Julian Assange

Former Senator Joe Lieberman

As I write this, the DOJ is trying to find a way to prosecute Julian Assange under the Espionage Act, calling to mind earlier uses of that catch-all and very ambiguous legislation.

Senator Joe Lieberman says to Fox News (this is only a slight paraphrase), “If we can’t shut this guy down, then shame on us, the civilized world.” Others are calling, literally for Mr. Assange’s head, Sweden is trying to get him back on a sex charge, and Ecuador has offered him unrestricted asylum. Not since Daniel Ellsberg moved what became the Pentagon Papers into the public domain has so much sound and fury settled over Washington.

I know little about Mr. Assange’s motives or methods—I doubt if, right now, many people do—but I would suggest that he is not the problem; nor are we dealing here with an assault on the rule of law, natural rights, or what used to be the republic.

If this is a criminal matter it should be treated as one, minus the considerable hysteria that has emerged on particularly some elements of the political Right. If it is a matter of freedom of the press, I am skeptical that much clarity will come out of what so far is not, to say the least, a calm and considered discussion. Certainly the Ellsberg case gave little clarity to the complex issues of press freedom in an electronic age.

Sir Malcolm Rifkin has pointed out that there is a difference between “the public interest and the public are interested.” That’s true, but before one can determine which this case is, much needs to be sorted out about exactly how the government stores (and classifies) sensitive documents. While we should never underestimate the power of enemies to do us harm, we should also remember that the genius of our system of government (its only genius) is that it is based on the fundamental idea of limited government.

Whatever else we are dealing with in the “Assangeian Stables,” it is a prudential matter until it is proven otherwise. It needs to be cleaned out, but with as little government initiative as possible.

The wise words of Paul Johnson (Modern Times, p. 14) give us context: “The destructive capacity of the individual, however vicious, is small; of the state, however well-intentioned, almost limitless.”

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