War and Speech

Dahlia Lithwick did a great piece over the weekend about wartime restrictions on free speech and how we haven’t really had many even at a time when civil liberties have been curtailed in many other ways:

In other words, when it comes to antiwar speech we may have reached something like perfect — though that seems the wrong adjective somehow — equilibrium: Americans don’t much care to protest. The government cares very little if we do. And the courts don’t much care about what happens either way. That we find ourselves in an open-ended war on “terror” that will never end but it never becomes quite real to us suggests that maybe the antiwar movement won’t really be taken seriously in the courts until they start to protest in video game format.

I wonder if Julian Assange might be just the man to break down this equilibrium. Currently the rule is that it’s illegal to be the guy with legal access to classified information who passes it on to outsiders, but once you receive the leak you’re free to do what you want with it. But for the past 24 hours I’ve seen a lot of outrage directed not just at Bradley Manning but also at Assange and WikiLeaks. Operationalizing that anti-Assange outrage would, it seems to me, necessarily entail challenging our current understanding of the First Amendment. Representative Peter King’s suggestion that we designate WikiLeaks as a foreign terrorist organization is in part grandstanding and in part an effort to devise a way to begin restricting freedom of the press.