Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Return of SMERSH

Okay, let's breathe deeply.

Many American politicians are calling for the arrest and prosecution of Julian Assange.  Some are calling for his assassination, thereby putting him in a very small club, with Osama bin Laden at its head, of people the United States of America -- a/k/a my country -- wants to kill.

Or, given what we've learned lately, perhaps I should say "People the United States publicly wants to kill."

Assange's crime was that he flew several billion pixels directly into the U.S.'s self-esteem.  He's done it three times now, and every time, American political leaders, a/k/a gasbags, have proclaimed with great solemnity, "This puts lives at risk."

You know what?  Nobody has died.

In the past week or so, the Land of the Free has:

1. Pressured Sweden into bringing rape charges against Assange even though the young women who participated (consensually) in the sexual encounters say it wasn't rape.

2. Pressured Interpol into putting Assange on their "most-wanted" list, an honor usually reserved for mass murderers and the most sub-human Islamic terrorists.

3. Intimidated Amazon into to kicking WikiLeaks off their servers.

4. Forced the site's DNS referrer to toss WikiLeaks out on 24 hours' notice (given at 3AM on a Tuesday), thus making it impossible for web users to find the site.

5. Intimidated PayPal to stop accepting donations on WikiLeaks' behalf.

6. Badgered the British, who seem to know where Assange is, to take him into custody immediately, which, all praise to Britain, hasn't happened yet.

7. Sent a telegram, through the State Department, to Columbia University, warning students not to discuss WikiLeaks or the leaked documents on Facebook or Twitter if they ever want to work for the government.

8. Oh, and a couple of our elected "leaders" are lobbying to place WikiLeaks (a website, for Christ's sake) on the official list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Is it just me, or does this feel to anyone else like an elephant trampling on a gnat?

Remember "transparency?"  Didn't "transparency" sound good?  Well, "transparency" has just had its ass kicked once and for all by the president I voted for (can anybody say one term?) at the head of an administration that still holds a legislative majority.  (Can anyone say, we need new parties?)

Remember "hope"?  Is this kind of illegal and immoral bullying compatible with "hope?"

Remember the ideal of the "informed electorate?"  For that matter, remember the quaint notion of "free speech?"

I can list a lot of areas in which the America of today falls short: education, long-term planning, fiscal responsibility, compassion, the all-but-abandoned struggle against corruption in government.  But there aren't many things about my country that cause me actual physical and emotional shame at being American.  One or two, at most.

And now there's one more.


  1. Hold on a sec. How did you get from "Some are calling for his assassination," to "...the United States of America--a/k/a my country--wants to kill?" Some in this country are calling for the assassination of Barack Obama. The Southern Poverty Law Center regularly publishes their pictures. But no one would then conclude that the whole country wants him dead. Assange is no one in the government's favorite guy (that rhymes with "spy"), but no one has put him on an official public hit list. I, for one, think he has merely, and quite entertainlingly, revealed mostly that politicians the world over have said or written a bunch of stuff we could easily have guessed the were saying in private. What's most interesting to me is whether he will be viewed as a journalist or a spy. That is an intriguing question.

  2. Where did you get that the women in Sweden don't want him prosecuted for rape and molestation? That some of what happened there was consensual, that I get, but my understanding was that not all of it was -- please, don't play down date rape to make a political point!

  3. So who are you going to vote for President in 2012? There are soooo many great alternatives out there.

  4. Freedom of speech, that pesky thing that the Constitution guarantees to everyone no matter how it is used.

    The NYT has an article about cyber-bullying in this weekend's issue. Middle school students use social networks like Facebook and MySpace to bully and terrorize their victims to the point that these victims have committed suicide. If you think this is blown out of proportion by the media, you haven't been in a middle school or high school since text messaging became ubiquitous. The NYT mentions that phones are used more for texting than for actual calls. Schools have rules about the use of electronic equipment during classes but the rules don't take into consideration that there are ring tones that are pitched so high that only dogs and kids under 20 can hear them.

    The article mentions some students who have been caught terrorizing someone verbally. Their parents often refuse to cooperate with authorities even after a tragedy has occurred. After my first parent-teacher meeting the first year I was teaching, I swore that I would never say, "my child would never do anything like that." Parents have no idea.

    It is interesting that Julian Assange became a household name by leaking information that could be detrimental to the United States. Assange, like Rupert Murdoch (the man who brings us the Fox channel otherwise known as the media arm of the far right), is Australian. That, to our knowledge, the US has not been harmed nor has anyone died because of the release of information, doesn't mean that damage hasn't been done.

    Remember when patriotism was a noble characteristic? During World War II, there were reminders that "loose lips sink ships". If "freedom of speech" were interpreted then as it is now, we would be speaking German or Japanese.

    Transparency? Given that people could hardly be naive enough to think that the president could govern without being behind closed doors on more than a few occasions, I think that the word was used in reference to the previous administration. Darth Vader ran the country from an undisclosed location for eight years. How is the Obama administration worse?


  5. Well, of course, both Annamaria and Anonymous are right. I should have said, "some elected officials or my country" want to kill. BTW, the always-thoughtful Newt Gingrich, an almost certain presidential candidate, said today that Assange should be treated as "a noncombatant terrorist." (He'd previously said Assange should be sentenced to life in prison.) And Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called Assange a "high-tech terrorist" this morning.

