Opinions Mixed On WikiLeaks And Assange The evolving story of the massive WikiLeaks dump of over 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables continues to play out, especially on op-ed pages. Host Neal Conan rounds up a selection of opinion pieces, and asks listeners what issues are important to them as they continue to follow WikiLeaks.

Opinions Mixed On WikiLeaks And Assange

Opinions Mixed On WikiLeaks And Assange

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The evolving story of the massive WikiLeaks dump of over 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables continues to play out, especially on op-ed pages. Host Neal Conan rounds up a selection of opinion pieces, and asks listeners what issues are important to them as they continue to follow WikiLeaks.

Read The Full Opinion Pieces

Julian Assange in The Australian, "Don't Shoot Messenger For Revealing Uncomfortable Truths"
L. Gordon Crovitz in The Wall Street Journal, "Julian Assange, Information Anarchist"
Daniel W. Drezner in The Chronicle Of Higher Education, "Why WikiLeaks Is Bad For Scholars"
Glenn Greenwald for Salon, "The Lawless Wild West Attacks WikiLeaks"
Clay Shirky, "WikiLeaks And The Long Haul"

NEAL CONAN, host:

Yesterday, a judge in London denied bail for Julian Assange. The founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks turned himself in on a warrant that seeks his extradition to Sweden. The arrest, the imprisonment, the allegations joined the constellation of controversies that swirl around Julian Assange and his organization.

Most recently, of course, WikiLeaks released a huge archive of secret U.S. diplomatic cables. Assange denies the allegations of sex crimes in Sweden and asserts that people upset with his organization should not shoot the messenger for revealing what he calls uncomfortable truths. There are a number of threads to follow in this story. We're going to read excerpts from several op-eds.

We want to hear from you what WikiLeaks issue matters most to you. 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

This morning, an op-ed by Julian Assange himself ran in The Australian. He wrote: WikiLeaks deserves protection, not threats and attacks. Democratic societies need a strong media, and WikiLeaks is part of that media, Assange wrote. The media helps keep government honest. WikiLeaks has revealed some hard truths about the Iraq and Afghan wars and broken stories about corporate corruption.

People have said I am anti-war. For the record, I am not. Sometimes, nations need to go to war, and there are just wars, but there is nothing more wrong than a government lying to its people about those wars then asking those same citizens to put their lives and their taxes on the line for those lies. If war is justified, then tell the truth and the people will decide whether to support it.

If you've read any of the Afghan or Iraq War logs, any of the U.S. Embassy cables or any of the stories about the things WikiLeaks has reported, consider how important it is for all media to be able to report these things freely.

Again, that by Julian Assange himself in the Australian newspaper The Australian. We have some emails. This from Tim(ph) in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The most important issue, writes Tim, is exposing the truth. The American public is kept in the dark when it comes to foreign affairs, which makes it impossible to view things like terror attacks in the context of U.S. actions abroad.

This from Eric(ph) in Ames, Iowa. The problem with the information leaked via WikiLeaks is not the content itself. The problem is who is controlling the flow of information. The founder claims there should be no secrets, yet he also claims he uses restraint on whether or not information is too sensitive to be leaked to the public. In essence, he claims that the U.S. government should not hold power over its affairs but rather that he should. He is ignorant and insane that people actually believe he is doing this simply for the greater good.

Let's get a caller on the line, and we'll start with Turk(ph). Turk with us from Charlotte in North Carolina.

TURK (Caller): Hi, Neal. Good afternoon.

CONAN: Good afternoon.

TURK: I couldn't agree with what Assange's piece. I haven't read it, but while I was on hold, I was listening to it. If neo-(unintelligible) on Abu Ghraib for a year and all these our GIs are dying 7,000 miles away based on lies. If we have media who's doing what this guy is doing, we wouldn't be in this situation. So I don't know about, you know, if he's framed and all that, why he's arrested, but we should extend our 100 percent support. I mean, it is - we have a media with a claim to be liberal but is a mouthpiece for the government. And we don't have anybody who's telling us the - what's really going on. So I'm a big-time supporter.

CONAN: Ken, should government be able to keep anything secret?

TURK: Well, I think there should be some secrets, yes, but not lies.

CONAN: Well, who gets to decide what's a lie, what's a half-truth? There are lots of shades of gray.

