“It is almost certain that the ultimate goal of the shoddy legal frame-up is to have Assange extradited to the United States to be tried as a spy or even as an accomplice of terrorism” (source).
The Current State of the People
Even a cynic can see that if Julian Assange is extradited, there is a chance (be it small) that he may be exonerated. Some small part of me thinks that accusing him before the law, once and for all, yields our most realistic hope for WikiLeaks’ editor in chief. Once he’s acquitted, he’ll be free. Why not hope for this possibility? After all, contrary to popular prejudice, Lady Justice in America doesn’t always fail.
Trying and convicting Assange would set a horrible precedent that future generations must either continue to support at great cost, or else overthrow with a fight. How many Americans would actually support the loss of press freedom? Our hope might be that the courts will be unwilling to set such an ugly precedent. But how naive is this hope?
Maybe it’s not hopelessly naive: Ascertaining the severity of America’s current situation will allow us to determine the likelihood that justice might actually be carried out.
The current situation in America is indeed severe. It has been termed another great depression. Consequently, Americans are not nearly as docile and politically indifferent as they once were; there are millions of Americans in 2010 with more than enough anger and time on their hands to resist a reductio ad absurdum of human rights, and even to effectuate a revolution.
Consider the fact that millions of Americans are currently having a difficult time feeding their own children; many of them homeless. Consider that about 1.6 million people used emergency homeless shelters as early as 2007, and that is but a fraction of the number of people who are actually homeless but not using shelters; some of these American citizens are literally living out of the back of a truck or on the streets.
According to a 2009 State of the Nations housing study at the Harvard Kennedy School, as of 2007/08, the situation was bleak:
In 2010, things are much worse. Patriotism is dying. Americans are in a state of crisis and this does not make for a docile society of followers. It’s the stuff revolution and civil war is made of.
A recent clear sign of the threat of civil war in America hit the mass media after Sheriff Tony DeMeo Threatened force against armed federal agents who were sent into the community to conduct illegal searches and seizures on government orders:
It is easy to miss the relevance of these facts when judging the general attitude that characterizes the American population today. There is a sense that they’ve been abandoned and literally left to die, and local law enforcement officials are demonstrating to its people that it is not unpatriotic to resist government injustice.
The government has clearly taken things too far and is now being forced to step back.
The situation is going to get a lot worse for government before it improves. The US government is currently under severe pressure to watch its every move as it sets out to violate the most basic of human rights: Freedom of the press, freedom of expression, the right to privacy, the right to property, and even the right to life. Government has even found creative ways to violate these rights in bundles, as is evidenced from the recent decision to place X-ray machines in airports. “TSA workers have filed complaints about poor maintenance and monitoring of X-ray machines, citing high cancer rates among agency employees that regularly work near the machines. One employee requested that a hazard assessment be conducted, which the TSA denied because it said that at least three employees had to jointly make such a request for it to happen.” (source) In one fell swoop, dignity, privacy, the right to information and health are disregarded. (See also this report from Dr Ananya Mandal, MD.)
Rights are being disregarded, the people are literally starving, and we’re headed full-force toward a major crisis. Arguably, we’re already there. Support for government is becoming a thing of the past (forthcoming article: current trends in civil disobedience). Government is being forced to learn the meaning of accountability and this is a big deal. The current situation is a prescription for revolution. This is not an over-dramatization of the situation, since hitting rock-bottom is the final step that precedes any revolutionary movement.
The [Naive] Hope
The naive hope is that the outcome of a trial for Julian Assange would not necessarily be disastrous for him. We do not know with certainty that he would be convicted for espionage and we cannot, in all fairness, assume that Americans will tolerate further oppression without coming together as a legion against corruption. To deny this is to be selective about which parts of history we choose to remember. We cannot, in good intellectual conscience, go through life without internalizing the knowledge that humanity is capable of joining forces to overthrow empires through civil disobedience and other forms of protest. A famous empire rose once upon a time with its people’s willingness to fight for Rome. Passion and patriotism goes a long way on the battlefield. But the same empire fell when its people decided they’d had enough of oppression and neglect. Simply put, citizens were deprived of their most basic human rights and a reasonable standard of living. Who was left to willingly fight those glorious battles for Rome? Not the Romans. Their patience had expired.
Without an army of soldiers willing to fight with passion for their empire, no empire survives. One third of the current US empire’s homeless population is composed of its own veterans. It seems unlikely that they will be passing their patriotism, now just a faint memory, on to their children. Who will remain to fight for the empire?
Our first lesson from history, then, is that the people have power in virtue of the fact that they are necessary for defending the empire. But more recent history tells us that our power doesn’t stop there. We have power to change the law. If you have any doubt about this, reconsider the facts.
Do not underestimate your role. Laws are made to be changed.
Months before the famous March on Washington, about 125,000 people gathered with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Detroit for the “Freedom Walk”. The goal: To reclaim the people’s civil rights. Justice, equality and jobs for all. The subsequent march on Washington held August 28th, 1963 was the largest civil rights demonstration in history. There were approximately a quarter of a million people in attendance. Despite their respective differences, individuals came together as one body to demand a humane standard of living. The government had not delivered on its promises and was forced to acknowledge moral responsibility.
