Stephen M Kohn
Wednesday 15 December 2010
In 1917, in the midst of a war hysteria, the United States passed the Espionage Act. The law has nothing to do with prosecuting spies. From its inception, it had everything to do with suppressing dissent. The Great War was unpopular with many Americans, very like today's engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Make no mistake about it. The Espionage Act targeted political dissidents. Senator Kenneth McKellar of Tennessee offered a simple defence of the law when it was introduced to Congress: "If we cannot reason with men to be loyal, it is high time we forced them to be loyal." Others, such as Congressman William Green of Iowa, were more blunt. His statement resembled modern calls supporting the execution of the suspected WikiLeaks "whistleblower" Bradley Manning: "For the extermination of these pernicious vermin no measures can be too severe."
Why is the threat to prosecute WikiLeaks under the Espionage Act so potentially destructive? The law is not restricted to properly prohibiting the release of classified information. The law is not restricted to protecting legitimate government secrets. The law broadly prohibits any publication by anyone (newspapers included) of information related to national security, which may cause an "injury to the United States".
There are responsible mechanisms policing truly abusive leaks. The Espionage Act is not such a tool.
The attorney general should stop trying to resurrect the Espionage Act, and instead dust off his copy of the US constitution. If he has any question as to the meaning of the first amendment, he should read James Madison's 1789 speech, in which he introduced the bill of rights in the first Congress of the United States: "Freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable."
|June 1914 issue of The Masses. Cover Illustration was drawn by John French Sloan |
and depicts the Ludlow Massacre.
Most of the people working for "The Masses," such as Dorothy Day, John Reed,
Floyd Dell, Art Young, Boardman Robinson & H. J. Glintenkamp & many others,
believed WWI was caused by the imperialist competitive
system & that the US should remain neutral.
When the US declared war on the Central Powers in 1917, The Masses came under
government pressure to change its policy. Refusing to do so, the journal lost its
mailing privileges. Then it was prosecuted under the Espionage Act,
forcing the paper to cease publication.