TURK: It's a good point, but I think knowing that these things will show up next time they're less likely to lie.

CONAN: Turk, thanks very much for the call.

TURK: You're welcome. Thanks.

CONAN: Here's an email from Rick(ph) in San Jose. We're told as kids that it is wrong to say something behind someone's back that you would not say to their face. It seems that the discomfort coming out on this issue is that our statesmanship seems to consist of discussing foreign representatives in unflattering ways and then being found out. Would not the best answer be to simply refrain from bad-mouthing people and then documenting it if we're uncomfortable with it becoming public? This is quite embarrassing for us. But if our national security is based on this kind of thing, then we should probably clean up our act. I'm most concerned that one's opinion can now be deemed a terrorist act.

Which is not quite true. No one has charged Julian Assange with terrorism, or at least not yet. Here's a phone call. Jason(ph) with us, calling from Fort Drum in way upstate New York, near Watertown.

JASON (Caller): How are you doing, sir?

CONAN: Go ahead...

JASON: I just had a comment about the WikiLeaks thing. Yesterday, my chain of command put it out that nobody is authorized to go on the WikiLeaks, whether it's from a government or a personal computer. But they never really explained why. I can only assume it's because they're probably we'll upload more information, maybe. But at the same time, it's kind of weird that we can't just go and read for ourselves what's been putting - being put on there.

CONAN: Well, he's been issuing this information through other news outlets, for example, the New York Times or the British newspaper, The Guardian. You're allowed to read those, aren't you?

JASON: Oh, we are.

CONAN: And so, it's just not - going to the WikiLeaks site itself that's prohibited.

JASON: Yeah, that seems to be the main issue.

CONAN: Just a curious question, Jason. The previous war logs that the WikiLeaks released having to do with operations in Afghanistan, primarily, where you concerned about those releases, or did you support that?

JASON: Well, I'd be concern about it. It's an operation that's in progress, that's happening, or going to happen. But generally, these operations are pretty small. They have a small focus on a certain person or a certain group of people in a small area. And it's just kind of odd that we'd be that scared of letting the people know what we're doing over there. I think the more people know what we're doing, the more they'll understand it. Whether they agree with it or not, they'll be able to base their own opinions on what we're actually doing.

CONAN: Jason, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

JASON: Yes, sir.

CONAN: On his blog, Web guru Clay Shirky denounced the decisions of Visa, MasterCard and PayPal to block donations to WikiLeaks. He says that he sees the U.S. taking shortcuts to deal with the situation. The leaders of Myanmar and Belarus, or Thailand and Russia, can now rightly say to us: You went after WikiLeaks' domain name, their hosting provider, even denied your citizens the ability to register protest through donation, all without a warrant and all targeting overseas entities, simply because you decided you don't like the site. If that's the way governments get to behave, we can live with that.

Over the long haul, we will need new checks and balances for newly increased transparency. WikiLeaks should not be able to operate as a law unto itself anymore than the U.S. should be able to - this, again, from Clay Shirky. In the short-haul, though, WikiLeaks is our Amsterdam. Whatever restrictions we eventually end up enacting, we need to keep WikiLeaks alive today, while we work through the process democracies always go through to react to change. If it's okay for a democracy to just decide to run someone off the Internet for doing something they would not prosecute a newspaper for doing, the idea of an Internet that further democratizes the public sphere will have taken a mortal blow.

Let's get another caller on the line. Let's go next to Roger(ph), Roger with us from Raleigh in North Carolina.

ROGER (Caller): Yes. I think your question is: What most interests me about the WikiLeaks story?

CONAN: Yes.

ROGER: Well, actually, thing that interests me most is the difference between the way we do business in the United States as opposed to the rest of the world. And I was wondering if you knew exactly what he was charged with.

CONAN: He is not charged with anything. He's wanted for questioning in terms and to reply to allegations involving the made by two separate women, as I understand it, in Sweden.

ROGER: Well, the actual charge is...

CONAN: I don't know the actual charge because he...

CONAN: ...because he...

ROGER: This is the actual charge. He was charged with having consensual sex with a condom breaking, and that is against the law in Sweden.

CONAN: Roger, I'm I hesitate to correct you. But I don't believe he's been charged with, as yet, a crime.

ROGER: Well, that is what he is wanted for in Sweden.

CONAN: That's the questioning for the...

