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Assange Is America’s Pussy Riot

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.

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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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S.

We are seeing the relentless extension of U.S. law abroad: under this new doctrine, those who commit acts deemed hostile to the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S.-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 breath 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.

Eric Margolis is the author of War at the Top of the World and American Raj: Domination or LiberationCopyright Eric S. Margolis 2012

22 Comments (Open | Close)

22 Comments To "Assange Is America’s Pussy Riot"

#1 Comment By Harry On August 20, 2012 @ 12:58 pm

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant” – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. This quote refers to the benefits of openness and transparency in government. I wish there was a caucus on either side of the isle that advocated for this American ideal.

#2 Comment By John Dorman On August 20, 2012 @ 3:25 pm

“Australia has ducked this issue, preferring to throw its citizen to the wolves”.

What arrant nonsense. Australian citizens in foreign countries must comply with the laws of those countries. If Assange is accused of a crime in Sweden, he is required to face those charges. And it the role Swedish courts to decide if the charges are “flimsy” not the writer of this piece of fiction.

#3 Comment By Leo On August 20, 2012 @ 4:11 pm

I would say that “Pussy Riot” was America’s “Pussy Riot” having generated many Americans’ hysterical and xenophobic outrage over an obscene trespass stupidly labeled “freedom”…the right to invade and disrupt Russian churches. But I think Margolis is on to something when he remarks on the arrogant long-arm of American justice. It’s just too bad he didn’t apply that to himself before his criticism of Russia’s wise choice to lock up the PR lunatics or his other demands on how other countries must conduct themselves. There is more than a whiff of American arrogance in his article.

#4 Comment By AndrewH On August 20, 2012 @ 5:25 pm

There is more than a whiff of American arrogance in his article.

Margolis spent the 1990s writing pro-war, anti-Serb diatribes. Maybe he just can’t forgive Russians for not hating their fellow Orthodox in Russia.

#5 Comment By lester On August 20, 2012 @ 6:46 pm

I don’t think the Pussy Riot thing is as simple as disrupting a church xervice. It relates to the church and Putin being in cahoots and so forth, things Russians would feel more than us. It wasn’t a vacant gesture.

I can’t imagine Hillary will let Assange get away. She’ll tackle him on the tarmac herself if it comes to that.

#6 Comment By ThoughtCrimes On August 20, 2012 @ 7:19 pm

John Dorman:
So I assume that if some Australian went to Russia and performed some protest song in a church and then were sent to jail for 2 years, their reaction would be to say nothing other than they must respect their laws ? Give me break, this is all about US bullying, pretending this is not the case is beyond absurdity.

#7 Comment By 22pp22 On August 20, 2012 @ 7:25 pm

Thank God Wikileaks is still there to hold corrupt Western governments to account.

Britain regularly arrests people for posting racist tweets or singing inappropriate folk-songs at music festivals. One man got eight months for chanting outside a mosque. This incident, however, is a new low even for the British constabulary:

“UK: Jail time for revving Engine in a Racist Manner”

As an ex-Brit myself, I can that Ecuador cannot possibly be a less free society than modern Britain.

I never thought I would end up trust RT or al-Jazeera more than the BBC. The US government seems just as bad. It is trying to silence people it doesn’t like.

#8 Comment By Reader John On August 20, 2012 @ 9:20 pm

I’m with Leo on Pussy Riot. “Obscene trespass” is right, with the emphasis on trespass. Or maybe you need to be Orthodox to recognize that the Ambon is not a stage, and we don’t do “open mike” night or invite people up to “testify.”

#9 Comment By Mike Ehling On August 20, 2012 @ 10:43 pm

The Hungarian police never invaded the U.S. embassy in Budapest during the roughly fifteen years that József Cardinal Mindszenty lived there.

#10 Comment By Matthew Steel On August 20, 2012 @ 11:13 pm

In a clear violation of the Vienna Convention, Britain threatens to arrest Assange by invading Ecuador’s London Embassy

Britain has not threatened to invade the Ecuadorean consulate, and doing so wouldn’t violate the convention anyway. The convention is clear that consulates are only inviolate so long as they’re operating “exclusively for the purpose of the work of the consular post”, and none of the legitimate consular functions enumerated in the convention cover harbouring Assange because he’s not an Ecuadorean national. Actually reading the Vienna convention, it’s clear that Ecuador is the one violating international and English domestic law here.

As for why Assange is being hounded, the answer is in three parts:

1. He shouldn’t get special treatment for being a celebrity,
2. Justice must be seen to be done, and Assange’s celebrity puts the spotlight on the case, and
3. The people going after him don’t really like him.

He’s being made an example of.

If I had to make a prediction, I’d say he’ll get extradited to Sweden, be found innocent (certainly no jail term exceeding the length of time he’s spent in house arrest in England and the Ecuadorean consulate). He probably won’t be handed over to the Americans (who don’t actually seem interested in extraditing him), and he’ll lose some credibility for kicking up such a fuss.

