In his latest post on the National Review website, conservative blogger Jonah Goldberg wonders why the CIA hasn’t had the sense to assassinate WikiLeaks founder and current renegade leaker Julian Assange. That’s right: Goldberg believes that in the national interest (for Assange has gathered and leaked massive amounts of classified information relating to U.S. military operations), the U.S. government should murder an Australian citizen without due process, a trial, or anything approaching regard for law, ethics, and human rights.
I make it a rule, in the interest of civility and respect, to control the urge to sink to pure name-calling, but really: what an idiot. And a dangerous one.
Balancing American values and core democratic principles with the military’s and government’s legitimate need for secrecy under certain conditions is an ongoing, and probably never to be resolved, problem. I am no fan of Assange or the Assange of an earlier generation, Daniel Ellsberg. Still, messianic, arrogant, reckless and irresponsible though I think they may be, such whistleblowers and practitioners of civil disobedience have rights. Even if it was to be determined that they engaged in treason, or espionage, or other serious crimes, they still have the right to be tried for those crimes. I do not believe that Richard Nixon, at his most paranoid and ethically compromised, would have ever considered having Daniel Ellsberg killed. Nor, obviously, should he have considered it.
Murder, outside of the context of self-defense, capital punishment and declared warfare is indefensible. I am not naive; I know that America has and still does engage in covert activities that our Constitution and the strictures of human decency forbid. I know that there may be powerful reasons for doing so. I also know that every time our nation performs such an act, for whatever reason, our integrity as a nation, our credibility as force for good in the world, and our character as a people and a culture, are weakened, wounded and scarred. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were such acts. So was the torture of terrorist suspects during the Bush administration. There have been others, undoubtedly more than we know. I don’t have the answer for how a nation balances the need to prevail in the amoral jungle of international conflict with the danger of forfeiting the worthiness to prevail by defiling its own principles in the process. I do know that once the public and the media cease to push our government to always place our special values first, America, as an idea and an ideal, is doomed.
Jonah Goldberg, and many others, I am sure, do not understand this. They are the equivalent of the devil whispering in our nation’s ear.
[Appreciation and indebtedness to Ezra at Pope Hat for flagging Goldberg’s post.]
UPDATE: Goldberg now says that he wasn’t calling for an assassination, consistent with the comment by Ken, of Pope Hat.com, below. Assuming this is true, the post is unethical for a different reason: it’s incompetent and irresponsible. If one is going to advocate assassination by the U.S. government with tongue in cheek, you have an obligation to make it crystal clear that this is what your are doing. Goldberg, heaven knows why, is regarded as an important blogger and commentator, and his posts get widely circulated. He has an obligation to be clear when he is talking about the virtues of murder.