So Julian Assange is a fugitive, wanted for – what, exactly? Telling the world about things that certain special interest groups said in private? We all know that diplomacy is a game played with an olive branch in one hand and a dagger held behind the back in the other, and anyone who is truly shocked by recent events needs to go back and watch Yes, Minister from the beginning.
Ah, but it’s not the content of the leaked documents that our leaders want you to focus on, rather it’s the fact that some dashed arrant knave managed to get its plebeian hands on them at all. WikiLeaks is… it’s… why, ’tis the thin end of the wedge, sirrah! The barbarians are at the gates and civilisation as we know it lies in ruins about our ears!
I seem to recall these sage words which might be appropriate, I feel:
If you haven’t done anything wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear.
That’s right, isn’t it? Must be. After all, it’s what we get whenever some new liberty-curtailing measure is proposed. Now the foot is on the other hand and suddenly it doesn’t taste so sweet, does it? (Apologies for the rather horrible mangled imagery there. You’ll have had your tea.)
So of course, Assange bin WikiLeak becomes Corporate Enemy Number One for his crimes of espionage and high treason. Actually – no. No, it turns out (in a rather delightfully Brian Rix sort of way) that he can’t actually be charged with what they want him for because:
… while Mr Assange has widely acknowledged his role in disseminating classified documents, legal experts say US criminal statutes and case law do not cleanly apply to his case.
US espionage law has been used to prosecute US officials who provided secrets to foreign governments or foreign spies who pursued US secrets.
But Mr Assange, an Australian citizen, former computer hacker and self-described journalist, did not work for the US government, has no known links to foreign governments, and operates on the internet, by all accounts far from US soil.
Bugger. Okay then, how about – no, look, here’s one, right: unauthorised computer access to obtain government secrets?
… prosecutors would have to show Mr Assange had a hand in obtaining the documents from the government.
Which sounds expensive. And we’d probably need someone with more than three braincells. Alright then, what about that law that punishes the theft of government records or property? You know, the one that…
… has never been used to prosecute recipients of the information
No single US law makes it a crime specifically to disclose classified government documents, but legal experts say the government would most likely prosecute under the Espionage Act of 1917, although Mr Holder cited “other tools at our disposal”.
Under the Espionage Act, prosecutors would have to prove Mr Assange was aware the leaks could harm US national security, or show he had a hand in improperly obtaining them from the government.
“That act is a difficult act to prosecute people under, especially someone who might be considered a journalist, as he would argue he is,” said Gabriel Schoenfeld, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and author of Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law.
In only one known instance has the US prosecuted for espionage individuals who were neither in a position of trust with the government nor agents of a foreign power. That effort ended in failure.
The phrase you’re searching for, I believe, is “Like a kipper.”
So the legal bods have resorted to their desperate final solution, the random sex crime (well, if it worked on Bill Clinton…)
It’s all rather unsatisfying for them. A bit like arresting Sauron, Dark Lord of Mordor, for fishing without a license.
Meanwhile, in an ill-advised moment of madness, someone wound up Sarah Palin’s rubber band and the mental munchkin itself, George W’s less intelligent clone, trotted out of the woodwork to offer her ‘thoughts’ (ah, bless) on the affair. In what clearly pleases her to call her opinion, Assange should be hunted down like al-Qaeda’s leadership.
So presumably that means he gets several months advance warning before disappearing and setting up somewhere else, finally returning to business as usual when everyone’s forgotten about him…
Go back to sleep, hockey mom.