Sunday, December 18, 2005

A talking point fights the last war

What could be going on when the Wall Street Journal online editorial page is finding common cause with the World War I vintage of the American Socialist party? Spin for the White House that passed its sell-by date by the time it hit the shelves. Here's the context. The Journal had opposed the McCain amendment bannning cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by US personnel anywhere in the world, and James Taranto at the WSJ offers this explanation of why it passed:

The McCain amendment, along with U.S. Supreme Court decisions in favor of terrorists' rights and the threatened Democratic filibuster of the Patriot Act's renewal, represents, in part, an overcompensation for the excesses of previous wars. In the past, the Supreme Court has upheld genuine outrages against civil liberties during wartime, such as restrictions on free speech during World War I (Schenck v. U.S.) and the internment of innocent Japanese-Americans during World War II (Korematsu v. U.S.)

So follow the link on the first case: it's 1919 Supreme Court case upholding convictions of Socialist party activists for violating the 1917 Espionage Act through distribution of anti-war material to military recruits. But with these heh-style links that the right does, there's always a subtext. Because it's the same Act that has caused so much trouble for them in the Valerie Plame outing; one of the laws that Scooter Libby and Karl Rove may have broken concerned leaks of classified information, which is also a crime under the same Act.

Christopher Hitchens had even chimed in to note the analogy between the Act and the UK Official Secrets Act, and in fact the sudden interest of the Journal in the rights of socialist agitators suggests that Hitch may have provided the point to them in the first place. Anyway, the principle is established: prosecutions under the Espionage Act are a relic of wartime zealousness.

Alas! Move forward now to Dubya's Saturday morning address on the leaks to the New York Times about the National Security Agency's domestic spying program:

As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk. Revealing classified information is illegal, alerts our enemies, and endangers our country.

In particular, it's illegal under the Espionage Act. The right has usually preferred analogies of the GWOT with World War II. Look next week for a surge in analogies to the Great War.

UPDATE 21 DEC: Powerline doesn't seem to get this point either --

[Max] Boot does not point out that, unlike the leak of Plame's position and relationship to Joe Wilson, the leak of the information regarding the NSA eavesdropping program is flagrantly illegal.

Indeed, they had cited chapter and verse on why the NSA leak was illegal:

Federal law (18 U.S.C. § 798) prohibits the disclosure of several narrowly defined categories of information,

Work back to sections 793 and 794 and you're at the Espionage Act.

UPDATE 2 FEB: Powerline now falls squarely into the trap:

Rather, the central issue raised by the Times story is whether the Times itself violated the Espionage Act by publishing highly classified communications intelligence during wartime.

And [10 March] Jack Shafer at Slate goes carefully through the attempts to breathe life back into Espionage Act prosecutions.

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