Wikimania and the First Amendment

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Thomas Blanton,
the esteemed director of the National Security Archive at George
Washington University described Washington’s hyper-reaction to WikiLeaks’
transmission of information to some major media in various countries
as "Wikimania."

In testimony
before the House Judiciary Committee last Thursday, Blanton urged
the Justice Department to cool it. WikiLeaks and newspapers like
The New York Times and London’s Guardian, he said,
are publishers protected by the First Amendment. The disclosures
are the first small installment of a predicted much larger forthcoming
trove of non-public information from both governments and global
corporations.

The leakers
inside these organizations come under different legal restrictions
than those who use their freedom of speech rights to publish the
leaked information.

The mad dog,
homicidal demands to destroy the leaders of WikiLeaks by self-styled
liberal Democrat and Fox commentator, Bob Beckel, the radio and
cable howlers and some members of Congress, may be creating an atmosphere
of panic at the politically sensitive Justice Department. Attorney
General Eric Holder has made very prejudicial comments pursuant
to his assertion that his lawyers considering how they may prosecute
Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks leader.

Mr. Holder
declared that both "the national security of the United States"
and "the American people have been put at risk." This
level of alarm was not shared by the public statements of defense
Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of States Hillary Clinton who
downplayed the impact of these disclosures.

The Attorney
General, who should be directing more of his resources to the corporate
crime wave in all its financial, economic and hazardous manifestations,
is putting himself in a bind.

If he goes
after WikiLeaks too broadly using the notorious Espionage Act of
1917 and other vague laws, how is he going to deal with The New
York Times and other mass media that reported the disclosures?

Consider what
Harvard Law Professor Jack Goldsmith, who was head of the Office
of Legal Counsel in George W. Bush’s Justice Department just wrote:

"In
Obama’s Wars, Bob Woodward, with the obvious assistance of many
top Obama administration officials, disclosed many details about
top secret programs, code names, documents, meetings, and the
like. I have a hard time squaring the anger the government is
directing towards WikiLeaks with its top officials openly violating
classification rules and opportunistically revealing without authorization
top secret information."

On the other
hand, if Mr. Holder goes the narrow route to obtain an indictment
of Mr. Assange, he will risk a public relations debacle by vindictively
displaying prosecutorial abuse (i.e. fixing the law around the enforcement
bias.) Double standards have no place in the Justice Department.

WikiLeaks is
also creating anxiety in the corporate suites. A cover story in
the December 20, 2010 issue of Forbes magazine reports that
early next year a large amount of embarrassing material will be
sent to the media by WikiLeaks about a major U.S. bank, followed
by masses of exposé material on other global corporations.

Will these
releases inform the people about very bad activities by drug, oil,
financial and other companies along with corruption in various countries?
If so, people may find this information useful. We can only imagine
what sleazy or illegal things our government has been up to that
have been covered up. Soon, people may reject those who would censor
WikiLeaks. Many people do want to size up what’s going on inside
their government in their name and with their tax dollars.

Wasn’t it Jefferson
who said that "information is the currency of democracy"
and that, given a choice between government and a free press, he’ll
take the latter? Secrecy-keeping the people and Congress in the
dark-is the cancer eating at the vitals of democracy.

What is remarkable
about all the official hullabaloo by government officials, who leak
plenty themselves, is that there never is any indictment or prosecution
of government big wigs who continually suppress facts and knowledge
in order to carry out very devastating actions like invading Iraq
under false pretenses and covering up corporate contractors abuses.
The morbid and corporate-indentured secrecy of government over the
years has cost many American lives, sent Americans to illegal wars,
bilked consumers of billions of dollars and harmed the safety and
economic well-being of workers.

As Cong. Ron
Paul said on the House floor, why is the hostility directed at Assange,
the publisher, and not at our government’s failure to protect classified
information? He asked his colleagues which events caused more deaths,
"Lying us into war, or the release of the WikiLeaks papers?"

Over-reaction
by the Obama administration could lead to censoring the Internet,
undermining Secretary Clinton’s Internet Freedom initiative, which
criticized China’s controls and lauded hacktivism in that country,
and divert attention from the massive over classification of documents
by the Executive Branch.

A full throttle
attack on WikiLeaks is what the government distracters want in order
to take away the spotlight of the disclosures on their misdeeds,
their waste and their construction of an authoritarian corporate
state.

Professor and
ex-Bushite Jack Goldsmith summed up his thoughts this way: "The
best thing to do….would be to ignore Assange and fix the secrecy
system so this does not happen again."

That presumably
is some of what Peter Zatko and his crew are now trying to do at
the Pentagon’s famed DARPA unit. That secret initiative may ironically
undermine the First Amendment should they succeed too much in hamstringing
the Internet earlier advanced by that same Pentagon unit.

December
24, 2010

Ralph
Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. Visit his
website
.

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