Leading the attack on whistleblower web site WikiLeaks, Fox News editorialist and former Bush-era US State Department official Christian Whiton said on Monday that the US should classify the proprietors of WikiLeaks as “enemy combatants,” opening up the possibility of “non-judicial actions” against them.
“So far, the Obama administration appears to have been asleep at the wheel in responding to this,” he wrote for FoxNews.com on Monday. “The same is true of the Democratic-controlled Congress, which has no fewer than ten committees of jurisdiction that could be doing something about this—but which are not.”
He proposed a number of actions the US could take to shut down the secret-spilling site for good:
1. Indict Mr. Assange and his colleagues for espionage, regardless of whether he is presently in a U.S. jurisdiction, and ask our allies to do the same.
2. Explore opportunities for the president to designate WikiLeaks and its officers as enemy combatants, paving the way for non-judicial actions against them.
3. Freeze the assets of the WikiLeaks organization and its supporters, and sanction financial organizations working with this terrorist-enabling organization so they cannot clear transactions denominated in U.S. dollars.
4. Give the new U.S. Cyber-Command a chance to prove its worth by ordering it to electronically assault WikiLeaks and any telecommunications company offering its services to this organization.
5. Holding meaningful congressional hearings to look into how this much classified information could ever be compromised and how the U.S. can better identify and combat political warfare organizations like WikiLeaks.
The writer’s other recent hits: recommending that Republicans in Congress withhold money from health care recipients, calling for a US-sponsored coup in North Korea and praising Bill O’Reilly’s crusade against National Public Radio.
In attacking WikiLeaks, Whiton seems to be following a thread laid by Marc Thiessen, a former Bush speechwriter, who asserted in a Post op-ed just after the Afghan war files publication that the site should be held in violation of the US espionage act and taken down using “military assets” — even if that means breaking international and domestic laws to kidnap founder Julian Assange from within the European Union.
Time Magazine was quick to fire back at calls for military or other “non-judicial” actions against WikiLeaks:
To be clear, Assange’s crime [...] is intentionally receiving and republishing classified information, something that is done with some regularity in the United States by respectable and responsible reporters working for top flight news organizations. To adopt Thiessen’s view, one would effectively have to reject the Supreme Court’s opinion in New York Times Co. v. United States, the so-called Pentagon Papers case from 1971.
Concurring in that case, Justice Potter Stewart observed, “In the absence of governmental checks and balances present in other areas of our national life, the only effective restraint upon executive policy and power in the area of national defense and international affairs may lie in an enlightened citizenry — in an informed and critical public opinion which alone can here protect the values of democratic government.. . . . Without an informed and free press, there cannot be an enlightened people.”
The massive cache of Iraq war documents published last week by WikiLeaks revealed that the US military knew about an additional 15,000+ civilian casualties that went unreported in the broader press.
It also showed that US officials turned a blind eye to the torture and murder of prisoners by Iraqi soldiers, and provided evidence that US forces really did find weapons of mass destruction in the desert nation, although the small caches they uncovered did not support Bush-era claims that Saddam Hussein had reconstituted their development.
Whiton made no mention of how US officials might correct these wrongs. Indeed, his whole argument seems to be predicated on insisting that by acting as a conduit for the release of restricted information, WikiLeaks must be more criminally liable than those who engaged in the cover-up of thousands of civilian deaths. He even accuses them of risking the lives of US collaborators, but offers no criticism of those who actually had people murdered.
WikiLeaks, however, took significant steps to redact the names of individuals mentioned in incident reports written by US soldiers operating in Iraq. The site did not take this step with its 70,000+ pages of Afghan war files published earlier this year.
“In this case we have taken an even more vigorous approach than we took in relation of the Afghan material, not because we believe that approach was particularly lacking [but] rather just to prevent those sort of distractions from the serious content by people who would like to try and distract from the message,” founder Julian Assange said.
The Pentagon admitted that WikiLeaks did take care to obscure the identities of “300 or so” people who it said may have been put at risk by the release of its documents, but officials cautioned that information remains that could help identify those individuals.