Julian Assange: hero or zero

Gabriel Sutton | Contributing Writer

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Julian Assange is the founder of WikiLeaks, a website that publishes classified government files obtained from unidentified sources. These documents contain information dealing with political and military intelligence.

Although he is seen as a Robin Hood to many, stealing from the powerful to enlighten the masses, Assange is now holed up in London’s Ecuadorian embassy. He was granted asylum to avoid trial for allegations of rape in Sweden and to avoid being extradited to the United States, where he believes he will not receive fair treatment.

The questions of Assange’s fate and the future of WikiLeaks are concerns for many powerful governments, and his growing public support is making the situation tricky. When Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard revoked Assange’s passport, her decision was met with outspoken criticism from opposing political parties.

 And this is where public opinion can have its impact. With federal election coverage flooding the American media this fall, the spotlight will be on our government officials and how they stand on important issues. If the future of Assange becomes a social interest, popular opinion will have its hand in the political arena.

So where should you stand? Is Assange a hero, lifting the gubernatorial veil during a time when the right to privacy is subdued by executive order (the Patriot Act)? Or is he a threat to world security, publishing documents that, in the wrong hands, could hinder American interests and the interests of her allies?

Well, before you grab your pitchfork and start your march on Washington, you need to know how this information can be used against our troops in the Middle East. If the names of classified overseas aides are revealed, they and their families may be executed, hindering the progress of our troops.

But according to WikiLeaks.org, some measurements are taken to reduce the harm caused by posted materials. In the Afghan War Diary, published in 2010, WikiLeaks said they “delayed the release of some 15,000 reports from the total archive as part of a harm minimization process demanded by (their) source.”

But should an Australian hacker have the sole power to choose what classified information is available to the public? Should all of it be available to the public? The voting public needs to decide.

I don’t believe that an Australian hacker should have the right to decide what classified information leaks to the public. This is too much power for one person, especially if that person isn’t even from the country producing the intelligence.

But I am glad the website published the U.S. Embassy cables, because it gives the moral majority and educated voters a better understanding of world politics. This information will refine our understanding of foreign policy, giving voters more objectivity in deciding their positions on America’s role in world affairs.

Between those who support Assange and those who think he is the worst kind of terrorist, this controversy will stir up new debates about internet security, the right to privacy and government censorship.