Oliver Wendell Holmes famously observed, my freedom to swing my fist ends somewhere short of your nose. By the same token, some secrets should not be exposed. The Freedom of the Press Committee would endorse the New York Times's decision not to print its scoop that the United States was about to invade Cuba, even though President John F. Kennedy later said (wisecracked, really) that he wished the Times had done it. Disclosing the secret would clearly have doomed any chance that the Bay of Pigs invasion could succeed, and would have cost even more lives if Kennedy had gone ahead with it. And the Times would -- rightly, in my view -- have been condemned as treasonous.

WikiLeaks is not about press freedom; it's about mischievous anarchy, in the name of exposing everybody's secrets except its own. That isn't a goal the OPC should be endorsing.

Dinah Kung's picture
Dinahleekung on 15 December 2010 - 3:21pm

I strongly support Wikileaks, recalling that all of my best stories were substantiated by leaked documents or information which made the authors enormously uncomfortable but deserved exposure. One had to recognize the motivation of the informant/leaker but more often than not, the information was worth reporting on its own terms.

I think we've learned a great deal from the latest flood of information, and ironically, much of it favourable to the portrait of the U.S. foreign policy community, which I gather was the intended "target."

I think quite a few people feel obliged to "personalize" the Wikileaks story by confusing the issue of free flow of information with the specific motivation of Assange or the man's personality. We can be aware of these elements without confusing Wikileaks as a force to be reckoned with, a cyber version of what basic reporting has been about forever...getting the inside story and giving it to the voters or the voteless.

Dinah Lee Kung, formerly BusinessWeek, NPR, Econonmist, Washington Post and Far Eastern Economic Review.

Thomas Fenton's picture
Thomas Fenton on 15 December 2010 - 2:36pm

Will WikiLeaks change journalism?
December 6, 2010 17:00

LONDON — Is the WikiLeaks dump of diplomatic cables a victory for transparency? Will it change the way governments deal with each other? Will it be seen as a new and better form of journalism?

I think we have already seen enough to know the answer. It's clearly no.

So what exactly does it all add up to? Well for one thing, the newspapers that formed a consortium to publish these leaks are receiving stolen goods and selling them to the public. And they are doing it in a strange way for media that normally take pride in scoops and competition.

There is no competition in this arrangement, with the cartel deciding which topics will be released on which days. It reminds me of the old Soviet Pravda newspaper — which used to hold weekly editorial meetings to decide that the news will be on the following week. Monday the news will be about a new hydroelectric project, Tuesday the headlines will be about the harvest, etc. The Wikileaks pre-selected diet of topics is not news. It's news management. It is being released piecemeal for maximum impact.

One of the first things I learned as a journalist is that you should not sit on news. But that's what the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Der Spiegel and Le Monde are doing. Now that they have shown us a week's worth of their treasure trove, what else are they sitting on?

Last week, I put that question to their spokesman, Kristinn Hrafnsson. “You will have to wait and see,” he replied. He was vague when I asked him who decides which topics will be released on which days. And he refused to tell me who is funding the WikiLeaks staff, explaining that “donations” were being held in a blind trust in Germany. When it comes to talking about their own organization, WikiLeaks is remarkably opaque for an organization that is supposed to promote transparency.

Of course, it has reasons to be cautious. Its founder and leader, Australian journalist Julian Assange, is reportedly hiding somewhere outside London while the British police and Interpol decide what to do about a Swedish warrant for his arrest on charges of sexual misconduct.

The WikiLeaks website has been the target of repeated cyber attacks and technology companies have been pressured by the U.S. and other governments to stop hosting it on the internet.

Mark Stephens, Assange's British lawyer, says his client is keeping back a number of sensational diplomatic cables that automatically will be released if WikiLeaks is completely shut down or something happens to Assange. He calls it Assange's “thermonuclear device.”

Meanwhile the cables between American diplomats abroad and the State Department that have been published so far are hardly bombshells. Most of them confirm what outsiders already knew from a careful reading of the press. It is not news that Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi is a scandalous womanizer, that the Russian government is deeply corrupt or that the Saudi royal family hates the mullahs who rule Iran.

It is embarrassing to see such frank comments published, but much of the stuff is more embarrassing for the foreign officials who are the subjects of the diplomatic cables than for the U.S. government.

There was one item, however, that did put the State Department in a very bad light: a request that American diplomats collect “biometric data” and other personal details such as credit card and frequent flyer numbers of United Nations staff and other foreign officials, presumably to facilitate tracking their movements. That crosses the line between diplomacy and spying.

The leaked cables will at least initially make foreign officials and informants less open in their dealings with American diplomats, for fear that the U.S. government can't keep a private conversation private. But it won't stop governments from conducting business behind closed doors. Treaties are not hammered out in public in the presence of the press and public. They are crafted from compromises patiently negotiated behind the scenes. That's the way diplomacy works best, whether Julian Assange likes it or not.

