That enormous leak of pretty-much-kinda-mostly secret diplomatic wires? A lot of people in the government are quite pissed! Perhaps chiefly among them is New York Congressman Peter King, who’s demanding that WikiLeaks be officially deemed a terrorist group.
King, a Republican representative who will soon chair the House Homeland Security Committee, wants WikiLeaks placed alongside al-Qaeda and Hamas for the humungous document disclosure. The move, if approved, would mean at least some financial trouble for WikiLeaks, as a place on the list bars you from doing business with US banks – so no more online donations. Any assets held in the US would also be turned over to the government. Separately, King wants to “criminally charge WikiLeaks activist Julian Assange under the Espionage Act”, as indicated in a letter written to Attorney General Eric Holder.
But what does it take to put a group on the State Department’s naughty list (that of the Foreign Terrorist Organizations, officially)? To qualify, your group needs to be:
2. Engaged in “terrorist activity” or “terrorism”
3. A threat to the United States.
Number two is a biggie. As defined in section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, terrorism is primarily physical and violent. Physical violence. Destruction. Things like “The highjacking or sabotage of any conveyance (including an aircraft, vessel, or vehicle).” Or “An assassination.” However, the letter of the law does further define a terrorist group as any that “endorses or espouses terrorist activity or persuades others to endorse or espouse terrorist activity or support a terrorist organisation.”
King claims that WikiLeaks qualifies under this language, accusing it of “terrorist activity by committing acts that it knew, or reasonably should have known, would afford material support for the commission of terrorist activity.” A vague accusation using vague language – but is it apt?
WikiLeaks presented the documents along with a politically-charged rationale:
The cables show the extent of US spying on its allies and the UN; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in “client states”; backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries; lobbying for US corporations; and the measures US diplomats take to advance those who have access to them.
This document release reveals the contradictions between the US’s public persona and what it says behind closed doors – and shows that if citizens in a democracy want their governments to reflect their wishes, they should ask to see what’s going on behind the scenes.
Every American schoolchild is taught that George Washington – the country’s first President – could not tell a lie. If the administrations of his successors lived up to the same principle, today’s document flood would be a mere embarrassment. Instead, the US Government has been warning governments — even the most corrupt — around the world about the coming leaks and is bracing itself for the exposures.
The leak is, clearly, an attack against the United States. But a figurative, ideological attack – one of emphatic criticism – isn’t the same as a physical attack, or efforts to either prompt or plan such an assault. Any American citizen can (and often does!) accuse the US government of being filled with cheats and liars. And some of these same Americans go on to win political office.
On the other hand, both the State Department and politicians like King have said the website’s actions have now placed American lives at risk. However, WikiLeaks makes no actual statements espousing – as far as my knowledge of the word goes—acts of violence against Americans or the US. But does access constitute espousal? If a website’s reader is angered by its content and commits an act of terrorism because of it, does that make the site responsible? This sounds like a hard sell – but this is an angry government in murky (and diplomatically hot) water. Whether the law is equipped to handle a world in which such an enormous volume of facts can be instantly shared with the entire globe, effortlessly, is an even murkier matter. [The Atlantic and CNET]