Does Julian Assange Have Reason to Fear the U.S. Government?

>On Democracy Now this morning, Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg said of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange that in the age of Obama, Assange has reason to fear arrest, kidnapping, rendition, torture, and even death at the hands of the U.S. government. I think Ellsberg's contention is ridiculous. It turns Assange into a martyr before he's been martyred, and embellishes a reputation that does not need embellishing.

Assange is probably the safest person in the world right now, at least in so far as his ability to fend off arrest by the United States. For one thing, Assange has not broken any laws, so far as I can tell. He has not disclosed any sensitive intelligence source or method; it is not generally illegal for journalists to facilitate the disclosure of classified information. And Assange has taken steps to ensure that were he ever to suddenly disappear, his stash of documents and sources would be protected by his distributed network of volunteers.


If I were Assange, I wouldn't  trust the U.S. government enough to believe their assurances that "we just want to talk to you." However, the overriding interest of the U.S. counterintelligence establishment right now is in Assange NOT publishing additional secret information. The one way to ASSURE that the information gets published would be to detain, arrest, torture, kidnap, render, or assassinate Assange. 

The second reason why Assange is safe, where he is, is that he has powerful fans. Daniel Ellsberg is one of them. So is Glenn Greenwald. To a lesser extent (in terms of power, that is), so am I. The moment he does disappear is the moment when the international community and the segment of journalists that Assange has wooed begin to protest, vigorously and rigorously. 

I want Assange to remain a free man. I want him to publish what he finds worthy of publishing, consonant with his own values and his obligations as a citizen of the world and of Iceland. I also understand and believe it to be reasonable that the intelligence community and the Department of Defense are worried about Assange, and that they are trying to figure out the best way to mitigate the effects of a major document release. Their equities are valid, too, although as I said, I tend to be rooting for Assange to feel free and liberated, and less hunted. Assange's tendency to believe that he is one step away from being thrown into a black hole hinders, and to some extent discredits, his work. I don't always agree with his methods, but the value in having an unchecked accountability mechanism for governments worldwide is obvious.  

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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