According to Christopher Hitchens, the WikiLeaks founder is an unscrupulous megalomaniac with a political agenda, and should “turn himself in” in order to accept the consequences of his “civil disobedience”. The character assessment may or may not be true, but Hitchens’ argument that Assange should “turn himself in” on those grounds is nonsense.
Wikileaks is not engaging in civil disobedience unless it is both breaking laws by which it is bound and representing that misbehaviour as civil disobedience – which normally only relates to the breaking of what one considers bad laws which are part of a good system (and if the system as a whole is considered corrupt then all bets are off). But Wikileaks do not claim to be engaged in civil disobedience, and Assange is not an American so has no moral obligation to feel bound by American law. And while it is true that the claim of engaging in civil disobedience does generally imply a willingness to accept the consequences, even those who do so engage have no obligation to facilitate the exercise of the laws to which they object – so evasion of capture is often part of the process so long as it is non-violent and does not involve the violation of other more serious proscriptions.
In Wikileaks case, the principle of openness may be considered (by the participants if not by me) to be sufficiently important that a threat to the project justifies a harmful response (such as the release of unredacted information) and, even if I disagree wiht that, the extent of my condemnation would be less than for the use of such a threat for personal purposes. But to use the threat to escape unrelated charges would have been truly reprehensible, so I am thankful that Assange did turn himself in to face the Swedish accusations (which themselves do raise challenging issues of more than prurient interest).
Sadly, the Hitchens article also includes an offensive mischaracterization of the Bush White House’s serious and dangerous violation of security for the purposes of a fraudulent political agenda which Hitchens supported (and coincidentally this comes just a day or two after I saw the movie ‘Fair Game’ about the same incident).