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Hearing turns into discussion on WikiLeaks

  |   Dec. 2, 2010 at 3:38 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- U.S. military officials speaking before a Senate committee Thursday expressed their outrage over the release of sensitive documents by WikiLeaks

"It is reprehensible, and I have been very clear that I think it did and continues to put lives at stake," Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a hearing on the report concerning the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bars gays and lesbians from openly serving in the armed forces.

So far only one person, a private first class, has been jailed because of the leaked material. The latest round of sensitive documents released by the whistle-blower Web site involve U.S. State Department cables. Previously released material concerned the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Asked by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., whether the military could conduct its own inquiry while the Justice Department conducts its criminal investigation, Mullen said the limits of the criminal investigation resulted in no one else being held accountable, so far.

He repeated what Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said: The Pentagon "is taking significant steps to limit the possibility (of a security breach) in the future."

Mullen also said he would support Congress taking punitive action against the leadership and personnel at WikiLeaks when asked his opinion by McCain.

"Well, it's out of my lane, but I feel pretty strongly that this is an individual that should be held accountable for his actions," Mullen said.

Mullen said he didn't know how punitive measures would be meted out because of the complexity of the matter.

"But in my world, when I've got men and women in harm's way, and they are now exposed because of this, I think we, as a country, should do all we can to make sure that it can't happen again," he said.

Asked by McCain to offer his opinion, Defense Department General Counsel Jeh Johnson said he personally doesn't view WikiLeaks as "conventional journalism."

When the leaks began several months ago, "if you look on their Web page, it is an open solicitation for classified evidence," Johnson said. "It's an open solicitation to break the law and a materially false and misleading representation that there will be no legal consequences to that."

Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he shared McCain's views that WikiLeaks' release of documents is "reprehensible" and that that people be held accountable.

"Anyone who has been involved should be held accountable to the extent of the law," Levin said. "If the laws aren't strong enough, we ought to strengthen them."

Levin, too, said WikiLeaks was not journalism but a "threat to our security and we should act to make sure it doesn't happen again."

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