There are many inherent conflicts in our nation between the right of freedom of speech and the right of our nation to keep classified material out of the public eye. It is a question of what newspapers - or in the case of Jullian Assange, websites - have a right to publish and what we as a nation have a right to demand be kept from disclosure.
Some calls are easy. If the material concerns indisputable wrong doing, such as the Mai-Lai massacre in Vietnam, then its exposure is warranted. The publication of the Pentagon Papers against which Nixon fought so vociferously gave a window into how our political class got us into the Vietnam - but it revealed no real secrets. While its publication caused an uproar, virtually all of the information divulged was simply historical. But then there was Phillip Agee, once a CIA Officer and possible Cuban/KGB double agent, who published the names of undercover CIA officers in 1978. That resulted in the passage of a law, the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.
But with Wikileaks, we are into an entirely new class of leaks. Someone in the military with a top-secret clearance, during time of war, leaked over 100,000 classified communications directly relating to the war. They passed the information to Jullian Assange who has since then published the vast majority of the documents in coordination with the New York Times (of course) Der Spiegel and The Guardian. What possible justification could there be for this massive security breach?
By all accounts, the information contained in the documents contains no new revelations. We have known for a long time that the war was not going well, that Pakistan has been a schizophrenic partner, and that Iran has been involved in the war in support of the Taliban. Assange claims that there is proof of war crimes contained in the documents though fails to point out any particular instance. This seems the penultimate exercise in throwing mud against the wall and hoping some of it sticks.
Some consequences of this massive release of our military communications in the Afghan theatre are blatantly obvious. Over the long term, the information will significantly harm our military. It provides all of our potential enemies - the Taliban and al Qaeda included - what ex CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden has called a "priceless" treasure trove of information on our methods, sources and tactics. But the most immediate damage it will do is expose hundreds of Afghans identified in the documents as people who have cooperated with American forces. These individuals now face the danger of severe reprisals, including torture and murder of them and their families. The secondary effect will be to make it much harder for our military to solicit cooperation from Afghans. This has the potential to significantly degrade our war effort and to get a lot of people killed.
All of these effects were completely foreseeable as soon as it was learned that Assange held over 100,000 classified communications from the Afghan theatre. Yet it now appears that the White House did not even object to their publication. According to Richard Fernandez,
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, explaining that the White House didn’t try to stop the publication said he met with reporters from the New York Times and sent a message through its reporters to Assange asking that he redact information in the documents that could harm US military personnel. As for the Afghans? Well what about them? Wikileaks made its pathetic effort to sanitize the data didn’t they? And if it was good for the Times and Gibbs, why shouldn’t Assange have concluded it was good enough period?
Simply put, this was an act of treason by the person who passed this information to Assange and it is an act of espionage by Assange to publish this information. Both the leaker and Assange should be shot. Unfortunately, given the First Amendment protections, it is likely Assange, at least, will never face reprisals from the U.S. government. It is a travesty.
That said, I wonder if there is any reason why the Afghans named in the documents released by Assange - and who now face torture and murder because of Assange - could not bring civil law suits in America against Assange and everyone involved in the ownership of the Wiki brand. If they cannot be shot, they should at least be reduced to a lifetime of penury.