wikileaks: words have consequences

I want to focus on this part of Greenwald’s article What U.S. “justice” signifies around the world:

Paragraphs 92-99 of the outline [of the arguments Assange’s lawyers plan to use to argue against extradition to Sweden] detail Sweden’s history of violating the Convention Against Torture by rendering War on Terror suspects to Egypt to be tortured, and concludes:  “based on its record as condemned by the United Nations Committee against Torture and the Human Rights Committee, Sweden would bow to US pressure and/or rely naively on diplomatic assurances from the USA that Mr. Assange would not be mistreated, with the consequence that he would be deported/expelled to the USA, where he would suffer serious ill-treatment.”  This danger is legally relevant because the governing Extradition Act bars the expulsion of a prisoner where “extradition would be [in]compatible with the Convention rights within the meaning of the Human Rights Act 1998.”  The outline also cited vigilante calls from leading right-wing figures for Assange’s murder (yesterday, it was discovered that a prominent right-wing blogger, Melissa Clouthier, had registered the website JulianAssangeMustDie.com). 

It’s quite notable that the mere threat of ending up in American custody is considered (at least by Assange’s lawyers) to be a viable basis for contesting extradition on human rights grounds. Indeed, this argument is not unusual.  Numerous countries often demand, as a condition for extradition to the U.S., assurances from the U.S. Government that the death penalty will not be applied.  Similarly, there are currently cases pending in EU courts contesting the extradition of War on Terror detainees to the U.S. on the ground that they will be treated inhumanely by virtue of the type of prolonged, intensive solitary confinement to which Bradley Manning — and thousands of other actual convicts — are subjected.  

You see how we have drawn ourselves into a corner with this? Looking at our treatment of another person in the Wikileaks drama, Bradley Manning, particularly reinforces that the scenarios given are not hypothetical. Manning is at present being tortured by the U.S. military via sleep deprivation and solitary confinement. And last weekend we saw the tragic consequences of our current levels of vitriolic eliminationist rhetoric pouring from a wide variety of right wing outlets explode in a hail of bullets in a shopping mall in Tucson. Who could fail to conclude, looking at our country through these lenses, that we are a dangerous and unsafe place to be?

For all of the Obama administration’s efforts to close down Guantanamo, it has has failed to do so in part because of Congress’ defense bill prohibiting the transfer of prisoners from Guatanamo to the United States. This precludes civilian trials of the detainees and keeps them under military jurisdiction. Therefore last month the administration prepared the way for indefinite detention of Guantanamo prisoners (Obama administration readies indefinite detention order for Guantanamo detainees). The consequences of this are now clear: Anyone who winds up in Guantanamo — and Assange, branded as a “terrorist” by no small number of our government’s representatives could well be sent there if extradited — may be held indefinitely without trial and thus without hope of getting out. So now at this point, it hardly matters that the Obama administration wants to close down Guantanamo. As long as it has not managed to actually close it down, the danger of becoming mired and lost into its system remains.

The precisely documented conditions of Bradley Manning’s incarceration also has consequences for us in two ways here. Firstly, he is also associated with Wikileaks, so Assange has every reason to point to Manning’s treatment as evidence of his own potential inhumane treatment if he is extradited to our country. Secondly, as much as people may wish to claim that he is not being tortured, the fact remains there is a good deal of psychological research into this type of treatment showing that it does indeed inflict — in some cases permanent and irreparable — mental damage to its subjects. We subject our own prisoners to cruel and inhumane treatment, made all the worse when people try to claim that because there is no physical element to the treatment, it can’t possibly be torture.

We fail to realize words have consequences. They may not be physical, they may even be genuinely uttered without actual wish for manifestation in reality, but they still have consequences, especially when we fail to call out those words for what they are. They create a climate of fear and oppression. They paint a picture of a society, a culture, a country, that is a dangerous place to be. They give Assange and his lawyers all the ammunition they need to block his extradition to the United States because it will be a danger to his person. They make it possible for other countries to view extradition to the United States as a human rights issue.

Words create our reality. Words shape and form narratives which we then proceed to act out. Words give us our cultural references and give us a framework with which to make sense of our world. Words have consequences.

ETA: It should be clear that the outline referenced lists 7 points on why Assange should not be extradited to Sweden and that the point I discus above is a merely a supporting codicil to the last one (note there’s a full 92 previous pages (of an outline!) before even reaching this part). I would say the strongest argument against extradition that Assange actually has is that European Arrest Warrants are for purposes of prosecution; and he is actually only wanted for questioning. However, given the United State’s historical relationship with human rights, the almost matter of fact appearance of arguments stating we are not a safe country to be extradited is (or should be) completely shocking and enough to make us stop and reconsider where we’ve been headed these past decades. It won’t, but it should.

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