Time readers want Assange for Person of the Year

A lawyer who was at the center of the controversy about the Bush administration's use of torture has come out in defense of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Jack Goldsmith, who served in the Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush administration, says he can't see what law Assange broke, and argues that prosecuting him could do the US more harm than good by making the country look "very weak" and by turning Assange into a "martyr."

"I find myself agreeing with those who think Assange is being unduly vilified," Goldsmith wrote in a blog posting. "I certainly do not support or like his disclosure of secrets that harm US national security or foreign policy interests. But as all the hand-wringing over the 1917 Espionage Act shows, it is not obvious what law he has violated."

Goldsmith argues the US should halt efforts to stop federal employees from reading the leaked materials and abandon any possible prosecution of Assange because doing otherwise "makes the United States look very weak."

Whatever one thinks of what Assange is doing, the flailing US government reaction has been self-defeating. It cannot stop the publication of the documents that have already leaked out, and it should stop trying, for doing so makes the United States look very weak and gives the documents a greater significance than they deserve. It is also weak and pointless to prevent US officials from viewing the WikiLeaks documents that the rest of the world can easily see.

Also, I think trying to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act would be a mistake. The prosecution could fail for any number of reasons (no legal violation, extradition impossible, First Amendment). Trying but failing to put Assange in jail is worse than not trying at all. And succeeding will harm First Amendment press protections, make a martyr of Assange, and invite further chaotic Internet attacks. The best thing to do – I realize that this is politically impossible – would be to ignore Assange and fix the secrecy system so this does not happen again.

The Washington Post's Jeff Stein notes that Goldsmith adds his voice to a growing number of prominent people who are standing up in defense of Assange, even as WikiLeaks finds itself increasingly isolated worldwide. Stein notes that Harvard political science professor Stephen M. Walt has accused the Obama administration of hypocrisy in its pursuit of Assange.

During his time in the Bush administration, Goldsmith came to be known for his arguments that international human rights standards have no place in US courtrooms. But he did not go as far as his colleagues John Yoo and Jay Bybee in arguing that the Bush administration had a free hand to torture.

According to a New York Times report, in 2004 Goldsmith "led a small group of administration lawyers in a behind-the-scenes revolt against what he considered the constitutional excesses of the legal policies embraced by his White House superiors in the war on terror." He left the Office of Legal Counsel after nine months of service.


Julian Assange is the hands-down winner of Time magazine's online poll for Person of the Year.

Assange took 382,000 of 1.3 million votes cast, more than doubling the vote total of the runner-up, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Time's editors aren't bound by the poll in making their choice for Person of the Year, which they will announce on Wednesday.

Among other figures who made it to the readers' top ten are musician Lady Gaga, Comedy Central hosts John Stewart and Stephen Colbert, President Barack Obama and Fox News personality Glenn Beck.

"The Unemployed American" placed ninth on the list.

Assange is being held without bail in the UK on an Interpol warrant. He has been denied bail and will appeal that decision on Tuesday.