*Julian Assange has become Public Enemy #1 because of his publishing of classified documents on his website.
Of course his defense is that he is merely following the modus operandi that magazines and newspapers have used since the beginning of time. And although Assange is not an American citizen, there are two reasons Americans might be predisposed to siding with him.
First there is the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press. In making government documents public, Assange can be said to be exercising his freedom to print information that the public has a right to know, and in many instances, what the public wants to know.
Second, there is a culture of celebrity in the United States. Politicians should not be considered celebrities but they are. And because of this, for many Americans, politicians and their correspondence is of interest.
These two factors seem to combine to make Assange’s actions defensible in the American political and cultural climates. In addition there is the fact that political documents are often classified simply as a matter of fact and not because of any specific content. Assange’s publishing of sensitive documents circumvented this sometimes unnecessary obstacle.
Nevertheless Assange’s actions are frowned upon by a large contingent of Americans – and specifically because WikiLeaks crosses a critical line recognized in United States politics and culture.
WikiLeaks was in the business of publishing documents currently classified. Documents that are presently classified enjoy that distinction usually because they involve current events or recent history that can still have an impact on current events. Publishing these types of documents has the potential to create a clear and present danger for American troops and diplomats. Potentially endangering American lives is never supported by the general public and would constitute career suicide for a politician. This nullifies the political and cultural support that Assange should receive.
Furthermore even though Assange’s actions are rooted in the First Amendment, the Constitution does not contain any blanket statements protecting all speech and actions. In fact there are several checks on the civil liberties guaranteed under the First Amendment: freedom of speech does not cover shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater; polygamy is not permissible because of the freedom of religion; groups wishing to exercise their freedom to assemble may need to gain a permit from a municipality.
Assange may be putting innocent lives at risk and all the shouts of the need for a free press do not change that fact. It is because of this that WikiLeaks deserves to be shut down as well as any subsequent websites that operate in a similar manner. The stakes are too high.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. You can reach him at [email protected]