On the case of Julian Assange, and fearing empire more than Trump
Just before the madness at the Capitol broke out Wednesday, news came from London. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who seemed Monday to be the luckiest man alive when a judge denied an American request to extradite him, was now denied bail on the grounds that he might fail to surrender to court to face the inevitable U.S. appeal. He goes back to legal purgatory, possibly a worse outcome than extradition, which might be the idea.
We sell politics in American media as a soap opera, and the personalities make for lively copy, but properly following the bouncing ball means watching institutions, not characters. Where are armies, banks, central banks, intelligence services, the press? Whose money is talking on the floor of the House and the Senate? How concentrated is financial and political power? How do public and private institutions coordinate? When they coordinate, what are their collective aims? How transparent are they or arent they? How accountable?
Assange became a celebrity at a time when popular interest in these questions was at its zenith in the United States. Eight years of the Bush administration inspired profound concern about the runaway power of the state, especially a new secret state-within-a-state the Bush administration insisted 9/11 gave them the moral mandate to build.
Our invasion of Iraq had been a spectacular failure unlike pictures of returning coffins, that couldnt be completely covered up and Americans learned about grotesque forms of war profiteering. These included the use of mercenaries to whom the taxpayer unknowingly paid lavish sums, to commit horrific war crimes like the Nissour Square Massacre, also known as Baghdads Bloody Sunday.
One of Donald Trumps most indefensible (and bizarrely, least commented-upon) acts was the pardon of the four Blackwater guards who shot and killed those seventeen Iraqi civilians, including women and children. The New York Times story covering the Blackwater pardon spent just four paragraphs on the case, sticking it below apparently more outrageous acts like the pardon of George Papadopoulos.
Baghdads Bloody Sunday took place in 2007, by which time we were bombing and kidnapping all over the world, disappearing people off streets like the Bogey Man of fairy tales. Detainees were taken to secret prisons where, we later learned, efforts by prisoners to starve themselves out of their misery were thwarted by a diet of raisins, nuts, pasta, and hummus rocketed up the back door through the widest possible tube.
Even years later, one Gitmo prisoner would waive his right to appear in court because rectal damage made it too painful to sit. We made mistakes in who we selected for this treatment, grabbing people with no connection to anything for torture, as films like Taxi to the Dark Side documented. However, Americans seemed to lose interest in these policies once the Iraq misadventure came to a sort-of end, and a new president was elected.
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