Victims' Rights Caucus

Speeches

Mr. Speaker, Julian Assange was insufferable as he left a London courthouse Thursday.

"During my time in solitary confinement in the bottom of a Victorian prison, I had time to reflect on the conditions of those people around the world also in solitary confinement," he said after posting bail ---- as if nine days in an English jail fighting extradition to Sweden on sex charges made him a regular Nelson Mandela.

Before Assange motored off to his house arrest at a friend's mansion, one of his lawyers expressed his determination that Assange "will not be going back to that cell once occupied by Oscar Wilde."

Oscar Wilde? Those cheeky Brits. Assange's indiscriminate dump of American government secrets over the last several months ---- with hardly a care for who might be hurt or what public good was served ---- can be summarized nicely by one of the playwright's aphorisms: Nothing succeeds like excess.

I can understand why Obama administration figures want to prosecute Assange for espionage or other crimes. I confess I'd like to throw a cream pie in his face myself.

But prosecuting Assange would give him exactly what he wants: proof that America is hypocritical, that we don't live by the freedoms we preach. Assange would like nothing more than to be a martyr, and President Obama shouldn't give him that.

The better way to deal with Assange is to make him irrelevant. The only reason WikiLeaks has been a sensation is the absurd secrecy of the Obama administration, in some ways worse than that of George W. Bush. The reflexive classifying of things that shouldn't be secret has, by creating the perception that the United States government has much to hide, created a market for WikiLeaks.

In fact, the WikiLeaks disclosures have been generally benign. Vice President Biden said Thursday that he didn't see "any substantive damage" from them. The biggest revelation was that so many supposed government secrets really aren't secrets.

The episode spotlighted Obama's surprisingly poor record on government openness. The administration has already undertaken four prosecutions of government leakers, more than any predecessor, in some cases using the arcane, World-War-I era Espionage Act. At the same time, the administration stymied efforts in Congress to pass a "shield law" to protect journalists' confidential sources.

Government-secrecy watchdog Steven Aftergood at the Federation of American Scientists reports that the administration has yet to produce recommendations for the "fundamental transformation" of security classification system Obama ordered a year ago. The government in the first six months of this year declassified only 8 million of the 400 million documents it is supposed to release by 2013. Over-classification is so prevalent that even the Pentagon Papers ---- leaked by Daniel Ellsberg nearly four decades ago ---- are still classified as Top Secret.

It's little wonder that Ellsberg himself has empathy for WikiLeaks. At a news conference at the National Press Club on Thursday, shortly before going to chain himself to the White House fence in a protest, the 79-year-old Ellsberg said Assange is a hero. Convicting Assange, he said, "would mean that the crown had returned to America ... and that we're really under a monarchical system of total control of information."

Ellsberg was accompanied by an activist from Assange's Australia, who lectured Americans on free speech. "We thought that America stood firm for the Constitution, for its First Amendment rights," said the activist, Brett Solomon. "If something has changed, then