December 19, 2010
By Stephen Dick
CNHI news service
It’s funny watching U.S. officials twist themselves into pretzels searching for ways to circumvent one of the bedrocks of American democracy: the First Amendment.
Members of Congress and the Obama administration are contorting themselves to figure out ways to prosecute Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to urge the U.S. to use all means in going after Assange. Rep. Peter King, a Republican from New York, likened Assange to a terrorist. This bipartisan outrage was joined by independent Joe Lieberman, of Connecticut, who wants the government to go after the New York Times for printing some of Wikileaks’ trove.
Those who want to punish are eying the Espionage Act of 1917, one of the most disgraceful laws ever passed by Congress. That law was used to jail poet E.E. Cummings for refusing to say he hated Germany.
This was a time of Russian revolution and America was in the grip of the Red Scare where every communist sympathizer, anarchist and radical was rounded up and jailed. A 1918 amendment called the Sedition Act was added to the 1917 law. It made it illegal to “utter, print, write or publish disloyal, profane, scurrilous or abusive language” about the U.S. government, Constitution, military or flag.
Could anything be more un-American than this?
Attorney General Eric Holder is looking at the Espionage Act, among others, to go after Assange.
The Obama administration, in keeping with its complete cave-in to the reactionary right, will go after Assange with gusto. Bin Laden may have gotten away, but not the Wikileaks scoundrel.
Good luck with that. The First Amendment is still a powerful force in American politics, and make no mistake — the persecution of Assange is more about political posturing than the law.
People who actually think in both parties — as opposed to the rest who are content to react hysterically — know that chipping away at the First Amendment could lead to wholesale prosecutions of anyone who speaks out or reports on government misdeeds.
Only a country that has lost its way and perceives itself to be losing its command of the world stage would try and squelch liberty at the expense of saving political face.
Saving face, however, is not working. European leaders and media have been vocal in pointing out U.S. hypocrisy.
Russia’s Vladimir Putin wonders what kind of democracy is on display in the jailing of Assange. In fairness, though, if the Wikileaks leak had come from Russia, Putin would have squealed too, but the U.S. has always put its liberties on a higher plane than the rest of the world. Still, Putin is on to something.
What kind of democracy does the U.S. want? Some members of Congress indicated that if all else fails, they would take the unprecedented step of crafting a law specifically to prosecute Assange. In the future, when Congress finds something it doesn’t like, it will simply write a law to get rid of it.
That sounds like tyranny and a complete rebuke of the Constitution.
After 9/11, Americans indicated that they’d rather have security than liberty.
They didn’t stop to ask where the line might be drawn to stop the encroachment on liberty.
While we’re still thinking about it, the demagogues will surely keep pushing that boundary.