Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Sure, prosecute the Wikileaks leaker — but first, how about going after the torturers?

I am a bit surprised to find myself thinking that if this soldier really did what he is accused of doing-just throwing classified information onto the internet randomly-than he should go off and do time. Why surprised? Because I was the recipient of tons of leaks over the years as a reporter. Most were not ...

I am a bit surprised to find myself thinking that if this soldier really did what he is accused of doing-just throwing classified information onto the internet randomly-than he should go off and do time.

Why surprised? Because I was the recipient of tons of leaks over the years as a reporter. Most were not potentially dangerous, and a much of it was way overclassified. And when I did have stuff that could endanger troops and other people, my editors had a procedure in place to discuss it with officialdom before going to press. They didn’t give the government the power to censor, but they did give them a serious chance to make their case.

I believe in the First Amendment, close to absolutely. Newspapers should be allowed to pretty much publish whatever they want. I believe that does our country far more good than harm. Yet I also believe in military discipline. People should do their jobs and keep their words-reporters and soldiers alike. Yes, that sometimes puts people at odds, but the founding fathers, in their wisdom, gave us an adversarial system, designed to check and balance power.

But then, I am a rule of law guy. Prosecuting this soldier is the right thing to do-but even more so would be going after all those who tortured people in our name. In fact, let’s go after the torturers first, because they have done far more damage to our country and values. If the government has some free time left over after dealing with that stain, then sure, go after this kid.

I am a bit surprised to find myself thinking that if this soldier really did what he is accused of doing-just throwing classified information onto the internet randomly-than he should go off and do time.

Why surprised? Because I was the recipient of tons of leaks over the years as a reporter. Most were not potentially dangerous, and a much of it was way overclassified. And when I did have stuff that could endanger troops and other people, my editors had a procedure in place to discuss it with officialdom before going to press. They didn’t give the government the power to censor, but they did give them a serious chance to make their case.

I believe in the First Amendment, close to absolutely. Newspapers should be allowed to pretty much publish whatever they want. I believe that does our country far more good than harm. Yet I also believe in military discipline. People should do their jobs and keep their words-reporters and soldiers alike. Yes, that sometimes puts people at odds, but the founding fathers, in their wisdom, gave us an adversarial system, designed to check and balance power.

But then, I am a rule of law guy. Prosecuting this soldier is the right thing to do-but even more so would be going after all those who tortured people in our name. In fact, let’s go after the torturers first, because they have done far more damage to our country and values. If the government has some free time left over after dealing with that stain, then sure, go after this kid.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

More from Foreign Policy

An aerial display of J-10 fighter jets of China’s People’s Liberation.

The World Doesn’t Want Beijing’s Fighter Jets

Snazzy weapons mean a lot less if you don’t have friends.

German infantrymen folllow a tank toward Moscow in the snow in, 1941 during Operation Barbarossa, Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union. The image was published in. Signal, a magazine published by the German Third Reich. Art Media/Print Collector/Getty Images

Panzers, Beans, and Bullets

This wargame explains how Russia really stopped Hitler.

19th-century Chinese rebel Hong Xiuquan and social media influencer Addison Rae.

America’s Collapsing Meritocracy Is a Recipe for Revolt

Chinese history shows what happens when an old system loses its force.

Afghan militia gather with their weapons to support Afghanistan security forces.

‘It Will Not Be Just a Civil War’

Afghanistan’s foreign minister on what may await his country after the U.S. withdrawal.