As for Assange's belief that he has scored a victory for openness in government, his legacy is likely to be the opposite. The State Department and Pentagon will tighten up what is clearly very loose security in their systems for preventing the unauthorized release of classified information.

And for the newspapers who accepted and sold his stolen goods, they might have edited the cables to protect the lives of some of the sources, but they hardly deserve awards for enterprising journalism.

Eva Schweitzer's picture
Eva Schweitzer on 15 December 2010 - 2:29pm

Yes, I absolutely think this is a First Amendment case. If that isn't, what is? If it is possible to persecute Assange, then what will be next? Persecute the editor of the Guardian if he enters the USA? Or somebody in the U.S. who links to Wikileaks?

I'm also not seeing how Assange is endangering lives, especially after a bloody war that claimed up to a million lives in Iraq and Afghanistan and might very well engulfe more countries. If this is a concern, where were these people when the U.S. denied entrance to Iraqis who worked for the U.S. Army? That was actually endangering lives.

I agree that it does endager the careers of quite a few diplomats. Maybe we can pass our hats around for them.

As for the rape charges, I consider myself a feminist, but these women are not doing any real rape victim a favor. They have obviously cooked up a rape charge after they found out that he had sex with both of them, to get back to him. This doesn't make him a great character by any means, and I would slap him, if that were me, but do you really want to live in a world when you can be sued for rape because you have been unfaithful or when you didn't manage to get your lover an orgasm and thus she feels exploited (I‘m exaggerating a little bit but this is what that leads to)?

I am also not sure why it would be a wildcard conspiracy theory that the U.S. goverment puts pressure on foreign countries to extradite people it wants to get its hands on. The USA ABDUCTs people from foreign countries; you might want to read the Wikileaks files about the El Masri case.

As for the "freedom of expression of Paypal" ... puuuleeaase! A money transfer company that keeps the money it should be transferring for whatever reasons should be put out of business by the authorities for embezzlement. This is on the same alley then corporations being people and can vote for the president.

Ian Williams's picture
Ian Williams on 15 December 2010 - 2:21pm

This is a column I did last week for Dvevni Avaz in Sarajevo...  Of course it is a freedom of press issue. US diplomats should follow the Facebook rule - if you don't want people to see it, don't post it.

Julian Assange and WikiLeaks were very astute in leaking to an international spread of newspapers. They released the US diplomatic cables to newspapers in France, Germany, Spain, the US and Britain. That countered the pressure on editors, particularly in the US, to appease their governments. Any newspaper that was too attentive to government wishes would risk their foreign rivals scooping them, and the internet would soon make that apparent to their own readership.

In the old days, spying was about photographing, microdots, and invisible ink to copy files spread over kilometers of filing cabinets that would take a lifetime to look over. Now a government’s entire archives can be carried out in a flash drive or two and mined for key words. Out of those milions of Americans we can assume that some will be sharing their access with Russians, Chinese, Israelis and other interested parties, quite apart from the statistically significant chance that out of those millions there are going to be some with principles or axes to grind.

With literally millions of American personnel permitted access to these documents, the lesson for the US government is the usual advice for anyone on Facebook. Privacy is illusory: if you put it on the net then it will be seen.

This huge horde of diplomatic cables almost certainly came from the same source as the original Pentagon documents on the Iraq Wars, which was apparently Sergeant Bradley Manning, who bragged "Hillary Clinton and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack." He is now in prison, but not yet charged.

But while the video of the helicopter attack that killed Reuters’ staff in Baghdad revealed prima facie evidence of a war crime, (which, incidentally, the Pentagon does not appear to be investigating), the latest leaks are amusing, but scarcely earthshaking. They expose the hypocrisy of politicians and diplomats and will perhaps make them more wary of substantiating the revelations with their public behaviour from now on.

For example, the revelation of complicity by the new head of the IAEA with the US over Iran will certainly bolster skepticism and resistance within his own organization about the campaign against Iran. The dismissive opinions about the Turkish government are likely to accentuate rather than blunt its independent line, while revelations that Arab governments, regardless of the views of their people, have been implicitly conniving with Israel to spur Washington into a military attack on Teheran might well inhibit such views. But all this is apparent to anyone who was observing the region. What WikiLeaks has done is to move such information from the opinion columns to the news pages.

That is important. It forces governments to justify their decisions in a field, foreign policy, where, even in democratic countries the public are often neither informed nor consulted.

In 1917, the Bolsheviks exposed the sordid secret diplomacy that had brought the world to war and that is why the League of Nations said that any treaty not registered with it was not binding. By 1945, Yalta, Potsdam and other agreements had tempered that and the UN Charter (Art 102) simply says such treaties cannot be invoked before any organ of the UN.

