The political underground is hosting a bacchanalian celebration without cause. While it is not quite the indulgence it promised itself in anticipation of the presidential election—an indulgence that it was cruelly denied when the Democrats declared a cynical victory—it may prove to be a cathartic consolation, but only if it eventually achieves a retroactive justification. Today, the subterraneous rabble are cheerfully raising a toast or a joint because a British judge reluctantly declined to send Julian Assange to the United States. This frumpy magistrate clumsily cloaked her verdict, one that explicitly endorsed the American prosecutors’ technocratic claim, in a brutal bellicosity for which she had become notorious—a bellicosity which, it now appears to me, probably betrayed her own disappointed inability to grant the Americans’ request. Accordingly, history will not list her among the bureaucrats who signed Assange’s death warrant, and in the absence of this one bloodstained signature, the unlettered critics of the American Empire have read a proclamation of emancipation. It is for this mistaken interpretation that they are drinking and dancing to their hearts’ content, all too unconcerned about the clerks in the appellate courts, who will gladly authorize the transaction, if they can.
Indeed, the most recent ruling accepts the Empire’s authority in structure and substance, but denies the request for extradition on the basis of a subjective assessment of Assange’s mental health. This evaluation can be questioned, challenged, revisited, revised, and eventually overruled, just like any other medical diagnosis. Having satisfied its claim to unlimited legal power and discretion, all the Empire has to do now is present its own psychologist to contradict the current conclusion. Such is routine and unremarkable for a government of infinite resources and clout, and even the effort is a victory in its own right, for it further complicates and muddles a case that was already distorted to the point of incoherence. The international manhunt for Julian Assange has been the subject of so much propaganda and disinformation that no one, not even Assange’s most assiduous defenders, can honestly claim to understand it completely. By transmuting the story from one of journalism to one of national security to one of international agreements and treaties, the Empire appears to have successfully eluded the general public. What degree of obfuscation will be possible once the complexities of medicine are introduced to the narrative?
Ours is a longitudinal view, one that could prove to be incompatible with the political underground. Accustomed as the underground is to looking downward, it has taken this preternatural opportunity to look up, to cheer Assange’s momentary victory as if it were decisive. Nothing is definite, least of all while Assange remains shackled in a prison in accord with the Empire’s instructions, yet the underground rejoices, as if to say: “Our work here is done.” Unfortunately, we can’t attribute their myopia to the intoxication of high spirits, for the underground is habitually short-sighted. When the Democratic Party executed the Super Tuesday heist to thwart Bernie Sanders’s supporters, the underground responded by predicting certain doom for the Biden campaign. They spoke with such rigid conviction of Biden’s inevitable defeat, almost as if they needed to convince themselves, first and foremost. They couldn’t bring themselves to look past the present horror, to fathom a time in which the masses would reconcile themselves to that horror and, finally, empower it.
A similarly pusillanimous denial defines these premature declarations of success in the unfinished case of Julian Assange. Despite the affectation with which the underground proclaims its political sobriety and sangfroid, it has not yet considered with the requisite solemnity the existential horror of this cause célèbre. We are a year removed from the publication of my essay, “Midnight on the First Amendment”, and the underground still has yet to understand that the First Amendment has long since been repealed, regardless of what happens in this extradition saga: the infamous judge Vanessa Baraitser corroborated my interpretation when she declared that the Empire could receive Assange, were it not for his psychological disability. In other words, show me a journalist of sound and stable mind, and I’ll show you a journalist who can be imprisoned for his labors. Didn’t these pundits learn anything from the political history of the past year? Did they even bother to study it?
Even if the Department of Justice abandons its case against Assange forthwith, it has still revoked most of the legal protections for intellectual expression. By filing the criminal charges that initiated this gruesome spectacle, the Department informally negated or nullified the First Amendment, just as the Patriot Act of 2001 indirectly voided the Fourth Amendment. We must remember to separate Assange the man from Assange the legal precedent, lest we reduce our definitions of victory and defeat to the status of a single individual. Unfortunately, the political underground has long since forgotten this critical distinction, and that is why the unserious, the uneducated, and the unhelpful are celebrating this limited, pyrrhic success.