NEW YORK – There is an eerie, direct connection between hate rhetoric reaching a fever pitch in the United States, the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, calls to take out WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and the ninth anniversary of the infamous US detention facility at Guantanamo in Cuba. This disturbing connection should send shivers down the spine of anyone even remotely concerned with human rights. Yet it doesn’t. At least not in the US.
Assange will be back in court in London on February 7 for a full two-day hearing on his possible extradition to Sweden, connected to the ultra-murky case of alleged broken condoms and “sex by surprise”, co-starred in by two Assange groupies in sultry Stockholm last August.
Yet Assange’s lawyers wasted no time in getting to the heart of the matter: if he is extradited to Sweden, the US government will pull out all the stops to extradite him to the US. Assange could then face the death penalty, or its “war on terror” twin – forever languishing in legal limbo in Guantanamo. For the US, the fact that human-rights treaties prohibit extradition under these conditions is a minor detail.
Gullible, well-intentioned souls may remember that US President Barack Obama promised to close Guantanamo. That won’t happen. The US Congress will destroy any possibility of transferring “enemy combatants” to the US mainland so they can have a proper trial. The White House is about to condemn at least 40 of these prisoners to Guantanamo forever – no formal charge, no trial, just a black void. And Bagram, in Afghanistan, will follow the same path. Forget about the US constitution and international law.
Human rights had to be a crucial part of the seven-point Assange defense strategy – as a possible extradition violates Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Thus Assange’s legal team, in their 35-page skeleton summary of their strategy, had to stress the concrete possibility of Assange being subjected to illegal rendition and the “real risk that he could be made subject to the death penalty. It is well known that prominent figures have implied, if not stated outright, that Mr Assange should be executed.”
And to press the point on global public opinion, WikiLeaks itself put out a press release drawing the inevitable parallel between the “take out Assange” rhetoric (former governor of Alaska Sarah Palin would say “reload”, and then shoot) and the overall US right-wing hate-master narrative that culminated, for now, in the shooting of Giffords. Palin is mentioned as she has urged the Obama administration to “hunt down the WikiLeaks chief like the Taliban”.
The road ahead spells radicalization – as hate festers amid a configuration briefly described by Assange himself as “Orwellian”. As much as the attacks on WikiLeaks have never been stronger, so has been the global support. And there’s more to come. Only 2017 US diplomatic cables have been published so far (at this pace the full monty won’t be released before the end of the decade). Bank of America is the next mega-target. And there’s still the treasure troves on China, the United Nations and yes, Guantanamo.
Although the partnership between WikiLeaks and some global media publications seems to have found a point of equilibrium, in journalistic terms a war is bound to keep raging between those who defend the media as – the term spells it out – mediating institution, and those who support the WikiLeaks ethos of unloading slivers of reality with minimal intervention. Although nothing beats raw information, some editing and contextualization is essential. It’s up to the reading public to compare the raw and the filtered versions.
Much more worrying is the fact that WikiLeaks’ crucial point – if politicians and media personalities in the US are promoting homicide they should be legally pursued for it – does not resonate in the US as much as in the rest of the world. Inevitably, as WikiLeaks argues, if the group continues to be stigmatized as a sort of new al-Qaeda, other tragedies similar to Tucson, Arizona, are bound to happen.
There’s no evidence US hatemongers festering in the politics/talk show crossover swamp are about to be chastised. There’s no evidence Republican party leaders will publicly take a stand against the “take out” rhetoric. The Arizona massacre that killed six people and wounded 14 others is already being dismissed en masse in right-wing circles as the usual isolated act of the usual deranged loner.
Thus, there’s no evidence the graphic, endemic, accelerating rush to fascism in American society is about to be seriously addressed. Abandon all hope those who yearn for an adult, serene, rational debate in American politics. It’s a sorry affair, and one that French political thinker and historian Alexis de Tocqueville predicted over a century and a half ago, in Democracy in America.
Today it’s Giffords. Tomorrow it could be Assange. But the real target is all of us.