So, for example, if Richard Holbrooke had came to a personal deal with Milosevic, as the evidence of American reactions to Croat and Bosniak success in Operation Storm would suggest, the parties were clever enough to do it verbally, rather than in writing. But even it were in writing, it could not be invoked before the UN. Even both sides would want to keep the deal secret as they betrayed their respective proteges. It is the job of journalists to reveal such information, and the self-appointed task of governments to keep it secret. When governments are formulating or practicing policies in secret, they deserve exposure.

The media has responsibilities - to ensure that the innocent are not put at risk, for example - but protecting politicians and diplomats from embarrassment is not one of them. On the contrary, that is what real journalism is about.

Mark Seibel's picture
Mark Seibel on 14 December 2010 - 5:51pm

Too much freedom of the press? Glad my name's not attached to that statement.

Jeremy Main's picture
Jeremy Main on 15 December 2010 - 4:04pm

There are limits to the freedom of the press beyond the obvious one making it illegal to cry fire falsely in a crowded space. When the Chicago Tribune revealed in World War II that the U.S.Navy had broken the Japanese code (a feat that led to the victory at Midway), the Trib committed an act of sheer treason. The only thing that saved the paper from prosecution was that a trial might have drawn the attention of the Japanese to a vital piece of information that they apparently had missed.

The case of Wikileaks clearly falls far short of what the Trib did.  Apparently the material was handled with some responsibility by the press.  The Times checked with the State Department to make sure it didn’t commit any serious breaches. However, we don’t yet know what damage may really have been done – whether, for instance, any of our agents or allies will be killed because of the leaks. We can see a reasonable argument on both sides of the case. Indeed, a Financial Times columnist wrote yesterday the American should give Assange a medal because the leaks revealed that American diplomats say that same thing in private as they do in public. “Conspiracy theorists around the world must be deeply disappointed,” the columnist wrote, to discover that there is little evidence of bad faith or double-dealing in American diplomacy.  On the other hand, Harold Evans, who certainly has good freedom of the press credentials, said in a talk yesterday that the Wikileak people “were a bunch of anarchist thugs” (applause) who may get people beheaded.

Reasonable arguments can be made on both sides of the case.  If an investigative journalists digs into a specific case of government malfeasance (the Gulf of Tonkin, Watergate), that is justifiable. However, indiscriminately broadcasting the entire correspondence of our diplomats is irresponsible.  We all – as individuals, as companies (even in the media), as governments -- need, deserve and protect a certain level of privacy. If everything we said or wrote could be made public we would all suffer total writer’s block.

Kevin McDermott's picture
Kevin McDermott on 9 December 2010 - 10:54pm

The ethics of what Wikileaks does is not under discussion.  The question before the house is whether there are issues of free expression at stake, and the answer is self-evidently no.

Julian Assange, who is what we talk about when we talk about Wikileaks, has access to the leading media outlets on earth.  The news he makes is picked up and amplified by media platforms around the world.  To see what silenced expression really looks like click over to the most recent work of the press-freedom committee.  In, say, Juarez, Mexico, now one of the most dangerous beats on the planet.  Or in the Philippines, where the killers of 32 journalists a year ago have yet to identified let alone brought to justice.  Compare that to Assange’s experience and the claim that he’s somehow a free-speech crusader looks—well, the best word is absurd.

Making the claim more absurd are the actions of some of Assange’s supporters.  Hackers, for example, have tried to bring down PayPal, Amazon and MasterCard subsequent to their commercial decision not to support Wikileaks—denying someone else’s right to free expression, in other words, in a fit of pique.

Worse is the slander against two Swedish women who charged Assange with rape well before the most recent release of documents—charges that caused him to flee Sweden last summer.  The suggestion seems to be that Sweden’s criminal courts can be suborned by agents of an embarrassed United States.  Much worse is the implication that the two women are lying, undermining Assange and his work.  That’s been the traditional defense of powerful men to a charge of sexual assault since—well, since how long have there been powerful men?  Read the charge sheet at Assange’s extradition hearing in London and the accusations are very serious and very specific.

I don’t know what Julian Assange is, but he’s no martyr to free expression.



Tala Dowlatshahi's picture
Tala Dowlatshahi on 10 December 2010 - 3:21pm

Please find the latest Reporters Without Borders statement on Wikileaks attacks:

http://en.rsf.org/united-states-wikileaks-appeals-for-help-as-06-12-2010,38970.html

Aimee Vitrak's picture
Aimee Vitrak on 9 December 2010 - 3:05pm

Arresting Assange on rape charges feels like how Capone when down for tax evasion. Assange is no prince, but the timing of the charges and arrest are curious. It's also important not to conflate personal feelings of repulsion for Assange and press freedom, like the ACLU and Skokie. The organization's decision to defend a Nazi group's freedom to assemble in a largely Jewish Chicago suburb still angers some people, but I do believe it was the right decision as it defended a core First Amendment issue, not the message of the Nazi party.

