WikiLeaks has never even been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime, nor does it do anything different than what major newspapers around the world routinely do, nor has it been formally designated a Terrorist organization, nor -- I believed at the time -- could it ever be so designated. There is not -- and cannot remotely be -- anything illegal about donating to it. Any efforts to retroactively criminalize such donations would be a classic case of an "ex post facto" law unquestionably barred by the Constitution. But from a political perspective, the crux of the fear was probably more prescient than paranoid: within a matter of months, leading right-wing figures were equating WikiLeaks to Al Qaeda, while the Vice President of the U.S. went on Meet the Press and disgustingly called Julian Assange a "terrorist."
But more significant than the legal soundness of this fear was what the fear itself signified. Most of those expressing these concerns were perfectly rational, smart, well-informed American citizens. And yet they were petrified that merely donating money to a non-violent political and journalistic group whose goals they supported would subject them to invasive government scrutiny or, worse, turn them into criminals. A government can guarantee all the political liberties in the world on paper (free speech, free assembly, freedom of association), but if it succeeds in frightening the citizenry out of exercising those rights, they [the rights] become meaningless.
So much of what the U.S. Government has done over the last decade has been devoted to creating and strengthening this climate of fear. Attacking Iraq under the terrorizing banner of "shock and awe"; disappearing people to secret prisons; abducting them and shipping them to what Newsweek's Jonathan Alter (when advocating this) euphemistically called "our less squeamish allies"; throwing them in cages for years without charges, dressed in orange jumpsuits and shackles; creating a worldwide torture regime; spying on Americans without warrants and asserting the power to arrest them on U.S. soil without charges: all of this had one overarching objective. It was designed to create a climate of repression and intimidation by signaling to the world -- and its own citizens -- that the U.S. was unconstrained by law, by conventions, by morality, or by anything else: the government would do whatever it wanted to anyone it wanted, and those thinking about opposing the U.S. in any way, through means legitimate or illegitimate, should (and would) thus think twice, at least.
The salon.com article is here