#11 Comment By Andrew On August 20, 2012 @ 11:31 pm

For those who didn’t live in the Soviet Union in 1960-s and 70-s they will not understand, we finally arrived to a historical crossroads (pun intended). 60-s-70-s-80-s Soviet Russia’s youth (not all, but a huge part) was living emulating Western (pop) culture in clothes, music, behavior (yes, there were punks in USSR, who desperately wanted to be Johny Rottens and Joe Strummers). Jeez, Pussy Riot and analogies, U have got to be kidding?? Who will remember them in three-four years??

#12 Comment By Kolohe On August 21, 2012 @ 5:31 am

In what universe is it easier to extradite someone to the US from Sweden vice the US’s BFF UK?

#13 Comment By Alan Vanneman On August 21, 2012 @ 9:06 am

I’m with Eric, but it’s “bated” breath.

#14 Comment By CK On August 21, 2012 @ 2:02 pm

Assange spoke revealed truth in the face of power. PR did not reveal or speak truth, but rather engaged in disorderly conduct, criminally trespassed, and blasphemed. I think that’s a fair distinction.

#15 Comment By S. Elliot Rodax On August 21, 2012 @ 2:30 pm

Eric Margolis exhibits a remarkably laissez faire attitude regarding Assange’s crime of receiving stolen property, and the subsequent distribution of said stolen property. If the stolen items in question had derived from the author’s home and revealed personal information he desired to keep private, I’m confident his attitude would be less cavalier.

#16 Comment By C Herman On August 22, 2012 @ 3:07 pm

My Facebook friend Col. Anthony Shaffer puts it this way:

“Yep…he puts the “ass” in asylum…Julian Assange is no whistle-blower – I’ve met the guy – looked him in the eye, even offered to help get him in to see folks on Capitol Hill whom he could work with to do targeted disclosures to address what he felt were crimes…to no avail…Mr. Assange is a self promoting, self righteous left wing zealot…and I put Private Bradly Manning into the same category…there was not concern for righting wrongs – or fixing the system – just endless polks in the eyes to a system that is broken – and all they did is piss it off – not affect or change it…and made the work of real whistle-blowers – and truth tellers – even more difficult…Granted – most of the information released was over-classified and had no real effect (other than to embarrass a few government officials and bureaucrats), it is but one more point of evidence that his approach to “change” is as about effective as that of Barack Obama.”

#17 Comment By PG On August 27, 2012 @ 6:00 pm

Except Pussy Riot was neither tried nor convicted of any kind of trespass. (And in the U.S., trespass is merely a misdemeanor, i.e. penalized with no more than one year in prison.)

They were convicted and sentenced to two years in prison for hooliganism: “a gross violation of the public order manifested in patent contempt of society and attended: a) by the use of weapons or articles used as weapons; b) by reason of political, ideological, racial, national or religious hatred.”

They had no weapons, so the only way to convict them was to claim that they were motivated by religious hatred, and to hell with their protestations that they are Christians and their song was about Putin and the church Patriarch, not in any way intended to disrespect the Church itself nor religion.

Trespass, in short, has nothing to do with the case, as you’d see if you looked at how Russians discuss the case instead of just how Westerners do. [1]

#18 Comment By workingclass On September 3, 2012 @ 8:01 pm

Putin made a fool of himself with his spiteful cruelty towards little girls who made fun of him. Obama is no better regarding low ranking whistle blowers. But nobody expects any better of an American Emperor.

#19 Comment By Fran Macadam On September 5, 2012 @ 12:50 am

Americans protesting the bankster actions that caused the worldwide economic collapse have been charged with possessing “devices designed to commit criminal acts” – devices that chain thmselves to each other – and thus are facing years in prison – only for protesting peacefully. Moreover, undercover police sought to provoke them into illegal acts so that they could be arrested and discredited.

Please tell me how persecution of these folks who were orders of magnitude less offensive than Pussy Riot somehow reveals that we respect the right to protest more than Russia does.

We have 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of its prison population. That is hardly a measure that qualifies our nation as superior to others rather than inferior. Even the old Soviet and South African apartheid regimes never imprisoned such high percentages of their own citizens.

We are such hypocrites – we could start by reforming our own abuses before we discredit ourselves by pretending everyone else is worse while we hold to high standards – clearly, we do not at all.

#20 Comment By Tommy On September 8, 2012 @ 9:19 am

To compare Assange to Pussy Riot and the Swedish teddy bear guy is idiotic. Assange has worked for freedom of information and helped whistleblowers expose crimes. Pussy Riot went into a cathedral and screamed obscenities; previously they had group sex in a museum and performed bizarre sex acts in a supermarket in front of children. The Swedish guy flew a plane into a country’s air space without permission from air traffic control and threw things out the window, risking lives on the ground below. Assange is a hero. The others are irresponsible attention-seekers.

#21 Comment By Emma Goldstein On September 8, 2012 @ 12:31 pm

“Assange Is America’s Pussy Riot”

Nice metaphor, Eric.

#22 Comment By lmllr1 On September 8, 2012 @ 1:20 pm

I think the US does have a legitimate case for conspiracy against Assange. But I also don’t trust the US justice system to deal with him fairly. Just look at what happened to David Hicks, how Jacob Applebaum and David House have been harassed, and how Bradley Manning has been treated pre-trial. I don’t know if I would give Assange asylum but I don’t blame him for running.