John Conyers has asserted a much needed voice of reason within the US judicial and political fraternity: the exercise of caution in pursuing repressive policies and in restricting long-held freedoms of the press in the false name of national security is both undesirable and indeed a dangerous precedent. At present the US seems hell bent on revenge for the embarrassment caused by Wikileaks and has focused that fury upon Assange. But the culprit here is not really an individual at all: the advent of the internet is freeing all kinds of genies - some welcome and some very unwelcome. But whatever our regrets or misgivings may be about the internet, it is an absolute that it has given unprecedented power to the people of the world: the power to communicate freely depite the restrictions of their governments, the power to share information quickly and the power to know. It is a huge freedom and governments are uneasy to see such freedoms affecting the way they have been doing business and so far ill-equipped to deal with it.
The pursuit of Julian Assange is a dangerous path for the US authorities to tread in this respect - it will potentially mean that they have in their midst a captive who will act as a focus for US criticism - but above and beyond this, it sits very poorly with a democracy when it jails someone for revealing the truth. The US's moral voice in the world has been lessened by recent wars and by its continuing Guantanamo debacle... Pursuing another ill-conceived action of this kind will be more help than hindrance to it. The US's growing reputation for illiberalism is making it increasingly difficult for it to raise matters of repressive policy, the denial of human rights, or freedom of speech with China, Zimbabwe, Burma et al when its own record is decidedly shaky. The events of the past few weeks have turned Julian Assange into a cause celebre for liberals throughout the world and for those who believe that governments can only be held to account when their own citizens have a full knowledge of what their representatives are doing. The advent of the internet has brought a new perspective of freedom to the world - as support continues to rally to Assange it is difficult to see how the genie can be put back in the bottle.