|Wikileaks is a Swedish-based web site that has become a sort of a clearing house for sensitive documents. Their latest venture has been to release sensitive U.S. military documents related to military operations and intelligence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wikileaks was largely responsible for releasing the video showing a U.S. Army Apache gunship attack on a group of Iraqi men in which two Reuters cameramen were killed.
Wikileaks appears to be run by a rather nomadic Australian named Julian Assange. He denies being the founder of the site, but admits to be Wikileaks' "editor in chief". Assange is viewed as a sort of celebrity in international anti-censorship circles and has appeared as a keynote speaker in a lot of anti-censorship conferences around the world. In all fairness, Wikileaks has exposed documents from a lot of different government and international companies all across the political spectrum, but most recently they seem to be focusing their attention on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and US foreign military policy specifically.
Just last week PFC Bradley Manning, a twenty two year old US Army intelligence specialist serving in the Middle East, was arrested and faces court martial for releasing sensitive military data that was eventually released on Wikileaks. Wikileaks has not confirmed that Manning is the source of some of the footage and documents displayed on its site, but they have hired US defense attorneys to represent him. At this point Manning faces a maximum of fifty two years in prison.
The United States government has expressed alarm over some of the documents released on Wikileaks and has said that the information could hamper our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan and could result in US military and civilian casualties. The US government has asked Wikileaks to withdraw the documents and to stop displaying classified materials, but not only has Wikileaks refused to stop posting sensitive items, they have indicated that they are going to release thousands of additional documents. A spokesman for the Taliban have stated that they will review the documents released on Wikileaks to see if they can identify informants and punish them accordingly.
The media pundits have been discussing what can be legally done to stop Wikileaks from releasing sensitive intelligence that could endanger the lives of military personnel. The problem is that Wikileaks has no official headquarters, and while it is based in Sweden its contributors seem to operate out of private residences or rented office spaces. Reportedly Assange was using a rental house in Iceland to release most of the recent documents and video involving sensitive US documents. Presumably Iceland could expel Assange and foreign nationals working for Wikileaks, but they would simply set up camp somewhere else. Assange is an Australian national, and has indicated that his attorneys have advised him against travelling to the United States. There have been rumblings among some circles in Australia that Assange is aiding the enemies of Australia and endangering the lives of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan. The Australian government could revoke his passport and order him to the country, but so far they have not done so, probably fearing the outcry from the media and censorship critics.
What, if anything, should be done about Julian Assange and Wikileaks? If Assange were an American citizen this would be easy. PFC Manning will almost definitely be convicted of mishandling classified data and will more than likely spend the next couple of decades making little rocks out of big rocks in Ft. Leavenworth. Two MIT students that may have assisted Bradley are under investigation by the FBI, and for all we know are sweating in an interrogation room right now. An imaginative U.S. Attorney will have no problem finding something to charge them with, and most definitely have the leverage to scare the wits out of them. It is probably wise for Assange to stay out of the United States, but could the Justice Department put out a warrant for his arrest and request extradition? Should they even try? Should the US put pressure on Australia to muzzle Assange?
The next question I would submit is this: What if the United States is unable to silence Assange or stop Wikileaks through legal means? At one point does a foreign national or group that exposes intelligence documents sensitive to our national security become considered a threat? You can make arguments all day long that the United States shouldn't target the citizens of foreign nationals living outside the boundaries of the United States, but at one point does a person like Assange become like a foreign terrorist? Assange may not be planting roadside bombs or planning terrorist attacks against American civilians or military personnel, but one could convincingly argue that by releasing sensitive data Assange and his ilk at Wikileaks are placing the lives of Am