Let’s Not Kill People for Using Wikileaks

Why naming Julian Assange an enemy of the state is a mistake.

When WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange addressed the UN via a satellite video call from the Ecuadorian embassy in London last week, his usual steadfast, cocky demeanor was conspicuously absent. His body language communicated a nervous—even fearful—man who, at some 659 days into his detention without a charge, looked like a third-grader making an unsteady stand against the sixth-grade bully. Calling the U.S. government a “a national regime of obfuscation,” Assange demanded that the Obama administration cease its dogged persecution of his organization and its supporters. Strong words from a visibly shaken man, but then, who wouldn’t be visibly shaken after being named an enemy of the state by the U.S. government?

According to recently declassified Air Force counter-intelligence documents, any military personnel who support or contact WikiLeaks will be charged with article 104-D of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, aka “communicating with the enemy.” Obtained via a FOIA request by the Sydney Morning Herald, the documents detail an Air Force Office of Special Investigation review into a UK-based cyber systems analyst’s alleged support of WikiLeaks, aka “the enemy.”

An excellent exercise in government paranoia, those documents show a jumpy U.S. administration that calls society the victim of the site’s antics and ultimately levels no charge against the analyst or WikiLeaks itself. Essentially, the papers revealed a rather intense worry that the analyst in question could possibly disseminate information to the Assange crew—not that that had already happened, putting lives in risk in the process.

Given the language in the documents, it would seem that the only lives put at risk would be that of the analyst and Assange, for abetting the enemy and being the enemy, respectively. Since the Herald broke that story, however, Lt. Col. Jim Gregory of the Department of Defense has contacted at least one media outlet to debunk the notion that the U.S. military, at least, considers pitiful little Julian Assange an enemy of the state, in the same class as the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Riiiiiiiight.

As he said in his UN address, Assange used those very same documents months ago in preparations for political asylum courtesy of Ecuador. So at least one South American nation is taking the designation pretty seriously—no reason why we shouldn’t.

Look, if military officials were well known for telling the truth, a site like WikiLeaks wouldn’t need to exist in the first place. Since its inception in October 2006, WikiLeaks has released world-shaking information such as the infamous Collateral Murder video, Guantanamo Bay prisoner files, and the expenditures and holdings in the Afghan war. It’s also done the world the public service of questioning Vladimir Putin’s work ethic and tried to clown the New York Times, just to keep things in perspective.

And now, despite having shown no demonstrable harm done by the organization—the infamous Bradley Manning has been in custody over 860 days without a trial, so that’s telling—our government already has murder in its eyes. But are we willing to kill people (U.S. soldiers!) for using a website? Whistle-blowing is certainly nothing new; the medium simply has changed, along with the delivery time, potential impact area, and the number of people who can see the whistle blow in the first place. Surely we can’t justify killing U.S. government servicemen for leaking to an outlet with more global communicative power than the New York Times or Washington Post.

Then again, there isn’t much call to make enemies of the state out of A. Ernest Fitzgerald, or Sibel Edmonds, so it would seem that maybe we can. And that is the scariest part for the higher-ups: the potential for total, widespread transparency must be incredibly daunting to an entity that thrives on the secrets it keeps. From that perspective, a slow slide into totalitarianism is much more preferable if retaining order is your goal.

Perhaps most interestingly, news of the Air Force documents placing Assange squarely in the “terrorist” camp came the same week that the Obama administration removed the infamous Mujahideen-E-Khalq (MEK) from the U.S. terrorism list, effectively making them an ally. The group, described often as a cult, allied with Saddam Hussein fairly early on in their development, and since then, managed to help overthrow Iran’s Shah and bombed and assassinated various members of the Iranian government. The U.S. military even had to disarm the group in 2003 at the start of the Iraq War. But because they are apparently past their death-dealing ways to American interests in the Middle East, we can provide them with aid. This is going to make Iran furious.

And going after WikiLeaks appears to be pissing everyone else off. Interesting who we’re choosing to align ourselves with these days.