    And Anonymous is right in that only one of the two women who brought charges against Assange has described the encounter, which she said was consensual but marred by a disagreement over contraception -- so under a few easily-imagined scenarios it might very well be seen as date rape. It is worth noting, though, that the charges were withdrawn in August of this year. "I don't think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape," the chief prosecutor, Eva Finne, said.

    I should have been more careful in both instances, but the larger point I was making, which is that the United States is behaving thuggishly and illegally in its actions against Assange -- in a way it would condemn strongly if the government pursuing the WikiLeaks founder were, say, China. We didn't see anything on this scale even during the palmiest days of the Nixon scandal or the revelations, by a bunch of low-ranking reporters in Saigon that both the military and the government were systematically lying about the conduct and the course of the Vietnam war.
    In retrospect, those reporters, plus Dan Ellsberg, and Woodward & Bernstein were heroes.

    Beth, I don't think the Obama administration is "worse" than the Bush administration. I think they're identical. Obama wrote (or claims to have written) the "important" presidential memo on transparency in government that's still up (for the moment, anyway) at One of the scariest things revealed by the cables is that the Obama administration threatened "considerations" against Spain if Spain didn't abandon its trial of Americans charged with torture under Bush.

    Michael, there isn't a professional politician in America I'd vote for, not for the lowest office in the land. Assange gave an astonishing interview to the Guardian day before yesterday in which he said, in effect, that Western/US government had been "fiscalized" to the point where it was no longer political but economic; that it's become a vast, complex global network of trade treaties, currency management, corporate adventurism, and gradual privatization, all driven by money. Speech remains free in American, he said, because it doesn't matter: the people who are in charge know that the most free speech can lead to is the exchange of one party for another, and that will have virtually no effect on the global financial structure. Free speech is clamped down on in places like China, he said, because the people in charge are afraid of the people, afraid they might bring about real change. And he also said that the clampdown of free speech on the WikiLeaks issue gives him hope that some people at the highest levels of power might actually be worried about a deeper and more fundamental public reaction.

    I won't write about politics any more here; it's outside the scope of the site, and I care too deeply to try to be entertaining. (And I screw up my facts, too.)

  6. Thanks for an excellent post!

    I never did believe that rape allegation against Assange and never will. (Ever notice how our wonderful country seems to be doing that kind of thing lately. Sudden allegations.) Not to mention the torture thing.

    Oh, yes, I can say "one termer." I wrote the Prez and told him that recommending that others vote for him was one of my great regrets in life. Didn't bother to mention to him again that I, living in a state that was red, voted for Nader since my vote would not count anyway and I personally could not stomach voting for him even then since he had already said he was going to war-monger. He quit being the peace candidate as soon as he had vanquished his competitors. I'd like to see Jesse Jackson, Jr. run for president.

  7. Thanks, Anon. This story just gets worse.

    Wouldn't it be a good idea to aim all these tactics at, say, Osama bin Laden? I don't recall us getting HIS private Swiss bank accounts canceled. But then, he only killed thousands of people, and Assange made us look silly.

    Remember when Americans could laugh at themselves? The last funny thing I remember a president saying was Bush One: "I'm the President of the United States, and I don't have to eat broccoli." Of course, he immediately retracted it.

    I'm with you all the way. Obama is the most disappointing political figure of my lifetime, and that's saying a lot.

  8. 'Obama is the most disappointing political figure of my lifetime?'

    Really Tim? I'm not from the US, but I'd figure ol' Dubya, and his crooked wars and bloodstained hands, would cut a rather more disappointing figure.

    The Assange witchunt is distasteful to be sure. There will be more to come. I am not entirely convinced it stems from Government, though, even if I doubt they will be stepping into help Assange. Those nursing the biggest grievance are not the politicians; but the press.

    A journalist friend has told me that the full muck-raking might of the British press, armed with cheque books, has been turned on this guy. Murdoch and his ilk have long since nursed a grievance at various Internet entrepreneurs that are rendering them redundant - this is a chance to bite back and bite back big. Sadly, there seems to be a great deal in Assange's past for them to bite on. It is all immensely unedifying.

  9. Hi, Dan --

    Bush couldn'd disappoint me because I had no expectations that he'd be anything other than what he was. I felt from the beginning that he'd stolen the presidency, and that sort of set the moral tone. But Obama was -- was supposed to be -- different. Joke's on us, I guess.

    I notice the Guardian and one or two other papers have been giving Assange more sympathetic treatment, although it's cold comfort, especially compared to the way they rallied around Dan Ellsberg.

  10. I'm not going to say anything specific about this post and the comments because I feel very passionate about it and I would probably be rude.

    Tim, certainly others on MIE have written about politics and government in both their own countries or the countries about which they write.

    It's a fine line to walk and this is a pretty sensitive issue right now in the United States. I wouldn't say you shouldn't write about issues such as these. However, I would say that this particular post won't gain you any new readers.

    By the way, I wish you would sign your posts like the others do. Most of us regulars know that its you, but some others may not.


  11. Hi, Jacquie --

    I always forget to sign my posts, although in this case it's probably just as well.

    If this post would make you behave rudely, I'm glad you're not reading me over on my own site, because this post was marshmallows compared to what I've put up over there.