Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Assange, Freedom of Speech and Neo-Imperialist America

It's hard to take seriously the crap that's being printed in the New York Times. Do people really believe the nonsense quoted below?

First, for the record, I think that for the United States to prosecute Assange would be idiotic, un-American and a threat to the future health of investigative journalism. Second, the New Republic piece by John Judis that I linked to above is well worth reading. Judis emphasizes, as I do, the possible virtues of WikiLeaks exposing secret deals with other countries, but he situates his analysis in a different context: the history of imperialism, and the periodic disruption of imperialist schemes by revelation of the secret deals they involve. In this view, America’s alliances with dubious regimes — whether to secure oil, cooperation against terrorism, whatever — are a form of neo-imperialism, and WikiLeaks is anti-imperialist. Judis himself doesn’t necessarily embrace the characterization of American foreign policy as neo-imperialist, but I’m pretty sure Assange would ...

Julian Assange: Neocon Tool? by Robert Wright

Here's the salient point: Mr. Assange was dealing with stolen goods. He did not have a right to the information. All governments at all times have secrets. Who decides which information is to be kept secret and which is to be revealed, and at which time? Our elected officials that's who. If you don't like what they're doing elect new ones that do. If that doesn't work what do you propose Mr. Wright: rebellion? civil war? anarchy?

Are we now to believe that leftists, those that want to increase the size of government; those people who have contempt and disdain for those who want limited, smaller government are advocating that governments have no secrets: that we the people should have access to all the information? No. There is nothing but hypocrisy and lies coming from Mr. Wright, The New York Times' and The New Republic' editorial boards.

EDIT: See Assange Is Not Protected by the Freedom of Speech Clause of the First Amendment


Anonymous said...

Assange is not a US citizen. How can the US government prosecute him?

The Classical Liberal said...

Assange is not a US citizen. How can the US government prosecute him?

How can any government punish the citizen of another country who does wrong while in their country? I'm not conversant with the laws involved. But if a foreign national, while in the US, is the knowing recipient of stolen property then, as far as I know, he would be subject to existing state and federal laws and be so prosecuted.

I don't know what the laws are if Assange was not in the United States when receiving, "conspiring" to receive, or disseminating the stolen items.

GM said...

I thought you were a libertarian? How can you be for prosecuting Assange? I wouldn't exactly call him a hero but he isn't the evil villan you and the neo-cons are making him out to be.

The Classical Liberal said...

I don’t think I ever made him out to be a villain. I said he was the recipient of stolen goods and ought to be prosecuted as such. I also ridiculed those on the left who are for increased government power and at the same time are defending Assange.

I didn’t say anything about Assange or WikiLeaks. I didn’t condemn, nor praise them. The reason is that I’m still at odds over WikiLeaks.

Anonymous said...

"Who decides which information is to be kept secret and which is to be revealed, and at which time? Our elected officials that's who." I don't agree with your conclusion, nor does SCOTUS. In fact, they have already ruled that publishing is permissible when the documents are of public interest. Further, any attempts to pursue Assange/WikiLeaks under the espionage act would likely be countered under freedom of the press, or free speech.

The Classical Liberal said...

Hmmm. Thanks for the point RCTLFY.
I'm truly confused about this. We have people signing confidentiality statements. They may be prosecuted. Newspapers cannot be prosecuted for publishing classified government files (The New York Times and the Pentagon Papers) and YET we still have espionage laws.

I don’t think the constitutional issues have been fully fleshed out. I’m not an attorney, nor constitutional scholar, but I would bet that a difference is made between papers that merely embarrass a past administration (The Pentagon Papers) and information that endangers people in the present, or materially compromises an ongoing investigation.

Say there is an on-going investigation on a terrorist group a la “24” or a criminal organization. What can the government do to keep the information private? Are we saying that any person can upload the data for the world to see and nothing can be done?

I’m not saying I have the answer here. I’m not in favor of Big Brother. My favorite way to deal with this issue is to so limit the power of government to its constitutional limits that we have little fear of an over reaching Big Brother overlording the rest of us.

