Assange was recently granted political asylum from the equator-straddling, South American Republic of Ecuador, ensuring the activist’s safety—if he is able to escape from the heavily policed and eternally surveillanced nation of the United Kingdom.
While it would be incredibly entertaining to see Assange make a MacGyver-like escape with nothing but a paperclip, rubber band, and a few threads of his oddly translucent hair and lead the British police on a classic Benny Hill chase throughout the streets of England, the reality of the situation is not nearly as comical for Julian Assange.
Britain, in a message to the Ecuadorian government, claimed the legal authority—under the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act of 1987—to invade Ecuador’s embassy and seize Assange if he is not given to authorities. In a defiant response the Ecuadorian foreign minister Ricardo Patiño published the U.K.’s threatening notes and issued a statement saying “(translated) We want to make this absolutely clear. We are not a colony of Britain and colonial times have finished.”
The strange thing about all of this is that Julian Assange does not actually have any criminal charges pending against him, and there is no evidence that charges would be brought against him should he be extradited to Sweden. So why all of the international hoopla?
While Assange faces allegations of rape/sex without a condom (yes, sex without a condom is against the law in Sweden), across the pond in the United States he faces much more serious charges. The U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said the Justice Department has an “active, ongoing criminal investigation” into the disclosure of classified U.S. documents to the online whistle-blowing site Wikileaks.
What Julian Assange fears—and rightly so—is that upon his extradition to Sweden to face sexual misconduct questions (but no actual charges), he will then be extradited to the U.S. to face charges of espionage and treason, for which the sentence could be life imprisonment or death.
So the political asylum that Ecuador has granted to Assange appears to not be in relation to the Swedes, who were offered the opportunity, yet refused to question Assange in the U.K. multiple times. Instead, it seems that asylum for the activist has been secured to protect him from a possible human rights infraction from the United States.
This is the first time that a democratic government, seeking to uphold international human rights conventions, has granted political asylum to a citizen fleeing political persecution by the United States.
This whole situation strikes many Americans as being historically backwards. The U.S. has long been the champion of human rights, commonly offering political asylum to activists during the Cold War and even in recent memory with Washington opening their arms and borders to the blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng.
Today the legitimacy of the United States’ position internationally as a defender of human rights is seriously being called into question. While the U.S. is commonly praised for our domestic rule of law, due process and the protection of civil rights and liberties, the international stance on human rights in the U.S. is hardly favorable.
This is due, in part, to our government’s recent assertions that they have the legal right to indefinitely detain its citizens without trial, conduct warrantless domestic surveillance of citizens without a court order, and international questions of the legitimacy of our “enhanced interrogation techniques” (clarification: torture) that occurred under W. Bush.
All of this, paired with the recent revelation of the secret, comprehensive U.S. surveillance operation TrapWire, which uses security cameras and facial recognition technology to track citizens, casts an ominous light on America where human rights and privacy is concerned.
Even more disconcerting than the use of this technology is the fact that as Wikileaks began publishing the emails, revealing the existence of Trapwire, Wikileaks was hit by a DDoS attack on its server by a group called AntiLeaks, making the internet site and its Trapwire revelations unavailable to the public.
Whether AntiLeaks is another citizen hacker group or government front to persecute Assange and his efforts is yet to be known, and we’ll have to wade through mountains of disinformation (also legalized under the NDAA) before we find the truth. The question we must ask ourselves as this international quandary is resolved is whether or not we think the U.S. is on the right side of this issue.
Editorial Editor Kevin Jensen is a senior English major. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org