Falling Out of Love with Julian Assange While Still Being Fond of Wikileaks

Nashville         Who’s on first, what’s on second?  The Justice Department seems to be the gang that can’t shoot straight, and, frankly, that’s even a scarier thing than we thought!

This time in the era of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, now departed, and what’s his name that they are trying to force into his job, a random professor, Seamus Hughes, a terrorism expert who is deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University posted a messed-up court filing by the Justice Department in the Eastern District of Virginia.  They seem to have cut and pasted information from a potential indictment of Julian Assange and Wikileaks into the wrong court filing for some other miscreant.  Whoops!

Not surprisingly, the Trumpsters have Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder, in their gunsights, as did the Obama team, as we all remember, or at least some of us recall.   I’ll be honest.  I admired the Wikileaks project.  I’ve written defenses of both Wikileaks and Assange.  Read books about them.  Tried to really understand what they were about, and what he was trying to do on the edge of radical transparency.  It wasn’t easy to defend him.  He’s often comes off as a Trump-level narcissist.  His sexual activity in Sweden was problematic even before the #MeToo movement.  As an organizer, his willingness to sacrifice his organization, Wikileaks, because of his obsession with saving his own skin, rather than facing the consequences and taking responsibility was repugnant.

And, that’s just me.  The Wall Street Journal notes:

An indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller that portrayed WikiLeaks as a tool of Russian intelligence for releasing thousands of hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 presidential campaign has made it more difficult for Mr. Assange to mount a defense as a journalist. Public opinion of Mr. Assange in the U.S. has dropped since the campaign.

That’s likely an understatement.

His role in the Russian leaks almost seemed to have been triggered by a personal pique over what he saw as Hillary Clinton’s role as Secretary of State in his being ostracized and ending up in the Ecuadorian embassy since 2012.  He has now sued Ecuador in yet another “biting the hand that feeds him” move over restricting his visitors and, god save us all, his internet access.

And, yet, even as Assange brings a kind of “yuck” to all of us now, that doesn’t settle the issue of whether or not the mission of Wikileaks should be protected for the service it brings to us all in a weird conflict of “ends justifying the means.”  The New York Times underscores that the…

…dilemma came down to a question they found no clear answer to: Is there any legal difference between what WikiLeaks was doing, at least in that era, from what traditional news media organizations, like The New York Times, do in soliciting and publishing information they obtain that the government wants to keep secret?  And such organizations, including The Times, have published many news articles based on documents that WikiLeaks published starting in 2010, including tranches of logs of significant combat events in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and diplomatic cables leaked by Ms. [Chelsea] Manning, and the Democratic emails in the 2016 election that were hacked by Russia.

We’ll see what happens next from Justice, but the Administration clearly is betting that the change of government in Ecuador may give them a chance at extraditing Assange to the US, and that the handling the Russian hacked Clinton emails to disturb the election will be a different issue than freedom of speech and journalistic protections.  For the rest of us, this may be a “hold our nose” moment, as we continue to support the Wikileaks mission and distance ourselves from its founder, Julian Assange, his obsessions, and excesses.

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