Question for readers

If the publisher of a small website dedicated to the dissemination of the state-secrets of the Chinese government were operating their publishing outfit out of the United States and published a bunch of leaked Chinese state secrets (both on their website and through various larger media organizations) and the Chinese government declared that a violation of Chinese law, should the US government arrest and detain and possibly extradite that person to China?

Let’s assume for a moment that this person is a United States citizen. Is he guilty of treason against China? Let’s assume he is Canadian. Would it be reasonable to say this person was violating Chinese law and should be tried and possibly executed in China? Does Chinese law trump civil rights and civil liberties for non-Chinese citizens? Do China’s legitimate security concerns outweigh the civil liberties of non-Chinese citizens? Of American citizens?

One last question: Should all the media outlets who published the material they received from Assange be punished in kind? If not, why are they held to different standards? If so, what does this say about freedom of the press?

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24 thoughts on “Question for readers

  1. “Should all the media outlets who published the material they received from Assange be punished in kind? If not, why are they held to different standards? If so, what does this say about freedom of the press?

    It more or less confirms, in a huge and unsettling way, everything I’ve been worrying about (and sometimes experiencing) since I start making and distributing my films. An episode from Mr. Assagne’s home country:

    http://www.comstockfilms.com/blog/tony/2007/09/24/our-decision-is-final/

    Sorry suckers. This is the world we made. Time to start figuring out how to live in it without getting your neck stepped on or your balls cut off.

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  2. The U.S. government’s reaction to Assange and the leaked cables just illustrates that when the “guardians” of our republic decide something is threatening, no document, no matter how central to our political make-up, will stand in their way.

    It’s the paradox of defending the document vs. upholding it. If in order to defend it you have to subvert it, and in order to uphold it you have to leave it vulnerable, what does one do?

    Of course those who would defend it first, usually have overblown calculations of the risk at hand.

    And given your above scenario, the U.S. should not hand over the person, whether they are a citizen or not. I would argue the Constitution demands no less. But the corollary is that the U.S. can not expect special treatment when the roles are reversed.

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  3. Yes, I’ve been confounded by all the media outlets reporting the cables, yet no one is accusing them of terrorism against the US. And, if someone had dropped the information in the lap of the NYT, would they have reported on it first? I don’t know. Maybe they wouldn’t under Obama, but what about Bush?

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  4. To the OP: I think we have both legislation and precedent protecting people who publish information that they’ve obtained, no matter what that information is.

    Now, the person who gave the publisher that information could be in quite a bit of trouble, but that’s a different issue.

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    • Is WikiLeaks a publisher? Or are they inciting people to treason, and therefore the actual bad guys? This is the fundamental legal question, if haven’t failed to understand the numerous blaring news organizations.

      The U.S. ambassador refused to help WikiLeaks sort out what parts of the material they had should be redacted? That leaves Assange totally off the hook. Unless we’re going to define something new, different from a regular media outlet. A Terrorist Media Outlet, maybe?

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      • WikiLeaks is a publisher. Freedom of the press is a freedom everyone has: the freedom to print what you like. “Press” was not a synonym for “professional news reporters”, which is the most common modern usage of the word press. The fact that WikiLeaks isn’t using a printing press to publicize information is irrelevant.

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  5. And so it goes. The funny thing is, I just don’t care any more. In fact, I now wonder if the demagogues out there are actually people like me, ‘cept that they actually care even *less*, and have decided to make a buck. Me, I still have some standards…

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  6. If the publisher of a small website dedicated to the dissemination of the state-secrets of the Chinese government were operating their publishing outfit out of the United States and published a bunch of leaked Chinese state secrets […] and the Chinese government declared that a violation of Chinese law, should the US government arrest and detain and possibly extradite that person to China?

    nope

    Let’s assume for a moment that this person is a United States citizen. Is he guilty of treason against China?

    nope

    Would it be reasonable to say this person was violating Chinese law and should be tried and possibly executed in China?

    only if one thinks that Chinese law applies outside the borders of China

    Does Chinese law trump civil rights and civil liberties for non-Chinese citizens?

    nope

    Do China’s legitimate security concerns outweigh the civil liberties of non-Chinese citizens? Of American citizens?

    nope and nope

    One last question: Should all the media outlets who published the material they received from Assange be punished in kind?

    nope

    If not, why are they held to different standards?

    Assange shouldn’t be punished, nor should anyone else exercising their freedom of speech and press, with the possible exception of individuals who agreed to forgo those freedoms as part of their jobs, i.e. personnel handling classified information

    Also, substitute the U.S. for China in the above hypotheticals and vice versa, and all the answers should stay the same, if one is intellectually honest and consistent in one’s principles w.r.t. freedom of speech and the press

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  7. No No No. In general foreign laws can be recognized and enforced in the US if the US passes laws saying they are ok AND they do not conflict with US Constitutional rights. For example, the UK has pretty absurd libel laws that would never fly in the US. In general judgements for libel in the UK cannot be enforced in the US unless it can be shown that in that particular case the libel judgement would not infringe on US first amendment rights.

    Applying a wikileaks China version, I don’t see the US Congress passing laws saying that US citizens have to abide by China’s state secrets laws. China could allege that its documents were stolen and the US person is guilty of receiving stolen property or conspiring with the thief to steal (which is likely the argument against the real wikileaks). The US response might be “talk to us about intellectual theft extradition when you let us arrest all the Chinese hackers who are selling bootleg copies of Microsoft Office and American movies”. In theory, though, the answer is yes the person can be arrested and extradicted to China provided the US could come to some type of extradition agreement that would survive Constitutional challenge in the US courts.

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