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Defining Terrorism Down

Monday, November 29, 2010, 13:30 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

If this is the inanity that is to come from the next two years of a Republican-controlled House, perhaps the Republicans should prepare for only two years.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the panel’s presumptive next head, asked the Obama administration today to “determine whether WikiLeaks could be designated a foreign terrorist organization,” putting the group in the same company as Al Qaeda and Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese cult that released deadly sarin gas on the Tokyo subway.

“WikiLeaks appears to meet the legal criteria” of a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, King wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reviewed by CNET. He added: “WikiLeaks presents a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States.”

Rep. King sounds like he’s already drunk with the power he doesn’t yet have. Releasing factual information, however deceptively and/or illegally obtained, is now terrorism? Please. That sounds an awful lot like certain university invertebrates’ defining speech with which they disagree as “assault.” It’s a blatant attempt to play on people’s emotional responses to frightening concepts. In the WikiLeaks case, it’s also an end run around the Constitution, which says that Congress, not the Executive branch, makes laws.

I’m not sure how King defines terrorism, but I contend that a reasonable person would define it more narrowly than something that “presents a clear and present danger” to the nation. For one thing, terrorism has long been understood to be violence targeting civilians. If he disagrees, let him sponsor legislation to make the release of classified information punishable in the same way that terrorism is now, and presuming it passes, let the courts have at it.

In the meantime, there might very well be laws under which WikiLeaks, not to mention the person or people who provided the information in the first place, can be prosecuted. The article references the Espionage Act, which sounds like an appropriate place to start. The matter should be handled by the FBI, not the White House or the State Department. Certainly not by a lone Congress member from Long Island.

Categories: government, law & justice
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