WikiLeaks: Are the Critics Wrong?

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(FILE) Wikileaks founder Julian Assange holds a press conference at Park Plaza Hotel on October 23, 2010 in London, England.

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country we bring you the unmissable quotes from political conversations on WNYC. On today's Brian Lehrer Show, Glenn Greenwald, of, former constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York and the author of Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics, discusses why critics of WikiLeaks are wrong.

After the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange this week in London, pro-WikiLeaks hackers threatened to strike back at any unfair treatment of the media non-profit. They followed through with their threats on Wednesday and targeted the website of Assange's prosecutors in Sweden, according to Glenn Greenwald, and they've taken down the website of the corporate giant, MasterCard.

Greenwald reports the U.S. government has pressured private companies to cut off funds to WikiLeaks, including money sent from around the world to help Assange pay for his defense. 

The CEO of Paypal this morning, when asked why it was that they froze his [Assange's] account and siezed those funds, replied that he was told by the state department that what WikiLeaks has been doing is illegal and that therefore the illegal activity is violative of Paypal's terms of service and they shouldn't be allowing Wikileaks to use their service.

Greenwald also referred to Senator Joe Lieberman's public call to shut down WikiLeaks using "all legal means necessary." Shortly thereafter, Amazon kicked WikiLeaks off their servers.

When the federal government Homeland Security officals say what you're doing is essentially aiding and abetting terrorists, people are going to take that seriously. It's an intimidation tactic. It's a thuggish tactic and it's designed to deter people from doing business with WikiLeaks and allowing them to function.

Greenwald argues that the disclosure of classified documents by WikiLeaks has brought new information to the table, but via major newspapers with whom they've partnered who generally publish the classified information first, so if WikiLeaks gets punished, why aren't these major papers being punished as well?

It is impossible for anybody to say, if they think that WikiLeaks ought to be prosecuted for publishing classified information, why it is that The New York Times and the Guardian and El Pais and all these other newspapers both now and on many other occasions, that publish the same classified information also are incriminal. People who want WikiLeaks prosecuted are essentially calling for the criminalization of investigative journalism.

Greenwald went on to say that anyone who calls the exposure of these WikiLeaks documents indiscriminant is "lying." The documents reveal extreme levels of corruption for the first time and the angry response from the government as they are released is "fear-mongering."

Imagine if this kind of thing happened on WNYC, he asks Brian Lehrer.

Just imagine if on this show today the government's listening and decides there are things that you say or that one of your guests say that it doesn't like or it think harms the national security of the United States and then it starts calling your banks and telling your banks to freeze your funds because what you've done is illegal. And then it starts cutting off your credit cards and preventing people from donating to your station...all informal, all just through pressuring tactics and bullying tactics. Is anyone going to argue, are you going to argue that this is not a major threat to freedom of the press and first ammendment values? That is exactly what they're doing to WikiLeaks.

So, is there a balance between disclosure and secrecy?

One caller from West Orange said that we should know what our government's doing, especially if it's bad. He would love to send money to Assange, he says, but for now, MasterCard won't let him.

It seems to me as though somebody who reveals collusion, spying, lying, deceit, all the kinds of acts that we've seen governments, especially our own, classify as secret for years, deserves our applause. We want to know what our tax dollars are going for.

Greenwald agreed and said we've learned a lot we need to know from the WikiLeaks documents, even if the public doesn't want to know it.