The Face of American Exceptionalism

A recent document in the anti-Wikileaks huff-and-puff of the US media has struck me as being more telling than it seems. After the Assange rape allegations, I reread Marc Thiessen's piece on Wikileaks, and it repays close reading.

It's a piece of quite unbearable jingoism. In many ways a stark document of American unilateralism and imperialism. It's most striking to me how there is a hint of real desperation in Thiessen's voice. He is viscerally aware of the unsustainability of his ideology – Thiessen has come out as one of the most vocal pro-torture voices after his time as a in the Bush administration – but masks that knowledge with we need to just go in there and take those guys out-rhetoric. In the I-read-stupid-things-so-you-don't-have-to-department, let me snip some highlights from it. Pardon me for quoting at length, but I find this document revealing. Note particularly the fetishistic detail in how exactly the US is going to get power over Assange:
Assange is a non-U.S. citizen operating outside the territory of the United States. This means the government has a wide range of options for dealing with him. It can employ not only law enforcement but also intelligence and military assets to bring Assange to justice and put his criminal syndicate out of business.

The first step is for the Justice Department to indict Assange. Such an indictment could be sealed to prevent him from knowing that the United States is seeking his arrest. The United States should then work with its international law enforcement partners to apprehend and extradite him.

Assange seems to believe, incorrectly, that he is immune to arrest so long as he stays outside the United States. (...)The United States should make clear that it will not tolerate any country -- and particularly NATO allies such as Belgium and Iceland -- providing safe haven for criminals who put the lives of NATO forces at risk.

(...) With appropriate diplomatic pressure, these governments may cooperate in bringing Assange to justice. But if they refuse, the United States can arrest Assange on their territory without their knowledge or approval.


This memorandum declares that "the FBI may use its statutory authority to investigate and arrest individuals for violating United States law, even if the FBI's actions contravene customary international law" and that an "arrest that is inconsistent with international or foreign law does not violate the Fourth Amendment." In other words, we do not need permission to apprehend Assange or his co-conspirators anywhere in the world.

Arresting Assange would be a major blow to his organization. But taking him off the streets is not enough; we must also recover the documents he unlawfully possesses and disable the system he has built to illegally disseminate classified information.

This should be done, ideally, through international law enforcement cooperation. But if such cooperation is not forthcoming, the United States can and should act alone. Assange recently boasted that he has created "an uncensorable system for untraceable mass document leaking." I am sure this elicited guffaws at the National Security Agency. The United States has the capability and the authority to monitor his communications and disrupt his operations.


With the stroke of his pen*, the president can authorize USCYBERCOM to protect American and allied forces by eliminating WikiLeaks' ability to disseminate classified information that puts their lives at risk.

WikiLeaks represents a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States. If left unmolested, Assange will become even bolder and inspire others to imitate his example. (...)

[my emphasis, MGL]
I'm particularly interested in who "authorises" the US to violate international law. I also think it's swell to know that we can abduct US citizens if we happen to think they're doing something bad.

But most striking of all is the mode of thinking this document reveals. Thiessen was a Bush-era insider who probably demonstrates here, for us, the reigning ideas of the Bush administration's security paradigm. I'm appalled that part of this way of thinking now survives in the Obama administration.

And can I just note, in passing, how profoundly stupid for the Swedish newspaper Expressen to print rape allegations against a man whom the CIA has a now explicit agenda towards discrediting?

Glenn Greenwald's comments on WikiLeaks' critics today, is informative about actual US law on this, and considers the mindset of the more rabid critics:
Just consider the mindset implicit in this belief that they "broke U.S. law": once the Pentagon decrees that something is secret, not only American citizens — but every human being on the planet — is thereby barred from talking about or disclosing it, upon pain of being declared a criminal. What is the possible source of that asserted authority? Just contemplate the imperial authoritarianism required to believe that.

Put another way, the insistence that WikiLeaks editors are "criminal" by virtue of their disobedience of Pentagon secrecy orders -- even though they're not American citizens and are not physically present in the U.S. -- appears driven by the belief that the U.S. Government has the right to extend its authority to the entire world, and that there are few worse crimes than challenging or subverting its power.
* Paging mr. Entendre, Mr. Double Entendre.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It can employ not only law enforcement but also intelligence and military assets to bring Assange to justice and put his criminal syndicate out of business."

No. It cannot.

While it - the US Government - can probably employ intelligence and military assets to put Assange and his "criminal syndicate" out of buisness, it is logically impossible to use these assets to put him to justice, as there would be absolutely no justice in that.

August 25, 2010 1:05 pm  

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