You don't need to share Julian Assange's politics or his objectives to think that he's the victim of at least one double standard. If he's guilty of betraying secrets and endangering lives and making diplomacy more difficult and everything else then so are the publishers of the New York Times, the Guardian, Le Monde and every other media outlet worldwide that publishes, or republishes, anythnig to do with the leaked American diplomatic cables.
A few weeks ago I suggested that Assange really is a newsman. Even if you dispute that, however, it's hard to see how anyone can deny that he's a news publisher. So the State Department's PJ Crowley made a fool of himself last week by claiming:
“Mr. Assange obviously has a particular political objective behind his activities and I think that, among other things, disqualifies him from the possibility of being considered a journalist…
“He’s not an objective observer of anything. He’s an active player. He has an agenda, he’s trying to pursue that agenda and I don’t think he can qualify either as a journalist on the one hand or a whistle-blower on the other.”
The division in Crowley's mind between Bad Wikileaks and Responsible New York Times is entirely arbitrary. Each is a publisher; each routinely takes advantage of stolen goods and information. That one does so with an agenda that's free for all to see and the other pretends it's a disinterested observer makes no difference at all.
If Wikileaks didn't exist and these documents were being published by the newspapers alone would anyone really be calling for the imprisonment of those responsible? (Perhaps! There are a dreadful number of sanctimonious bastards in Congress. And at Westminster.) Wikileaks is simply a new player in the game, offering to host and publish stories and documents that embarrass those in power. On balance, that's a good thing.
No-one seemed to mind this until recently which is another reason to be suspicious of the anti-Wikileaks brigade. They reek of humbug and hypocrisy.
Julian Assange may be all kinds of terrible things but he's just a publisher just like Rupert Murdoch or Pinch Sulzberger or the Scott Trust or even this magazine's owners. If the Americans want to put him on trial they should build a Sicilian-style courtroom in which they can try dozens, nay hundreds, of publishers simultaneously.
This is true even if, like any sensible person (ie, me), you think it unfortunate that Assange be supported by such luminaries as Michael Moore, John Pilger, Ken Loach, Bianca Jagger and so on.
UPDATE: As tends to be the case in these matters, Glenn Greenwald is required reading.