Assange is Australian, and so long as he personally puts the leaks on Wikileaks, he cannot be tried for treason in the US. Paypal, Visa et al. on the other hand are corporations that do business in the US. They are bound by US law, and the law would go something to the effect of “aiding and abetting treason.” There might even be a little of “profiting from crime” or other such things thrown in.
It might seem weird…since you can’t actually nail Assange to the wall for treason, but in the complex world where international law meets domestic law, if you are a US citizen helping someone post classified material in a public forum you are functionally aiding the commission of treason.
Now, that isn’t to say this should be treason. In fact, I’d be seriously shocked if anyone brought treason charges or “aiding/abetting treason” charges into play. The reason for this is that such a move would virtually be guaranteed to end up in the Supreme Court. This is the very last thing that US.gov wants; it would mean that the whole system of document classification and the various punishments for posting classified documents in public fora would be under some stupendous scrutiny.
So it’s an interesting position; posting classified documents from your own government in a public forum is illegal. Full stop. If a foreign national does so, that gets gluey. Now add in a situation like Paypal or Amazon whereby you are helping a foreign national do something that would be illegal if they weren’t a foreign national and everyone gets their knickers in a twist because the rules basically don’t exist to play this game.
At the end of the day, Paypal would likely be spanked and I have very little doubt that US.gov is far from passing some very explicit bills that make clear in no uncertain terms that any foreign national posting classified documents in a public forum will be extradited to the US to face trial just as if they were a US citizen.
I know that there are a lot of people who want to jump on the Assange bandwagon and wave the flag of “**** you, US.gov.” I think though folk should put themselves in the shoes of the people in charge of Paypal and Amazon here. The law is ambiguous enough that there exists the potential for these individuals to be /tried for treason/ simply by helping Assange out. Do you understand what the penalty for treason is? I am not saying that it is a likely possibility…but it is a very real possibility.
People deriding Paypal, Amazon and the like seem to be pretty cavalier about that. It’s easy to tell someone else “stand up for my principals, even if there is the possibility that you will face charges of treason!” After all, the people deriding these companies aren’t the ones being called on to make that choice in a very public fashion.
Imagine you are a guy in a suit somewhere is approached by a US.gov representative one day. You are told “your company is doing X to support illegal individual/cause Y. This could potentially make you liable in the worst possible case for A, B, C and D.” You don’t have a personal stake in cause Y. You don’t have an emotional investment in it and aren’t 100% sure that you even agree with cause Y. You want to go home to your wife and kids, pet your dog fluffy. It takes you five seconds to tell your minions “pull support for cause Y” and the problem goes away. The scary man with his worst case scenarios goes away with it.
So I ask you…and every one else beating up on Amazon or Paypal...why should the people in charge of these companies put themselves at risk for your principals? Try to look beyond who thinks who is right and wrong and look at the actual people involved here. The risks you are demanding other human beings take upon themselves.
Assange can get away with it; he’s in a neatly grey area of the law. The suit at Paypal or Amazon simply doesn’t have that luxury.