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WikiLeaks: Are the Critics Wrong?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

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

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 Salon.com, 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.

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Comments [8]

Josef from Brooklyn, NY

Glenn Greenwald opened my eyes re: wikleaks, it's unbelievable how totally off-base the criticism of them has been. Thanks so much for having him on. More informative, thoughtful guests like him, please.

Dec. 10 2010 01:22 PM
oh my from SF

Greenwald's coverage has been interesting, but I think he actually lost me on this one. In fact, I don't think I can take him seriously after this.

He seems a little unhinged when he suggests that expressing an opinion is just like posting classified documents, or that government agents calling your bank and telling them to freeze your accounts for doing so would be just like Joe Lieberman calling for a boycott.

It would also be generous to say that he misrepresented PayPal's etc positions. A hint of a boycott by Joe Lieberman isn't much in the way of "government pressure." To imply that that was an "extra legal" act worse than hacking is absurd, particularly in the middle of an argument for free speech. Do we really think a huge retailer like Amazon ditched WikiLeaks because of Joe Lieberman, or because it's very unpopular and they don't want a boycott during the Christmas season?

He also misrepresents the timing of those statements and the Amazon decision, making it seem that statements made between the time WikiLeaks announced its intent to publish the cables and when it became apparent that they had pulled back took place after they decided not to (if in fact they have). If WikiLeaks has been inaccurately accused of doing that, that is because that was what they announced. The announcement is even still up on their Twitter:

http://twitter.com/wikileaks/status/6564225640042499

And his "some stuff gets through when you're dealing with millions of documents" defense of the "terrorist hit list"--a document released amid a whole bunch of nothing while the site was under intense scrutiny-is patently dishonest. They were busy a few weeks ago, so this got through today? You can call concerns over it fear-mongering, sure, and I'll agree up to a point. But you still can't defend its release as some sort of public service.

And I'm sorry, but if the New York Times published a list of Afghan collaborators as WikiLeaks did in August, yes, the entire editorial board would be in jail.

Dec. 09 2010 09:54 PM
Elizabeth

Great guest. I concur!

Dec. 09 2010 11:11 AM
Gregory Slater from East Palo Alto, CA

Greenwald is the best, most honest, most articulate guest you've ever had on. Have him on more often to counter the bs of the msm.

Thanks and keep up the good work

Dec. 09 2010 05:48 AM
oscar from ny


I really think that the US should start thinking about possible future scenarios by ourselves and start cleaning house. If i was president Obama first, i would raid the Federal reserve and wall st with the help of CIA, FBI, NSA,DEA, have the military work on a commercial war strategy with the media "television, radio, etc" in the middle east, {brainwash}. sponsor a UN missionary group from around the world to monitor Iran nuclear ambition and help restore order between the state of Israel and Palestine. I would also have a long talk with everyone inside the government and tell them to start working harder instead of bickering about nothing. I would tell all the 5% of the richest Americans to be brave for about two years and give them a placebo money effect so they wont cry, restore Americans faith in back to this country and eventually start talking and awarding scientist and manufacturers to build a new hope for every city in this country.

Dec. 08 2010 08:52 PM
oscar from ny

i heard this wicked leak..,the US some how destroys a battleship supposedly owned by South Korea with an old torpedo everyone blames North Korea to instigate a war between N.K and S.K that will enable or help spark a war with Iran with the help of Britain and Israel.
China doesn't really care because it knows that N.K doesn't want a confrontation with the south and it knows that the US prompted by Israel and other factions will do anything to invade Iran.
I really think that the US should start thinking about possible future scenarios by ourselves and start cleaning house. If i was president Obama first, i would raid the Federal reserve and wall st with the help of CIA, FBI, NSA,DEA, have the military work on a commercial war strategy with the media "television, radio, etc" in the middle east, {brainwash}. sponsor a UN missionary group from around the world to monitor Iran nuclear ambition and help restore order between the state of Israel and Palestine. I would also have a long talk with everyone inside the government and tell them to start working harder instead of bickering about nothing. I would tell all the 5% of the richest Americans to be brave for about two years and give them a placebo money effect so they wont cry, restore Americans faith in back to this country and eventually start talking and awarding scientist and manufacturers to build a new hope for every city in this country.

Dec. 08 2010 08:50 PM
John R. Tkach from Maryland

I wish Glenn Greenwald could respond to every lie put out by the conservative fundamentalist M$M re everything.

Just one truthful voice in an ocean of deceit and evil.

Dec. 08 2010 05:26 PM
Bill Wolfe

Glenn Greenwald stated a principled defense of Wikileaks while dispelling all sorts of misinformation and lies. Thank you Mr. Greenwald.

Dec. 08 2010 04:43 PM

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