Awareness of recent history tells us that neither Americans nor the British are willing to tolerate human rights abuses and murder. Not any more. Consider the recent and the largest British protest in modern history (and perhaps of all time), in which over a million people marched in the streets of London to protest the Iraq war. (source)
There is only so much we will tolerate and from where we stand, we see rock bottom. Yet even as we fall further and further into the abyss, we see that much has changed. For the longest time, governments were watching us. Now we’re watching them, with the help of WikiLeaks. Moral responsibility finally seems like a concept that is applicable to government itself and to and other elite institutions. Their actions have become public knowledge and this makes accountability possible, at the very least.
While government is under the watchful eye of its citizens—of its former patriots now wiser and more aware—it no longer enjoys the carte blanche that characterized the former Bush administration. Assange’s hopes for combating the legal system in America may not be entirely unfounded, in light of these facts. Quite possibly, the people of America and the people of the UK will refuse to stand for the passive stance that “anything goes, insofar as our leaders tell us so.”
Do not underestimate the will of the people.
Extradition and Assassination
The extradition of Julian Assange is the lesser of 2 possible outcomes, the second being outright assassination. A covert operation that ends in the murder of a morally sound and well-intentioned man is entirely possible—more of the same from the US government, whose genocidal tendencies constitute the very trend that inspired the new knowledge revoluton set into motion by WikiLeaks. The message seems simple enough: Please stop killing innocent people. (Too high a demand?)
This barbaric possibility of assassination might lead us to the conclusion that extradition is the best possible outcome for Julian Assange right now, given that he is likely to be punished in one way or another: At the very least, we hope for his life to be spared. We might think that even in America, there is the possibility of a justice system that won’t resort to the same tyranny that dictatorship nations enjoy. Perhaps the people will not allow it.
The reality of the matter is that judges are often appointed in accordance with the present administration’s interests, and this isn’t only true of the supreme court. It’s reasonable to doubt the very possibility of a fair trial under a legal system that acquitted O.J. Simpson. Presumption of innocence and acquittal on the basis of reasonable doubt doesn’t seem to apply in the military justice system, and seems to fail in many civilian cases too. If you want to be cynical about the system, it might even be sufficient to simply note that capital punishment is still practiced in the US.
But it gets worse. Even if Julian Assange were to be tried and acquitted, assassination remains a real possibility. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see that if they don’t punish him under the law, they’ll work outside the law. For this reason and others, avoiding capture is perhaps the best thing Assange could have done, instead of willingly turning himself in to British authorities. Quite possibly, it seems even the revolutionary and cynical Assange himself may have fallen prey to the naive belief that abiding by the law was the wisest option—that this charade might end in a fair trial.
What Will Happen to Julian Assange?
At present, Julian Assange is a sitting duck, unprotected by law and without the support of any army.
Or is he? Recent events have revealed a renewed hope that a new army is surfacing, composed of hackers, military personnel, journalists, filmmakers, authors, academics and other professionals. Hacktivists, as we know, have set into motion a movement that’s gaining global support at rates that should be alarming to governments and corporations everywhere. If governments are not in a state of panic over Operation Payback, it’s only because they don’t quite grasp the nature of what is happening. Let us enlighten them.
Knowledge has a way of conferring power upon a massive and growing global population of experts and activists who have firmly decided to override injustice with their own moral ideals. Take the case of the hacker, for instance. The social and political power of a hacker community can’t be bought or gagged by any elite institution. Its historical significance is written into the very structure of a technologically sophisticated society. The world is a machine whose parts depend heavily on software for their proper functioning, and for their functioning tout court. Weapons and banking systems are only as safe as the foresight of their engineers and programmers. Yet no technical expert can design a system that’s fully secure. The very thought of it is absurd. The most fundamental truth of computer security is that no system is fully secure. Every system has weaknesses and the ability to exploit those weaknesses is the very essence of a hacker, who thrives on the intellectual challenge of creatively circumventing limitations.
We might think, then, that Governments would be well-advised to panic at this stage. Of course the people always had power, but they’re now in a position to exercise it. What we need in order to effectuate change is skill, coupled with the motivation to use it. We have both and we have them in spades, along with numbers, knowledge, creativity and anger. All of these things are currently being exercised. Can we be held responsible for what happens next? In times of crisis, there is no consensus about right and wrong or even about the law–not even between government and their own law enforcement officials. Hence the question of moral responsibility is an open one.
Perhaps the more legitimate question, then, is not What will happen to Julian Assange?, but What will happen to the governments that choose to persecute him?
Please note that I do not officially condone hacktivism, and the remarks made here regarding the projects undertaken by the Anonymous group are supposed to describe a semtiment among the people that I take to be a useful, virtuous one. How that sentiment and passion is carried out in action, however, remains to be seen. Let’s hope that history records these events accurately.