To Flee or Not to FleeJune 28th, 2012

Shouldn’t civil libertarians be encouraging Julian Assange to confront the U.S. government directly by coming to this country voluntarily to clear himself?

It’s an opportunity to invoke our stumbling nation’s Bill of Rights and vindicate all of his disclosures as acts of responsible journalism. From a legal standpoint, there is no question that the Constitution is on his side.

If he is charged with espionage–a crime that’s typically committed clandestinely, by the way, and not by public disclosures–he will have a chance to demonstrate that the secrets he published did not harm the security of the USA, but rather revealed grievous acts of malfeasance, including murder. Plus, if he’s abused or mistreated, he gets to sue the shit out of his tormentors.

Or he could become a guest of Ecuador, curtail all future travel, and forego a showdown with Washington.

It’s disheartening that most consumers of Wikileaks’ disclosures seem to favor this course. I guess they have no confidence in Assange’s ability to beat the US in a big match. You don’t win a struggle over human rights this way, by giving up in advance.

It’s possible that Assange won’t be exonerated, but the First Amendment seems to require it, and he’s well-placed to test whether the free-press protections guaranteed there are real or illusory.

There’s also the question of honor, courage and self-respect. Daniel Ellsberg, who made similar damaging disclosures a generation ago, risked imprisonment to bring guilty secrets to light. Bradley Manning, allegedly one of Assange’s sources, sits in a jail cell today in consequence of his own courage and integrity. Assange as a beneficary of political asylum removes himself from their estimable company.