Protect freedom

Published 10:14 am Monday, December 20, 2010

Austin Daily Herald Editorial

Although it positions itself as the world’s greatest defender of freedom, the United States continues to say one thing and do another — most recently and obviously in its threats to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Certainly the Obama administration, which came into office with promises of being different than its heavy-handed predecessor, ought to know better.

We do not agree with those who view Assange, who is under house arrest in England, as a modern-era Robin Hood protecting the masses. WikiLeaks has made some truly bad decisions about releasing classified government documents, the kind of decisions that seem to be more about a love of publicity than about serving a true public purpose. There was virtually no benefit, for instance, to leaking U.S. communications about relationships with other countries; that’s just stirring up trouble. Where WikiLeaks and others possess documents that truly demonstrate government corruption or wrong-doing, however, making those documents public is not only a good idea, it is nearly a duty.

Email newsletter signup

And that’s where the United States has gone wrong. We don’t expect government leaders to be pleased that their secrets have been revealed. We do expect that these leaders will understand that WikiLeaks has every right to share any information that has come into its possession. It is called “free speech,” and is one of the freedoms for which America stands. Our government should support those rights, rather than threatening to trample them.

Of course, every right carries with it a responsibility. WikiLeaks and Assange have not used that responsibility as well as might be hoped. Assange hasn’t acted much like a hero. But it is still wrong to threaten prosecution for free speech, and the Obama administration should realize as much.