Summer silly season is upon us. First, three girls from the Russian punk band Pussy Riot are on trial in Moscow for the heresy of mocking Vlad Putin and the Orthodox Church.
Second, a Swedish public relations firm dropped teddy bears over Belarus, making fun of its humorless dictator, Alexander Lukashenko. He ordered Belarussian air defenses on high alert.
Now comes the uproar in London over provocateur and bad boy Julian Assange. It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry.
Assange, founder of Wikileaks, sought political asylum two months ago in Ecuador’s London Embassy to escape Britain’s attempts to deport him to Sweden.
Assange is wanted for questioning by Swedish police over seemingly flimsy charges by two dubious female friends of his of “sexual misbehavior,” whatever that is. So far, Assange has not been charged with any crime.
But if Assange returns to Sweden, he risks being extradited to the United States where his massive revelations of US government diplomatic and military emails infuriated Washington and led to demands he be charged with treason and espionage, both of which carry the death penalty. Sending Assange to the US and the risk of execution would probably violate the European Union’s laws and human rights conventions.
It’s unlikely Assange would get a fair trial in the US which is gripped by national security mania. At best, he would likely face a long sentence in solitary confinement in one of America’s dreaded ‘supermax’ prisons under conditions human rights groups call torture.
In a clear violation of the Vienna Convention, Britain threatens to arrest Assange by invading Ecuador’s London Embassy, provoking a major diplomatic crisis that would threaten its own diplomatic posts around the world to invasion.
Why, one asks, is Britain stirring up such a storm when Assange was only a visitor? Australia has ducked this issue, preferring to throw its citizen to the wolves. Sweden and Britain have come across as being rather too compliant with US demands.
Just about everyone knows that Washington is behind efforts to corral Assange and ship him to America for trial though his alleged misdeeds were all done outside the US.
We are seeing the relentless extension of US law abroad: under this new doctrine, those who commit acts deemed hostile to the US can be arrested or kidnapped overseas – even if they had never visited the United States.
Ecuador is defying a very angry Uncle Sam by sheltering Assange. A storm of Yankee fury will fall on this small Latin American leftist republic that is friendly to Venezuela, Cuba and, gasp, Iran.
Latin America may rally behind plucky Ecuador as traditional anti-Americanism and claims of Yankee bullying are aroused.
Ecuador’s populist president, Rafael Correa, is likely to emerge as a new Latin American hero. EU critics will lambaste Britain as a human rights violator and American toady.
Looking back over the whole Wikileaks business, it’s difficult to conclude that the US was seriously damaged or endangered by the emails released by edited Wikileaks. There was nothing life-threatening or earth-shaking in them. But the leaks were terribly embarrassing for Washington, revealing to the public its often muscular exercise of power, strong-arming other nations, and often dim opinions of so-called allies – nothing we professional journalists didn’t already know.
Assange was a crusading journalist who succeeded in exposing the dirty underwear of big government. His Wikileaks showed that the US-led war in Afghanistan was truly lost, contrary to Washington’s cheery spin – just a much as the famed “Pentagon Papers” of the 1970’s revealed and debunked official the lies about the Vietnam War. At the time, Daniel Ellsberg, the patriotic official who released the “Pentagon Papers,” was also denounced as a traitor.
No question that Assange is annoyingly arrogant and a relentless publicity-seeker. But Assange’s real crime is “lèse majesté,” a French offense of annoying or embarrassing the monarch. Washington is reacting like Putin or Lukashenko.
We now wait with baited breathe to see if those naughty Pussy Riot girls are locked away in one of Russia’s ghastly prisons; if Lukashenko’s air force bombs Sweden’s teddy bear factory; and if Uncle Sam moves heaven and earth to squash the annoying pest, Julian Assange.