Sen. Joe Lieberman says The New York Times may have committed a crime by publishing confidential government documents obtained from WikiLeaks, and he has asked that the Justice Department investigate, according to reports by The Hill and Fox News.
The New York Times and other news outlets recently featured stories based on a batch of a quarter-million confidential State Department cables obtained by WikiLeaks and passed on to them.
"To me, New York Times has committed at least an act of bad citizenship. And whether they've committed a crime, I think that bears very intensive inquiry by the Justice Department," said Lieberman, who is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.
Lieberman, who serves as the chairman of the Senate's Homeland Security Committee, told Fox News that he wonders why WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has not been charged with treason. “I don’t understand why that hasn’t happened yet. It sure looks to me on the facts that Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks have. He ought to be indicted and then we can ask the authorities in England to extradite him to the United States.
“I think it’s the most serious violation of the Espionage Act in our history, and the consequences globally that have occurred," he added.
He further advised that permitting WikiLeaks and its principals to walk without any penalty could encourage more leaking of classified materials in the future. "And, again, why do you prosecute crimes? Because if you don't, well, first you do because that's what our system of justice requires. Second, if you don't prosecute people who commit crimes, others are going to do it soon and again. And I'm afraid that's what's going to happen here."
According to an NPR report, David Sanger, the chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times, responded today to Lieberman's remarks.
Sanger revealed that the newspaper's editors and its lawyers debated at length whether to publish some of the cables. "This was never an easy decision to publish national security information," Sanger said. "I think at the end of this process, what we did was responsible, it was legal, and it was important for a democratic society."
Sanger, the author of “The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power,” added: "The Times knew that this material was going to be out there anyway. We didn't get the initial leak. If we had done nothing — if we had ignored it — I think it would have looked strange. I think that also would have been irresponsible. It is the responsibility of American journalism, back to the founding of this country, to get out and try to grapple with the hardest issues of the day and to do it independently of the government."
Sanger concluded, "We had to explain how this changed America's position in the world. Just as in the publication of the Pentagon Papers decades ago, when we had to explain how those documents, which also leaked, enabled us to understand very differently a war that America was in very deeply."
Adding to the confusion of who is culpable for what is the clouded nature of the unrelated charges Assange faces in Sweden. While prosecutors in that country have charged Assange with one count of rape, two counts of sexual molestation and one count of unlawful coercion – the specifics of his conduct have not yet been spelled out for public consumption.
The charges reportedly rely on allegations by two Swedish women and involve disputes over the use of condoms, and an accusation that Assange attempted to have sexual intercourse with one of the women while she was sleeping.
There has been no announcement of charges in the WikiLeaks affair by the Justice Department, which claims to be investigating potential misconduct under a variety of statutes. However, WikiLeaks has not gone unscathed. As a nonprofit outfit that relies on donations, it needs funds sent via a donor’s charge or debit card.
Leslie Phillips, a spokesman for Lieberman, said his boss was ''encouraged that businesses around the world have followed the lead of Amazon and dropped WikiLeaks as a customer of their services.”
Visa Europe said it had suspended all payments to WikiLeaks pending an investigation of the organization. MasterCard is also dealing with the issue. ''MasterCard is currently in the process of working to suspend the acceptance of MasterCard cards on WikiLeaks,'' a company spokesman said, according to a Bloomberg report.
No sooner had MasterCard Inc., the world’s second-biggest payments network, announced its punitive policy toward WikiLeaks when its own website was slowed by an unprecedented flood of traffic.
According to a Bloomberg report, the MasterCard website was disrupted by an attack orchestrated by “Anonymous,” a self-described “Internet vigilante group,” and users of 4Chan, a network of uncensored message boards.
In a posting on Twitter, Anonymous referred to its attack as “Operation Payback.”
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