This past weekend, the whistleblower website WikiLeaks began leaking hundreds of diplomatic cables sent by U.S. embassies and diplomatic staff across the world. The cables contain all sorts of information, from gossip from embassy staff poking fun at world leaders to details of high-level meetings between world leaders to revelations of sensitive national security sites.
Since the release of the cables, numerous pundits and politicians have called for the prosecution of WikiLeaks and related media outlets for publishing the leaked cables. Conservative commentator Bill Kristol even called for assassinating WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
This afternoon, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) appeared on Fox News to discuss WikiLeaks and other political topics of the day. At one point, the Fox News anchor asked Lieberman what he thinks “of the Justice Department’s actions so far not to charge Julian Assange with treason.” Lieberman responded by saying he doesn’t “understand why that hasn’t happened yet”:
ANCHOR: What do you think of the Justice Department’s actions so far to not charge Julian Assange with treason?
LIEBERMAN: I don’t understand why that hasn’t happened yet. We can go back to the earlier dump of classified documents mostly related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that occured in July, and to me that was a violation of espionage as well.
While the Justice Department and other government agencies are apparently searching for ways to bring criminal charges against WikiLeaks and those who leaked information to them, it is easy to understand why they have not brought charges of treason against Assange. For one, he isn’t American. The doctrine of treason within U.S. law applies to people who have allegiance to the U.S. government, meaning U.S. citizens — they can be charged with treason for betraying their country. Julian Assange currently holds citizenship with the government of Australia and has never even been a U.S. resident, meaning that he cannot be charged with treason against the U.S. government.
Although there have been numerous calls from public officials for prosecuting WikiLeaks, it has also earned praise from a handful of policymakers. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) said that the leaks help us “draw some important conclusions” about U.S. foreign policy, earning him the label “Al Qaeda’s Favorite Member of Congress” from a Redstate blogger. And Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL) said that it “doesn’t make sense” to try to criminalize WikiLeaks or other whistleblowing organizations.
On Fox, Lieberman also said that the New York Times “has committed at least an act of, at best, bad citizenship, but whether they have committed a crime is a matter of discussion for the Justice Department.”