National Lawyers Guild Calls for End to International Pressure to Disable Wikileaks

December 15, 2010
Paige Cram
Communications Coordinator
212-679-5100, ext. 15

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) calls for an immediate end to U.S. and foreign governments’ efforts to disable WikiLeaks by applying technological, financial, and legal pressures, including threatened arrest of editor Julian Assange under espionage or related charges.

WikiLeaks has not violated any U.S. or international law by publishing documents leaked by others, whether or not they include classified U.S. diplomatic cables. In the 1971 Pentagon Papers case, New York Times Co. v. U.S., the Supreme Court determined that, with very narrow exceptions, publication of leaked classified information is constitutionally protected. Justices Stewart and White emphasized that in light of the executive branch’s responsibility to ensure national security by protecting certain information and the president’s authority to conduct foreign affairs without oversight, “The only effective restraint upon executive policy and power… may lie in an enlightened citizenry--in an informed and critical public opinion which alone can here protect the values of democratic government.”

Revelations in the leaked cables include instructions to diplomatic personnel to carry out unlawful attacks on citizens, assassinations, and overthrows of foreign governments. While legitimate diplomatic activity may rightfully remain confidential, that limited privilege is lost when the government sanctions or engages in criminal activity. The state is not entitled to lie to its citizens or elected bodies, or ask other governments to do the same, giving a small number of executive officials unfettered discretion to carry out secret illegal policies and activities.

Absent any legal means to restrain WikiLeaks’ publications, many governments, including the United States, Germany, China, and Thailand, have moved to intimidate and censor the site and individuals associated with it. In response, private entities comprising WikiLeaks’ financial and hosting pipeline—including PayPal, Visa, MasterCard, and—suspended or terminated their relationships with WikiLeaks, largely disabling it. MasterCard spokesman Chris Monteiro stated that the company cut ties with WikiLeaks because “MasterCard rules prohibit customers from directly or indirectly engaging in or facilitating any action that is illegal.” In the face of government pressure, these companies ignored the fact that neither WikiLeaks nor Julian Assange has been charged with, much less convicted of, any crime related to possession or publication of classified material. However, companies like MasterCard and Visa continue to provide e-commerce services to other organizations with a long history of proven criminal activity, such as the Ku Klux Klan.

The NLG calls on the companies that have discontinued services to WikiLeaks to resist government pressure to sever relationships with WikiLeaks and to restore them in full. The Chairman of NLG’s Committee on Democratic Communications, Mike Lee, said, “The National Lawyer’s Guild’s Committee on Democratic Communications urges the public to hold the government accountable for its unlawful actions. We hope that the business community will resist colluding in illegal activities.”

Founded in 1937, the National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest and human rights bar association in the United States.  Its headquarters are in New York City and it has chapters in every state.