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Persecution of Assange and Wikileaks Is an Attack on Free Speech

Where will the criminalization of Wikileaks end – and what will it mean for the rest of us who may be engaged in non-violent First Amendment speech or advocacy?

What do Richard Nixon, recent Nobel prize winner Liu Xiaobo and Julian Assange have in common?

As lawyers for Wikileaks editor-in-chief Assange began preparing for a possible indictment by US authorities, two recent, unrelated but highly relevant news items caught my attention. The first involves the gift that keeps on giving in this and apparently every holiday season — Richard Nixon. Although it’s been nearly four decades since he left the Oval Office in disgrace, Nixon’s attitudes and actions, and the lessons we can draw from them, are as timely as ever – particularly so considering the controversy over Assange and his role in the release of secret cables revealing the attitudes and actions of more current American leaders such as Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

The latest evidence of America’s closed-door political chicanery came with the release by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum of yet another trove of audiotapes of the ever-voluble former president. This time Tricky Dick can be heard chatting in the Oval Office with top aides and his personal secretary – all the while making a range of disparaging remarks about Jews, blacks, Italian-Americans and Irish-Americans – some sixteen months before he was forced to resign as president.

For example, Nixon,  who claimed not to be prejudiced, told senior adviser Charles Colson on February 13, 1973, that “The Jews are just a very aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious personality.” The president’s negative attitudes toward Jews extended even to such close colleagues as his National Security Adviser Henry A. Kissinger, but his rampant bigotry did not end with his Jewish brethren.

“All people have certain traits,” Nixon opined. “The Irish have certain — for example, the Irish can’t drink. What you always have to remember with the Irish is they get mean. Virtually every Irish I’ve known gets mean when he drinks. Particularly the real Irish.” He continued: “The Italians, of course, those people course don’t have their heads screwed on tight. They are wonderful people, but…”

Nixon also revealed deep doubts about the abilities of African-Americans. He thought it would take centuries of miscegenation to integrate them fully into American society. He strongly disagreed with his Secretary of State William Rogers, who felt instead that “They are going to strengthen our country in the end because they are strong physically and some of them are smart.”

“My own view is I think he’s right if you’re talking in terms of 500 years,” Nixon remarked. “I think it’s wrong if you’re talking in terms of 50 years. What has to happen is they have be, frankly, inbred.”

As with many of the previously secret cables from Wikileaks, the long-secret Oval Office tapes don’t simply reinforce what we already know about our national leaders and what they are like when they think we aren’t listening. They also reveal valuable, detailed behind-the-scenes information about their values, veracity, geopolitical views, decision-making processes and the like. Take the subject of human rights as one example — neither Nixon nor Kissinger seemed terribly concerned over the Soviet Union’s treatment of its Jewish citizens: “If they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern,” Kissinger can be heard saying on the tapes. “Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responds. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

Just as the latest batch of Nixon tapes was released, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded, in absentia, to the imprisoned Chinese writer and dissident Liu Xiaobo. Liu is now serving an 11-year sentence for the heinous crime of “incitement to the overthrow of the state power and socialist system and the people’s democratic dictatorship.” For only the second time in history, no relative or representative of the winner was present at the ceremony to accept the award or the $1.5 million check it comes with. So no one was able to speak out on Liu’s behalf – although he did somehow manage to send word that he would dedicate the award to the “lost souls” massacred in 1989 in Tiananmen Square.

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