In court in the United Kingdom decision Sparing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from extradition to the United States (for now, pending appeal), the intimately symbiotic relationship between humanitarianism and violence was once again evident.
Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled that it would be “oppressive” to extradite Assange – but not because of the unfairness of the US government’s campaign of retaliation against him for revealing his massacres, false claims and manipulations, but rather because of because of Assange’s fragile sanity.
The same “justice” system that gutted Assange’s mental well-being with prolonged psychological torture, in the Evaluation of the UN special rapporteur on torture, is now presented as his hope for salvation.
Like a large-scale government version of Munchausen by proxy, the state mystifies its own role in producing the pathology in question, and then attempts to extract moral capital from the demonstration of minimal care. Structural violence creates the need for humanitarianism, which mitigates some of the excesses of violence, ensuring the flourishing of violence and humanitarianism.
Judge Baraitser not only refused to find that the United States’ prosecution of Assange related to political “offenses” – and therefore prohibited by the extradition treaty between the United Kingdom and the United States – but held that ‘there is no legally enforceable obstacle at all against political extraditions: it has not been established that the treaty between the United Kingdom and the United States confers on Mr. Assange opposable rights before this tribunal ”, Because the treaty“ is not yet incorporated into domestic law ”. Perversely, according to this ruling, Assange (and other extradition targets) are subject to the treaty, but cannot invoke its protections.
The fact that Assange revealed damning truths about state atrocities that otherwise would have remained in hiding was also dismissed as irrelevant. “The defense has not established that the principle of the ‘right to the truth’ is a legal rule recognized either in international law or in domestic law.”
The defense of necessity was also dismissed: “he [Assange] did not provide evidence of any individual incident likely to create a danger to members of the public that its disclosure was intended to avoid.
US claims that WikiLeaks endangered the lives of US military informants, by contrast, have been accepted as reality despite the lack of evidence. In a remarkable feat of transfusion of guilt, it is not the US military but Julian Assange who is charged with “blood on his hands.”
Having removed all of Assange’s defenses, the court left him with no shield against extradition other than his own psycho-pathologization – continuing the long tradition of depoliticizing demands for justice by reframing them as issues of ‘mental illness’ applicants.
Judge Baraitser concluded that exposing Assange to the tortures of maximum security imprisonment in the United States under “special administrative measures” – characterized through intensive isolation and sensory deprivation – would create a serious risk of suicide. She located the underlying problem, however, not in the pathologies of the American prison system, but in the dark recesses of Assange’s psyche. “While the imminence of extradition or extradition itself would trigger the [suicide] attempt, that would not be his cause; he [would be] Mr. Assange’s mental disorder that would lead to an inability to control his desire to kill himself.
In some quarters, this move has been hailed as a withdrawal from mass incarceration in the United States. But in fact, the abolition of these “humanitarian” exceptions has proven to be perfectly compatible with the entrenchment of the prison rule.
“Reform efforts targeting protected categories such as young people, the mentally ill or, more recently, pregnant women, leave behind a core of people who are not young, who are not (yet) mentally ill, who are are not pregnant and therefore do not deserve protection, ” Notes criminologist Keramet Reiter. “This enduring core of punishable subjects becomes a permanent justification for the need for solitary confinement.”
Professor Reiter’s research shows how human rights litigation provided the blueprint for the design of torture chambers in America’s super-max prisons. Judges blasted the dark, unsanitary, violent and noisy “holes” of previous solitary confinement regimes. So, in the super-max version of Solitary 2.0 (constitutionally compliant edition), fluorescent lights remain on 24 hours a day, cells are constructed of sterilized concrete and steel, high-tech automated food shutters eliminate the need of every human. interaction and heavy sealed doors stifle the cries of prisoners.
Anything above the minimum court requirements has been recast as a superfluous “privilege” and eliminated – corroborating writer Arundhati Roy’s observation of human rights as a substitute for justice.
America’s super-max is a “clean version of hell,” in the words of a former director cited in another extradition case, Babar Ahmad and others against UK. While the UK demands assurances that those extradited will not be subject to rapid death from execution, the imposition of the slow “living death” of solitary confinement is permitted.
In extradition cases like Babar Ahmad et al. Against the UK – in which the defendants were British Muslims charged with amorphous “terrorism” offenses – mental illness and disability have not been grounds for. empathy and relief from pain, but further demonization. The colonial exception to humanitarian protections for “savages” and “barbarians” – or as they are called in contemporary terminology, “terrorists” and “illegal combatants” – continues to operate under the umbrella of universal human rights.
Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, for example, were extradited to solitary confinement to the United States in 2012, despite being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (Ahmad) and depression and Asperger’s syndrome (Ahsan).
In the decision of the European Court of Human Rights giving the green light to the transfer, the so-called “long history of respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law” of states- United was cited as a justification. Ahsan and Ahmad eventually pleaded guilty to life imprisonment, although the sentencing judge later admitted that neither was engaged in “any operational planning or operations that may fall within the of the term “terrorism” “.
Their co-plaintiff Haroon Aswat was given a temporary stay of extradition, due to his diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, but this was ripped off after the United States assured him he would be treated in jail.
“No mechanism is available to verify allegations made in insurance,” said a group of experts on US terrorism prosecutions. “In fact, the ruling meant that Haroon Aswat could be subject to the deterioration in his mental health that will most likely result from solitary confinement… as long as he has occasional access to a psychiatrist. “Insurance” becomes a humanitarian shield against abuse.
In our “humanitarian present”, “the moderation of violence is part of the very logic of violence”, as the scholar Eyal Weizman dissects in his book The Least of All Possible Evils: Arendt’s Humanitarian Violence in Gaza. “It is through this use of the lesser evil that societies which consider themselves democratic can maintain regimes of occupation and neocolonization” – not to mention torture and mass incarceration.
Documents published by WikiLeaks shed light on how domination practices are conditioned in the logic of humanitarianism: a model of self-proclaimed virtuous violence.
Guantanamo’s standard operating procedures manual, for example, contained detailed instructions for stripping and shackling detainees (many of whom were wrongfully captured, including elderly men and children), inflicting psychological terror with military dogs, feeding force of hunger strikers (a form of torture), violently. discipline attempts at “mass suicide” and perform “Muslim funerals and burials”. But don’t worry, camp officials must “respect all detainees as human beings and protect them from all acts of violence.”
The US military’s rules of engagement for Iraq, meanwhile, allowed soldiers to inflict “collateral damage” on up to 30 civilians at a time. But rest assured, any “use of force” will be “necessary and proportionate”.
In practice, as we also know from WikiLeaks, this meant shooting pregnant women, disabled people and children at checkpoints, killing Iraqis trying to surrender, and shooting down journalists and helicopter rescuers ( the infamous “collateral murder” video). None of them has been prosecuted as a war crime, under an international humanitarian law (law of war) which condemns the indiscriminate violence of the poor while privileging the “precise” and technologically advanced carnage of ‘Powerful states.
As US General James Mattis warned before the invasion of Fallujah in 2004, “We will always be humanitarian in all of our efforts … God help them when we are done with them.”
And yet Assange is the one on the dock. Having unmasked the cogs of imperialism, it is now crushed in its cogs. In one of his last acts as US president, Donald Trump turned down Assange’s requests for clemency after pardoning four Blackwater mercenaries for the 2007 Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad: a reminder that the power of saving and the power to condemn are two sides of the same coin.
If Assange’s prosecution is allowed to succeed, it will be yet another brick in the fortress of impunity for those who kill, torture and invade in the name of humanitarianism.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.