A number of reports are emerging today suggesting that the Obama Administration is looking for a new approach in its attempts to crack down on whistleblower site WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange.
Though Assange’s activities would almost certainly be protected in the US (in the same way media outlets were protected in releasing the Pentagon Papers), the Obama Administration is said to be pressing its NATO allies to look for some sort of law one of them might have on their books that would enable the prosecution of Assange for the leaks of classified military documents.
Officials have simultaneously tried to downplay the impact of the information contained in the leaks while claiming they pose an enormous threat to national security. While the leaks dropped US support for the war, officials have been largely successful in spinning providing the truth to the American public as an inherently malevolent endeavor, as one American Enterprise Institute blogger remarked: “The idea that Assange is not a journalist, but the leader of a criminal enterprise, is gaining steam—and the noose is tightening around the WikiLeaks founder.”
The selling of this narrative has come both in the form of smearing Bradley Manning, with media reports having portrayed him as a short, lonely, possibly homosexual loser with delusions of grandeur, and in the form of portraying Assange as having committed “treason” against the American war machine, nevermind that Assange isn’t an American citizen and wouldn’t seem to be under any obligation to show any patriotism.
But while it was clear from the beginning that administration officials sought to “make an example” of this case to discourage future people from coming forward with embarrassing truths, most assumed that Manning would bear the brunt of this “example.” Most took Admiral Mullen’s claim that Assange “has blood on his hands” as ironic to the point of absurdity, but not a real threat against him. It seems, however, that officials are willing to go further than this, however.
Most governments would relish a chance to silence Assange, who has embarrassed a number of officials over the years, but the narrative of government secrecy as patriotism and whistleblowing as treasonous and a little bit unmanly hasn’t caught on nearly so well abroad, where the feigned outrage against Assange does not appear to have leaked into the public opinion.
This would mean that some government would have to face public outcry in turning on Assange, which means the US will have to bring no small amount of pressure to bear to make anything happen. How willing are they?
Willing enough, according to one report, that the US military is talking about “revising” its relationship with Iceland to punish them for a recent law which provides protection to whistleblowers.
Any attempts to punish Iceland for supporting the notion of freedom of the press are likely to produce an international backlash, and President Obama will likely have a hard time convincing the rest of the world that a press for international censorship is reasonable in the name of an unpopular, nine year old war. And efforts to punish Assange will likely provoke a similar backlash, both against the US and whichever ally they can con into doing their dirty work.