As mentioned in an earlier post, I'm still mulling this over, still at odds regarding the best course of action.

Anonymous said...

First, this is a fascinating topic, and I've blogged on it myself but I've come to the conclusion that free speech/freedom of information has to triumph. The person who signs a confidentiality agreement in bound by law to honor it, and is subject to civil penalties. The soldier who leaked information is subject to military justice, and he may even forfeit his life for his crime.

The information is a separate entity and is independent of the crime in the sense that SCOTUS has ruled for the disclosure of documents that are of public interests. In effect, the espionage laws are intended for the actual criminal and his intent, and not the further dissemination of the information

In your 24 scenario, the press has often co-operated with the government to hold back information. More commonly, we see the police request newspapers not to publish information about a crime in order to better control an investigation.

The problem with allowing the government to control the flow of information is that these leaks are not always about embarrassments but serious issues.

BLee said...

I don't get how anyone can defend WikiLeaks. Classical Liberal how can you defend, or be uncertain about Assange and whether he should be prosecuted?

BLee said...

Where did that comment above me come from? It wasn't here earlier.

I went to the boinboing site. I'm not convinced. Just because stupid things are done does not mean that any and all information can be revealed to the public.

What Assange did was criminal. He should be in jail for the rest of his life.

The Classical Liberal said...

RCTLFY's comment was classified as "spam" by Blogger. It appears at the time it was posted not when it was approved by me.

Blogger does this automatically

The Classical Liberal said...


I don't think this is a simple question of good and bad, patriot or pinhead. Stealing classified information is criminal the next question is: "Is revealing this information,ipso facto, criminal?" The answer is no, both constitutionally and (*I* think) morally.

On the other hand, as I said in the original post, Assange is knowingly dealing with stolen material. How do we deal with that?

The Classical Liberal said...

You’re right it’s not simply about embarrassing information. Obviously (to me) the FrontLine story shown at BoingBoing SHOULD be exposed. This is vile. Now I agree with one of the posters on that site who wrote that:

"Is this an example of privileged Westerners (and a few Western educated locals) condemning a practice that has gone on since the beginning of time? Are we being culturally arrogant by viewing this through the magnifying glass of Euro-American morals?"

But (responding to the above comment at BoingBoing) the activity was done by an American company with our tax dollars. I like the fact that this is exposed. Also anyone who feels that the Yemeni people didn’t know that it was the US who killed suspected terrorists on their soil, and not the Yemini government as reported, gravely underestimates the Yemini people. They knew. The fact that *I* have no problem with this information being exposed doesn’t mean that I don’t have a problem with the scenario that hackers take data and then display the data and say that they “received” the data from an undisclosed third party.

How do we simply “legitimize” stolen data by saying all information can be published at will, even if it’s stolen information.

Anonymous said...

Little boys or girls shouldn't be raped, or sold into prostitution to satisfy tradition, nor women beheaded, or stoned to death for love or pregnancies that disgrace their families. I'm proudly arrogant on the side that all people deserve freedom and respect from brutality.

I never can understand the logic of excusing cruelty because it has taken place, and sadly will continue to do so. Is it somehow less painful for the victim to be raped, stoned or beheaded in another country? Or, are we excusing this behavior by implying the people themselves are worth less than we are?

The Classical Liberal said...

I knew I shouldn't have mentioned that comment from another blog out of context!!!. Knew it. :}

The context, as I took it, is -- IF we go into another land by force, as we have in Afghanistan, we have to choose our battles. In this case get rid of a hostile government harboring a group of people who did us harm and were planning more. Secondly a vacuum cannot be left behind as was done a decade earlier when the Soviets were forced out. We can't expect to go in and change cultural practices and not raise even more ire than we are at the moment. If, for instance, clitirodectomies are a common cultural practice, as vile as it is, stamping out that practice is not what we’re there for. If binding the feet of girls was common practice, as vile as that is, stamping out that practice is not what we're there for.