Now, does the public have a right to know about how our ambassadors and diplomats feel about global leaders? In reading some of the reports, I'm frankly impressed with the candor and breadth of knowlege of the people we have installed -- it also devolves into such a cat fight, Putin and Medev as Batman and Robin? This puts me at considerable ease especially after the disasterous previous 8 years of "U.S. diplomacy." However, these reports being leaked and given to the press could be labeled as espionage and I wonder if this is the track prosecutors will take. Any prosecution, however, could have stark consequences for journalists in the future, which makes me believe a defense of Wikileaks is in order.

It's easy for us to rally around clear and popular speech issues that happen in countries like China or Russia, but let's not shy away from a defense of Assange merely because he is repugnant to some or because he gets plenty of press.

Aimee Vitrak's picture
Aimee Vitrak on 14 December 2010 - 7:17pm

Columbia J-School Staff weighs in on Wikileaks:

Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism faculty and officers tell President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder that “while we hold varying opinions of Wikileaks’ methods and decisions, we all believe that in publishing diplomatic cables Wikileaks is engaging in journalistic activity protected by the First Amendment” and that “as a historical matter, government overreaction to publication of leaked material in the press has always been more damaging to American democracy than the leaks themselves.”

Aimee Vitrak's picture
Aimee Vitrak on 15 December 2010 - 4:02pm

Vaughan Smith of The Frontline Club writes:

I attended court today to offer my support for Julian Assange of Wikileaks on a point of principle.

In the face of a concerted attempt to shut him down and after a decade since 9/11 that has been characterised by manipulation of the media by the authorities, the information released by Wikileaks is a refreshing glimpse
into an increasingly opaque world."

The Frontline Club was founded seven years ago to stand for independence and transparency.

Recent informal canvassing of many of our more than 1,500 members at the Frontline Club suggests almost all are supportive of our position.

I am suspicious of the personal charges that have been made against Mr Assange and hope that this will be properly resolved by the courts. Certainly no credible charges have been brought regarding the leaking of the
information itself.

I can confirm that Mr Assange has spent much of  the last several months working from our facilities at the Frontline Club. Earlier today I offered him an address for bail.

7pm. Tuesday 7 December. ---

Vaughan Smith

The Frontline Club's picture
The Frontline Club on 19 December 2010 - 5:17pm

I see that you have posted my statement of 7 December above.  Matters have moved on since then.

I wrote a piece for the UK's Independent newspaper last week on why I have given WikiLeaks' Julian Assange a place to stay (on my farm) as part of the conditions of his recent release on bail.

'I ponder the disservice to Julian done by the media. With their stockings stuffed by WikiLeaks they dehumanise him with images printed and screened of a cold, calculating Machiavelli pulling strings from secret hideouts. The main hideout, of course, being the Frontline Club, where many of them have interviewed him.

They made him out to be the internet’s Bin Laden. The likeness might be poor, but that was OK because the colours were familiar and bright. Now the focus is on Julian’s court fight, instead of on the opaque political system that his leaks have exposed.'

Full story on Independent.co.uk at this link…

I attended court for the Swedish appeal against the bail decision for Julian Assange on 16th December. The judge stated that at no time during his time in Britain had he been a fugitive. He also awarded costs against the Swedes for the appeal.

In Britain, and its journalism community, Wikileaks remains controversial and divisive. Few under 30 seem to see what the fuss is about while most over 50 are appalled.

The suggestions that WIkileaks have put lives at risk and is anti-American being most quoted by their detractors.

The relationship between the media and Wikileaks is fascinating, Julian Assange being attacked most harmfully by The Guardian, the newspaper collaborating with him.

There appears to be significant and growing support from a cynical population burnt by the last decade of war and political spin. It is hard to meet someone who feels well-governed.

On 5th January we will host a live-streamed debate at the Frontline Club. On The Media: WikiLeaks - holding up a mirror to journalism?

Vaughan Smith

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The Frontline Club on 8 January 2011 - 3:42pm

The event is now on 11th Jan. Vaughan

The Frontline Club's picture
The Frontline Club on 27 January 2011 - 3:50pm

The New York Times has filled its boots, wrote itself as the hero of the piece and trashed its source. Brave stuff. Or maybe it is in a country where public figures can ask for the murder of people they don't approve of without being prosecuted.

Vaughan Smith, in an independent capacity from the 'Mansion'.