12/28/2011 03:10 EST | Updated 02/27/2012 05:12 EST

Julian Assange may Be Unlikable, but He's No Criminal


As 2011 draws to a close, the issue of Wikileaks disclosures remains to be resolved -- a breach of trust to some, the right to know to others.

However, if one examines the record, it's pretty hard to see much of a threat to American (or international) security, in the disclosures by Wikileaks that has embarrassed allied governments.

In some ways, Wikileaks' founder, Julian Assange, who is fighting extradition from Britain to Sweden on accusations of rape and sexual assault, has performed a considerable service by revealing "leaked" analyses of what's going on in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The most graphic revelations seem to be that high command has covered up or sanitized certain unpleasant facts -- more or less confirming what many journalists have suspected, speculated, and written about.

Wikileaks has probed extrajudicial killings in Kenya, abuses at Guantanamo Bay, dumping of toxic waste off Africa, the and the release of diplomatic cables that embarrass governments. And so on.

Newt Gingrich said on Fox news that Assange is engaged in "information terrorism...and should be treated as an enemy combatant."

Amnesty International and others regard Assange admiringly.

Much of what Wikileaks has "revealed" is in the public's interest -- a network that relies on whistle-blowers. It is all mindful of Daniel Ellsberg, the former U.S. military analyst who released the Pentagon Papers in 1971 and was variously regarded as both a traitor and a folk hero. So it is with Assange. Sort of.

There's been little (if anything) that reveals the identity of undercover agents or spies, or details that jeopardize lives. Most of what's been disclosed is information that the enemy -- i.e. the Taliban and al-Qaeda -- were quite aware of.

Julian Assange does not seem very admirable, but nor does he seem like much of a threat to security. One wonders if charges against him are real, or if they are manufactured to punish him for daring to use leaks?

Put bluntly, Wikileaks seems to have contributed to the military's oft-declared policy of openness and transparency, which is often more rhetorical than real.

The case of army intelligence analyst Private Bradley Manning is another matter.

Manning is facing court martial in the U.S. on charges of aiding the enemy and wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet by downloading thousands of classified military files, and funneling the data to Wikileaks.

If it's hard to see the harm done by Mr. Assange and Wikileaks, it's also hard to see why the book should not be thrown at Private Manning. He's the treacherous one -- the one who betrayed his oath and the army.

The army is justified in being upset that its emails and information it considers classified or secret are being illicitly copied and funneled to unauthorized people.

If found guilty, Private Manning could face life-imprisonment. If so, few tears will be shed. Meanwhile, Assange should escape charges that involve espionage.

Private Manning's lawyers think their client was so obviously emotionally troubled because of curious behavioural problems, that his army superiors are at fault for not recognizing dysfunctional symptoms and revoking or cancelling his security clearance.

As a defence strategy, that seems hopeless -- rather like the late Clifford Olson blaming the RCMP for his murder of several young people in B.C. because they didn't arrest him sooner.

Manning apparently tried to hide what he was doing by pretending online that he was a woman named Breanna Manning. To his apologists this indicates gender confusion, and a possible explanation for his treason. Rubbish.