Many in the US establishment – and indeed, the Australian one, rather upset that their badly protected secrets are no longer secret, poor people – are baying for the blood of Julian Assange.
The predominant consensus in official Washington that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should eventually stand trial here on espionage charges is not likely to change anytime soon. But three influential voices are now saying publicly what many others say privately: that blame should be focused on leakers, not Assange, who after all was merely the middleman for the handful of newspapers and magazines that were given first crack at classified military and diplomatic documents.
On Friday Jack L. Goldsmith, “widely considered one of the brightest stars in the conservative legal firmament” when he joined the Bush administration Justice Department in 2003, according to a typical assessment, wrote that he found himself “agreeing with those who think Assange is being unduly vilified.”
“I certainly do not support or like his disclosure of secrets that harm U.S. national security or foreign policy interests,” Goldsmith wrote on the Lawfare blog. “But as all the hand-wringing over the 1917 Espionage Act shows, it is not obvious what law he has violated. It is also important to remember, to paraphrase Justice Stewart in the Pentagon Papers, that the responsibility for these disclosures lies firmly with the institution empowered to keep them secret: the Executive branch.”
Goldsmith called the government “unconscionably lax in allowing Bradley Manning,” an Army private arrested on suspicion of giving WikiLeaks Afghan and Iraq war documents last summer, “to have access to all these secrets and to exfiltrate them so easily.”
“I do not understand why so much ire is directed at Assange and so little at the New York Times,” continued Goldsmith, who resigned from the Justice Department after only nine months on the job because he disagreed with its legal rationalizations for waterboarding and other counter-terrorism tactics.
Goldsmith’s remarks came only a few days after libertarian standard-bearer Rep. Ron Paul virtually celebrated WikiLeaks for exposing America’s “delusional foreign policy.”
“When presented with embarrassing disclosures about U.S. spying and meddling, the policy that requires so much spying and meddling is not questioned,” said the nominal Texas Republican, denouncing calls for prosecuting Assange. “Instead the media focuses on how authorities might prosecute the publishers of such information.”
On Monday influential Harvard political scientist Stephen M. Walt endorsed Goldsmith’s views, asking whether The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward shouldn’t be prosecuted for publishing secrets if Assange was.
“I keep thinking about the Wikileaks affair,” Walt wrote for NPR’s Web site, “and I keep seeing the double-standards multiplying. Given how frequently government officials leak classified information in order to make themselves look good, box in their bureaucratic rivals, or tie the President’s hands, it seems a little disingenuous of them to be so upset by Assange’s activities.”