Blacklisting WikiLeaks

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>Peter King, Chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, wants WikiLeaks placed on the Treasury Department's blacklist in order to "strangle (its) viability," by threatening, if not strangling, the viability of any person or company that dares to engage in any economic transaction with WikiLeaks or Assange. Conducting business, or providing any economic assistance to a blacklisted entity, even unknowingly, no matter how trivial, is a violation of federal law, for which you too may be blacklisted, losing access to all your property and interests in the U.S. (I've written previously about the blacklists here and here.)

King is especially incensed that an American publisher, Knopf, has entered into a book deal with Assange (who is reportedly receiving over a million dollars for his memoir); and if he is now blacklisted, you could conceivably break the law merely by buying his book, or contributing to a WikiLeaks defense fund. In other words, King is not simply targeting Assange and Wikileaks; he is targeting all of us -- every American citizen and company. In his view, even a paying consumer of information and ideas from WIkiLeaks or Assange is collaborating in terrorism.
   
This doesn't mean that every WikiLeaks consumer or supporter would actually be prosecuted for every trivial transaction. It does mean that if you're targeted by the Administration as a political threat, it has one more weapon in its arsenal to use against you. And, while the expansive maze of federal laws may make ordinary, generally law abiding people theoretically liable to prosecution anyway (as my friend Harvey Silverglate has written, most people probably commit "three felonies a day"), the power afforded by blacklisting laws is particularly arbitrary and unaccountable. You can be blacklisted without due process, without notice of an investigation or a chance to defend yourself.  
   
On the other hand, you can violate blacklists (and there are several) with impunity if your prosecution would be politically inconvenient. As David Cole pointed out in a New York Times op-ed, Rudy Guiliani and several high ranking former Bush Administration officials (including former Attorney General Mukasey) met with a blacklisted organization late last year, but -- good for them --their First Amendment rights seem secure.
   
Blacklisting is enabled by a network of federal statutes and executive orders, which requires study to begin to understand. (I doubt many members of Congress can explain it.) Complicated, obscure, and arbitrary, with an incredibly wide reach, this is a legal regime practically designed to be abused. It represents the politicization of law, for which both parties are responsible; and it's a lot more tyrannical than health care reform.

UPDATE: The Treasury Department has declined Congressman King's request to blacklist WikiLeaks and Assange, according to The Hill, citing a lack of evidence "at this time."

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Wendy Kaminer is an author, lawyer, and civil libertarian. She is the author of I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional, and a past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. More

Wendy Kaminer is a lawyer and social critic who has been a contributing editor of The Atlantic since 1991. She writes about law, liberty, feminism, religion and popular culture and has written eight books, including Worst InstinctsFree for All; Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials; and I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional. Kaminer worked as a staff attorney in the New York Legal Aid Society and in the New York City Mayor's Office and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993. She is a renowned contrarian who has tackled the issues of censorship and pornography, feminism, pop psychology, gender roles and identities, crime and the criminal-justice system, and gun control. Her articles and reviews have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The American Prospect, Dissent, The Nation, The Wilson Quarterly, Free Inquiry, and spiked-online.com. Her commentaries have aired on National Public Radio. She serves on the board of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the advisory boards of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the Secular Coalition for America, and is a member of the Massachusetts State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

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