It is apparent that the nation of Ecuador will now be in the frame for what American foreign policy elites like to call, in their dainty and delicate language, “the path of action.” Ecuador granted political asylum to Julian Assange on Thursday for one reason only: the very real possibility that he would be “rendered” to the United States for condign punishment, including the possibility of execution.
None of the freedom-loving democracies involved in the negotiations over his fate — Britain, Sweden, and the United States — could guarantee that this would not happen … even though Assange has not been charged with any crime under U.S. law. [And even though the sexual misconduct allegations he faces in Sweden would not be crimes under U.S. or UK law.] Under these circumstances — and after a sudden, blustering threat from Britain to violate the Ecuadorean embassy and seize Assange anyway — the government of Ecuador felt it had no choice but to grant his asylum request.
As we all know, some of America’s top political figures have openly called for Assange to be put to death for the crime of — well, what was his crime, exactly, in American eyes? His crime is this: he published information leaked to him by a whistleblower — exactly as the New York Times, the Washington Post, CBS, NBC, Fox News, etc., etc., do on a regular basis. Some American leaders and media blowhards have demanded he be executed for “treason,” although, as an Australian citizen, he cannot commit treason against the United States. Others say his leaking of classified documents (none of them remotely as sensitive as, say, the much-celebrated Pentagon Papers from the Vietnam Era) has put “American soldiers in danger” — even though America’s own military and intelligence officials have repeatedly stated that no one has been harmed from the publication of documents on Wikileaks.
No one has been physically harmed, that is. Of course, great harm has been done to the pride of the puffed–up poltroons who strut and preen atop the imperial battlements, thinking themselves the lords of all the earth and the apple of every little peon’s eye. Their crimes and lies and third-rate minds were exposed — in their own words — by Wikileaks: and it is for this that Assange must pay. (And be made an example of to all those who might do likewise.) Our imperial elites (and their innumerable little yapping media sycophants on both sides of the political fence) simply cannot bear to have American power and domination resisted in any way, at any time, for any reason, anywhere, by anyone. It offends their imperial dignity. It undermines their extremely fragile, frightened, frantic egos, which can only be held together by melding themselves to an image of monstrous, implacable, unstoppable power.
It also — and by no means incidentally — threatens to put a slight crimp in their bottom line, for the American system is now thoroughly militarized; the elite depend, absolutely, on war, death, terror and fear to sustain their economic dominance. As the empire’s chief sycophant, Thomas Friedman, once put it: “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.” You really can’t put it any plainer than that. The only path to prosperity is through domination by armed force. Others must die, must suffer, must quake in fear, to preserve our comfort. This is Modern American Militarism in a nutshell: the ruling ideology and national religion of American society today.
Anything or anyone who threatens this dominance — or just disagrees with it, or simply wants to be left alone by it — is automatically judged an enemy of the imperial state. You must accept the system. You must get with the program. You cannot question it. The beliefs or religion or ideology of the resister (or perceived resister) do not matter in the slightest. Even the impact (or lack of impact) of the resistance doesn’t matter. It is resistance that it is the crime. It is the refusal to acknowledge the greatness and goodness of the strutters on the battlements, and the legitimacy of their armed domination over the earth, and over you.
It is not enough that you obey; you must be seen to obey. You must obey cheerfully, without complaint — just ask any of thousands and thousands of your fellow citizens who have been tasered or beaten or arrested for failing to show due deference to a police officer or security guard or any of the many other heavily armed figures out there who can stop us, hold us, put us away — or put us down — on the merest whim.
Although Britain is acting as the beard in this case, the government of the Nobel Peace Laureate is clearly driving the action. It is simply inconceivable that Washington will not find ways to punish Ecuador for this act of lèse–majesté. What form it will take remains to be seen (although it could begin with covert backing for Britain’s violation of the Ecuadorean embassy in London). But the fragile, frantic strutters will not let this pass.
UPDATE: Just to make it clear, sexual assault is a very serious matter. To say that the accusations now being made against Assange would not constitute a crime under U.S. or UK law is not to diminish the right of all women to be free from sexual assault in any form.
But these concerns have nothing to do with what is being played out in London right now. Assange has not actually been criminally charged with sexual assault, although this claim is repeated unceasingly in stories about the situation. [Including my post above, when I carelessly wrote “charges” in place of “allegations”; now corrected.] He is wanted for questioning in a case involving such allegations; a case which was at first dismissed by a prosecutor then reopened later by a different prosecutor. This prosecutor did not charge Assange with a crime, but wanted to question him further in the process of re-examining whether formal charges are warranted.
Now here is one of the many bizarre turns in this story. Assange was in the UK after the case was re-opened. If the prosecutors wanted to question him, they could have done so at any time, either by coming to London or interviewing him via video hookup. There are ample precedents in European and Swedish law for either course. They refused to do so. (They have also refused Ecuador’s offer to have Assange interrogated in their London embassy.) Assange has also said he would return to Sweden for questioning if the government there would guarantee he would not be extradited to the United States. This was also refused.
Given the fact that Swedish prosecutors have repeatedly turned down opportunities to question Assange about the case — even though they say this is their sole aim — it is not entirely unreasonable to assume, as Assange has done, that there is some other intention behind the process that has led to the standoff we see today. If the primary concern was justice for the two women involved in the allegations, who have had the case hanging over their heads for almost two years, Assange could have been questioned by Swedish authorities at any time during that period, and the process of resolving the case, one way or another, could have moved forward. But this has not been done.
As Assange’s lawyer, Per Samuelson, notes:
In August 2010, Assange was interviewed by the police for the first time, then released. A month later, the prosecutor requested an additional police interrogation be held, insisting this time that it be done with Assange behind bars. She called for Assange’s arrest, issued a European arrest warrant and ordered that he be deported from the UK. Stockholm district court and the Svea court of appeal upheld her request and arrested Assange in absentia.
Neither Assange nor I can understand the motivation. Why couldn’t the second police interview be conducted with Assange at liberty? Assange is not a Swedish citizen. He does not reside in Sweden. His work has worldwide impact and he must be able to travel freely to accomplish this. He would happily have presented himself for interrogation and, had the case gone to trial, willingly returned to Sweden to face charges. All this could have been done while he remained at liberty. Had Sweden handled the case in this way, the issue would have been resolved a long time ago.
Instead, Sweden insists on Assange’s forcible removal to Sweden. Once there, he will immediately be seized by police and put in jail. He will be taken to the detention hearing in handcuffs, and will almost certainly be detained. He will remain in custody for the duration of the proceedings. This is unnecessary. The prosecutor is at liberty to withdraw the arrest warrant and lift the detention order, and a hearing in Sweden could be arranged very quickly. The prosecutor could also arrange a hearing in the UK or at the Swedish embassy in London.
Again, it seems evident that the Swedish authorities did not want to pursue any of these options, but have instead sought relentlessly to put Assange in a Swedish jail and keep him there. Whatever their motives for this heavy-handed course of action, concern for victims of sexual assault does not seem to be among them.