Punishing Wikileaks founder Assange constricts First Amendment rights

Jon Weiler

Jon WeilerColumnist

What are Wikileaks? The first time I heard about Wikileaks was when Pfc. Bradley Manning was taken into custody for leaking classified docu­ments of operations in Afghanistan. What I saw on all major news net­works was how these classified docu­ments exposed personnel working in Afghanistan and put our sources lives at risk. The next time Wikileaks was on the news, I paid attention. They were poised to release diplomatic cables outlining the U.S. interactions with allied countries and needless to say, we were not painted in the best light. There were several accounts of our diplomats spying on other for­eign diplomats, including monitoring communication methods and gather­ing biometric information of United Nations diplomats from allied na­tions. The cables pointed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but other released documents showed this ac­tivity was present under the former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

Wikileaks presented this informa­tion to the American public, much like newspapers only without the reporting. So who broke the law? Did Wikileaks for publishing classi­fied documents or did the U.S. State Department in spying on other dip­lomats and UN officials? Well, this is not the first time that the U.S. has been found spying in and around the UN. Bugs had been found in UN of­fices in 2003 prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. No charges were filed and no­body was punished for this activity. The only real consequence was a lack of confidence between the diplomats.

So did Wikileaks and its leader Ju­lian Assange break the law? Accord­ing to Time magazine, the U.S. has a weak legal case against him and his organization. Assange and those in­volved are not U.S. citizens to begin with, and we have this right in our nation called the First Amendment 8212; the freedom of speech. If that is the case, why is this even a topic of debate? Because they told secrets. These were secrets of lies and deceit that presented the dark underbelly of how the U.S. conducts business with friends.

Wikileaks informed the American public of the literal truth by present­ing the actual documents, but that created fear. It caused terror &- to the federal government. Immediately following these dispatches entering into the public domain, Assange and Wikileaks were labeled terrorists by some lawmakers in our U.S. Con­gress. Lawmakers and reporters made comments like Assange should be killed like every other terrorist or that he should be thrown in Guantanamo Bay. But what are Assange and his organization Wikileaks? Messengers with no filter. There is no government or organization that can prosecute them for what they say 8212; at the mo­ment. Legislation has been proposed by a few in Congress who want to make a law forbidding the publish­ing of classified materials. This would take care of future Wikileaks prob­lems, but it would also incriminate the newspapers who reported and the American citizens who read them. Is this strangling of the First Amend­ment possible? Of course it is. It has happened before during the Espio­nage Act of 1917 and it can very well happen again in our fear-dominating post 9-11 society.

Whether or not you agree with how Wikileaks attain and release these documents, Wikileaks is not a terror­ist organization. The only terror they are causing is to the federal govern­ment. These documents do not cause fear to the American people. They cause shame. Shame on us for elect­ing officials condoning this activity and shame on us for allowing it to happen. This is an important moment for all of us. If the federal government decides to make laws that constrict the freedom of speech, then what do we have left? The Espionage Act of 1917 was a very dark moment in our nation, yet we have lawmakers calling for this to be enacted again. Do we want lawmakers who are so willing to constrict our constitutional rights? More importantly, do you want to be punished for telling the truth?

Jon is a non-traditional student majoring in English. Reach him at [email protected].