One of the editors at The National Review, a magazine most closely identified with Bush-era neoconservative thought, sure has a potent imagination.
Perhaps potent isn’t quite the right word. Poisonous, on the other hand, just might be.
Writing for the magazine’s website on Friday, online editor Jonah Goldberg drummed up a few fantastical scenarios in which America’s spy agencies might rub out WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. One of them was through the use of toxic nuclear waste.
Spinning competing hypothetical scenarios based loosely around the frame of what many Americans think their spooks are capable of, he just outright says it: “[You’d] think Assange, super-whistle-blower of the international Left, would be a greasy stain on the autobahn already.”
Then he adds: “Assange’s shrimp-on-the-barbie should have had Strontium-90 in it years before anyone heard his name.”
That’s a bold statement: Strontium-90 is a byproduct of spent nuclear fuel rods. Goldberg actually published his wish that a man who has committed no violence be poisoned with radioactive waste.
It’s a frightening scenario that brings to mind images of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who defected to Britain and published books alleging a brutal campaign of violence ahead of Vladimir Putin’s rise to power.
Litvinenko accused the Russian leader of ordering the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist from Chechnya and one of Putin’s strongest critics. He also revealed KGB involvement in a series of apartment bombings that killed about 300 people.
They murdered him for it: or, at least that’s what Litvinenko claimed on his deathbed, as he wasted away from a massive dose of the radioactive isotope polonium-212.
British investigators ultimately settled on alleging state-sponsorship of the former KGB agent’s death, but which state was impossible to say. Their only lead in the case fled to Russia, which refused requests for his extradition.
But the haunting images of Litvinenko, who went from healthy and vibrant to bald and decrepit, remain as powerful as ever.
Et tu, USA?
This is not the first time a so-called conservative media outlet has indicated support for unilateral military action against a group that is by all accounts the world’s most important outlet for restricted corporate and government information.
Just earlier this week, former State Department official Christian Whiton, who served under the Bush administration, penned a Fox News editorial calling for government officials to declare WikiLeaks and its employees “enemy combatants,” thereby opening them up to “non-judicial actions.”
When RAW STORY pointed out the plainly illegal nature of such an action, WikiLeaks spread the link on Twitter, equating the comment with a call for assassination.
In attacking WikiLeaks, Whiton seemed to be following a thread laid in August by Marc Thiessen, a former Bush speechwriter, who asserted in a Washington Post op-ed 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.
Files published last week by WikiLeaks revealed an additional 15,000+ Iraqi civilian casualties had been covered up by the US military. They also show that US officials looked the other way when Iraqi soldiers were torturing and murdering prisoners, and that small stockades of weapons of mass destruction were in fact found in the country, but not enough to prove they were developing them as the Bush administration had claimed.
What Whiton, Thiessen and Goldberg don’t seem to understand or accept is that WikiLeaks would not pose a threat to their favored policies and officials if such destruction had not been wrought in the first place. If the cover-up had never taken place, there would be nothing to reveal.
The revelation of such awful secrets, much like the Pentagon Papers amid the Vietnam war, is crucial to maintaining an enlightened public — a point the US Supreme Court made abundantly clear in New York Times Co. v. United States, circa 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 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.”
To be clear: WikiLeaks did not steal hundreds of thousands of pages of classified intelligence — it was given to them by a whistleblower. That very same sequence of events, typically pertaining to information of less gravity and length, happens in newsrooms all across the country every week.
What Golberg and his ideological cohorts argue for is nothing short of deploying America’s military and spy agencies to destroy media outlets they do not like.
Their only truly valid concern — that the release of sensitive files could endanger the lives of US collaborators — is seemingly nullified by the Pentagon’s admission that WikiLeaks took great care to censor the names of roughly 300 or-so individuals who could have been endangered.
The site did not take that step with their Afghan war logs, published in August.
By contrast, if these same writers wanted to wear the badge of consistency, they should have called for the assassination of former Nixon aide Robert Novak after he revealed Valerie Plame’s covert identity as a CIA agent — but they did not. Plame oversaw a network of dummy companies in Iran in her work tracking the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, but they didn’t consider her sacrifice much of a loss when it benefited the neoconservative agenda.
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.”
To put it lightly, such an opinion is a far, far cry from that offered on today’s National Review Online.