As the Justice Department moves slowly but inexorably toward prosecuting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, there’s at least one crime we know the mercurial Aussie won’t be charged with: treason. Not that some haven’t entertained the idea. In December, Joe Lieberman was asked on Fox News what he made of the Justice Department’s failure to prosecute Assange as a traitor. “I’m not sure why that hasn’t happened yet,” Lieberman replied.
The Connecticut senator’s apparent belief that the US could slap a treason charge on a foreign national elicited predictable howls of derision from liberals. Even the conservative New York Sun took a dig the next day at Lieberman’s cluelessness. “The Founders just didn’t trust the Congress [to define treason], and to listen to Senator Lieberman, one can understand why.”
If a few conservatives stood up to defend Assange against accusations of treason, many more liberals have blasted him for its journalistic equivalent. Peter Beinart, former editor of The New Republic, condemned Assange soon after the release of the first leaked State Department cables for “publishing documents that sabotage American foreign policy without adding much, if anything, to the public debate.” Jamie Rubin, a former Assistant Secretary of State during the Clinton administration, called WikiLeaks’ actions “a cyber attack on the United States in general” for undermining American diplomats’ relationships with global leaders.
In light of these criticisms, it’s worth reiterating one basic fact: Julian Assange is Australian. How is it then that he’s responsible for protecting American foreign policy interests? Suppose an American journalist published, say, Chinese diplomatic cables. Would Assange’s critics find that act equally reprehensible?
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