A key Republican Congressman from New York has a new definition for the word “terrorism” that doesn’t require the use of violence or even fear.
All that’s needed to be a terrorist, according to Rep. Peter King, the incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, is a website revealing inconvenient information.
That’s why King sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder on Sunday, demanding that whistleblower website WikiLeaks be deemed a “foreign terrorist organization” and it’s founder declared a terror ringleader.
“To me they are a clear and present enemy to the United States of America,” he told a CBS radio reporter on Sunday.
King said the website’s release of sensitive — but not “top secret” — US diplomatic cables was “worse than a military attack.”
Declaring the site a “terrorist” group, King suggested, would allow the US “to seize their funds and go after anyone who provides them with any help or contributions or assistance whatsoever.”
He also called for site founder Julian Assange to be prosecuted under the Espionage Act.
The sequence of events in which a whistleblower provides high profile news venues with explosive information to be made public happens regularly in newsrooms across the country.
Though inconvenient for officials, the revelation of information contained in any of the WikiLeaks files, much like the Pentagon Papers amid the Vietnam war, is protected by the First Amendment — a point made by the US Supreme Court in New York Times Co. v. United States in 1971.
“In seeking injunctions against these newspapers and in its presentation to the Court, the Executive Branch seems to have forgotten the essential purpose and history of the First Amendment,” Justices Hugo Black and William Douglas wrote, taking the side of the Times, which had recently published what was then considered the largest cache of secret military information in US history.
“In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy,” they continued. “The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.”
After the release of the Pentagon Papers, Justices Black and Douglas opined that “newspapers nobly did precisely that which the Founders hoped and trusted they would do.”
According to Daniel Ellsberg, the man responsible for leaking the Pentagon Papers, WikiLeaks has done just the same.
Concurring with the court’s majority, Justice Potter Stewart added: “In the absence of the governmental checks and balances present in other areas of our national life, the only effective restraint upon executive policy and power in the areas 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. For this reason, it is perhaps here that a press that is alert, aware, and free most vitally serves the basic purpose of the First Amendment. For without an informed and free press there cannot be an enlightened people.”
“[The WikiLeaks] documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match,” the Times added.
“The Attorney General and I don’t always agree on different issues, but I believe on this one, he and I strongly agree that there should be a criminal prosecution [of WikiLeaks],” Rep. King told CBS radio.
Attorney General Holder has not made any announcement regarding a criminal prosecution of the site or it’s founder. The White House strongly condemned the site’s actions on Sunday, calling the publication of State Dept. documents a continuation of a violation of law.
King’s call for prosecution was echoed Sunday by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Clair McCaskill (D-MO) and former State Department official Liz Cheney.
Julian Assange is currently wanted for questioning by Swedish authorities who are investigating a claim of rape and molestation. Assange has maintained that the charges are baseless and part of a campaign to discredit him.
A prior version of this article incorrectly credited Graham as the Senator from Georgia.