ROGER: The charge, the sex crime in Sweden, which is against the law in Sweden, is to have consensual sex and have a condom break. That is why England is hesitant to extradite him because that is not a crime in England, and it's also not a crime in the United States.

CONAN: Again, there are...

ROGER: They're definitely(ph) holding him. So I'd just like to point out to the thinking people in the United States is that, when the big man, big brother wants to get you, they'll grab you even though they don't necessarily have a real charge against you.

CONAN: Again, there are two women who have filed charges and...

ROGER: Broken condom.

CONAN: You said one. There are two women who have filed charges separately, and it's not the same (unintelligible).

ROGER: Two broken condoms.

CONAN: Well, boy, a coincidence. Roger, thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it.

Here's Salon columnist, Glenn Greenwald, who speculates on the connection between the warrant seeking extradition and the allegations of sex crimes in Sweden.

Just look at what the U.S. government and its friends are willing to do and capable of doing to someone who challenges or defies them, all without any charges being filed or a shred of legal authority. They've blocked access to their assets, tried to remove them from the Internet, bullied most everyone out of doing any business with them, frozen the funds marked for Assange's legal defense at exactly the time that they prepare a strange international arrest warrant to be executed, repeatedly threatened him with murder, had their Australian vassals openly threaten to revoke his passport and declared them "terrorists," quote, unquote even though - unlike the authorities who are doing all of those things - neither Assange nor WikiLeaks ever engaged in violence, advocated violence or caused the slaughter of civilians.

This is all grounded in the toxic mindset expressed yesterday on "Meet the Press" - without challenge, naturally - by GOP Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said of Assange: I think the man is a high-tech terrorist. He's done an enormous damage to our country. I think he needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get to a next caller. This is Joe(ph), Joe with us on the line from Philadelphia. Joe, are you there? Joe? Okay. Joe's left us. Let's go instead to Howard(ph), Howard calling from Oakland.

HOWARD (Caller): Hi. Yeah. I applaud some of the - that some of the information has been released. And I would add that I am in favor, generally, of this - of the revealing of secrets from this evermore secretive, evermore militaristic government. Having said that, the most important thing to me in the release is the revealing of the true character of the Pakistani government and their relation to the Taliban.

CONAN: And this evermore militaristic government, you believe, their secret cables are accurate in this regard.

HOWARD: I think it might or might not be accurate. I don't know. But what's -what you have to assume, I think, is that some of them really are, maybe not all of them. Some of them really - so you get a better idea. And that's important to me, because I do think this government is becoming more and more secretive. And I am opposed to that. I am opposed to the policies in this government's ever-increasing militarism more secretive - and I'm for - if you have - sort of - if you have to err, I would like to err on the side of more information rather than less. These are - these are relatively low-level cables. These are not secrets that - by really, by any shred(ph) of the imagination. They're embarrassing, but they're not - it has no existential threat there, as far as I can see.

So I'm glad that all these - the information was released about the Pakistanis. I think they sustain what has been reported for months about the Pakistanis and their government's support for the Taliban and their interest in maintaining relations and support in control of the Taliban so that when the U.S. leans(ph) with the Pakistanis, apparently, according to these cables, believe that they will.

CONAN: Howard, thank you very much for the call. Appreciate it.

This from L. Gordon Crovitz, writing in The Wall Street Journal. He tackled the decision many news organizations have made, including this one, not to identify WikiLeaks as a whistleblower. Mr. Assange is misunderstood in the media and among digirati as an advocate of transparency. Instead, this battening down of information hatches by the U.S. is precisely his goal. The reason he launched WikiLeaks is not that he's a whistleblower - there's no wrongdoing inherent in diplomatic cables - but because he hopes to hobble the U.S., which according to his underreported philosophy, can best be done if officials lose access to a free flow of information.

This from Danielle(ph) in Buffalo: The most important issue is if this is the only way in which U.S. citizens like myself can fully know what their government is doing, and I agree with Assange in saying that the government should reveal the truth about its agenda and with the war and international relationships, and let the public decide if it is just.

And Peggy(ph) in Sebastopol, California, writes: I wish we were hearing more about the actual content of the leaks. It may be easier and more exciting to report on Julian Assange than to wade through and analyze the leaked cables. But we do need to know if there's anything significant there.

We thank all of you for your phone calls. Much more on WikiLeaks in the days to come.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

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