Going back to the context of the comment: we (American military forces and American companies) should not participate in an activity that we, as Americans, consider vile, but, at the same time, we’re not there to change their culture. If American forces do, for whatever reason, participate in these activities either they’re embedded with the local population analogous to undercover cops or they have the realpolitik “go-along-to-get-along” mentality, then they should expect to get embarrassed in the American court of public opinion when their actions become public.

Our disgust is that these Americans did more than attend such a dance, they were pimps. I’m not a moral relativist but I feel that -- assuming we should be in Afghanistan – we should not attempt to change these cultural habits, even if we find them disgusting.

Quoting another commenter from the same post

I think most cultures will survive having those two things [slavery and sexual exploitation of slavery] expunged. Any culture that will not deserves to be annihilated.

As with that poster I don’t think we should be doing the annihilating via bullets. Hopefully we can do so in other ways.

WendyT said...

Are you saying that child rape is culture? This is a new phenomenon created by decades of civil ware. It's just one more way for people to display their rage at constant war. Look at the HBO sports episode on hazing in marching bands at traditionally black colleges. Students who vowed to stamp out the practice while undergoing it enthusiastically participated when it was their turn.

The Classical Liberal said...


I don't think I'm excusing cruelty. I find child rape abhorent. I think that Afghan children should be treated with the respect and kindness that everyone else deserves.

The FRONTLINE video is very sad. It reminded me of a horrific scene from Slumdog Millionaire (which by the way if you haven't seen I highly recommend). And yet I don't think that we can expand the scope of our activity there to include stopping this behavior.

The Classical Liberal said...


I just saw your post. Our posts must have crossed. It's getting late for me here on the east coast. I'll respond tomorrow.

GM said...

You say you’re not a moral relativist but you just spent several paragraphs excusing vile behavior because “it’s their culture.”

The Classical Liberal said...

Re: Wendy T

Are you saying child rape is culture?

I can’t find my copy of James Michener’s Caravan; but he describes scenes such as this back in the 1940s, so this behavior is not simply a reaction to the decades of civil war following the Soviet invasion of 1979. And I’m not condoning child slavery, child prostitution or anything else remotely close to that. Nor am I excusing said behavior because I feel that somehow Afghani children are worth less than other children. I’m saying that the practice of dancing boys has existed for generations. Children have been sold into slavery in many cultures, sometimes for sex sometimes not; the Muslim world, China, Japan and elsewhere. It’s disgusting, but now what!?

We are at war in Afghanistan. Let’s leave it to another post to discuss whether or not we should be there. The point is – we’re there, and we’re not there to make their society conform with ours. I find forcing women to wear the burka to be despicable, but I don’t think our troops ought to force women to remove the burka. I think confining women to compounds where only family members are allowed to be in their company to be ridiculous – but it’s not my place, and certainly not the US military’s place to enforce *my* or our cultural mores.

Should we do something about this, analogous to Britain rooting out slavers in Africa and the high-seas during the middle decades of the 19th C? I think that’s an idea worthy of discussion. BUT talk about mission creep to include rooting out the practice of dancing boys in Afghanistan in addition to dealing with the Taliban, et al..

The Classical Liberal said...


I’m not a moral relativist. There is a big difference between saying an act is wrong and being able to do something about it. The US is not comparable to Kindergarten teacher watching over children during recess and compelling the children to stop fighting and be nice to each other. Let’s say bound feet were still common in China and you went there as an engineer with your company, or as an ambassador or as a tourist. Say you found such a practice to be cruel and barbaric. Then what?

Moral relativism is saying that the practice is OK because another culture values it OK. If you find it to be cruel and barbaric you are not excusing the behavior. You are not saying that it is OK simply because another society deems it so. But once again… then what? How do you stop it? By force? Do you start a war to stop it? Do you kill and destroy to stop it?

I’m not for child slavery or sexual exploitation of children such as is done with many, if not all, of the dancing boys. But now what?

This is not moral relativism.

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