Over the past several weeks, you might have noticed the United States government running roughshod at least once over basic international laws that govern diplomacy, sovereignty, and the autonomy granted states and their diplomats, as was the case when WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange was illegally removed from the Ecuadoran embassy in London.
But in reality, there is a recurring pattern of distinct law-breaking that the government is commissioning in the name of a heavy-handed attempt to maintain its standing as the uni-polar imperial power. This fumbling, bumbling stumbling all over the essential elements of the rules governing our international order could suggest a kind of imperial decline not seen in several centuries. For if these things mean anything, it is how far out of control things are becoming from the perspective of Washington. The rest of the world is growing up and no longer feels bound to the diktats of our military industrial complex and the threat of its shock troops.
We begin on March 8 when Chelsea Manning was jailed for contempt of court. However, recall what started this entire affair for Manning back in January 2010, the alleged release of documents and videos to WikiLeaks known as the Iraq War Logs and Afghan War Logs. Those materials revealed American military personnel on multiple levels engaged in multiple war crimes, including covering up these violations of international law. Under the norms of American and international laws, the effort to report law breaking, whistle-blowing, is not only protected from retribution, perpetuation of the continued war crime coverup is itself potentially liable for prosecution. Manning had a legal obligation to report law breaking that she had discovered and those who punished her were breaking the law. The continued persecution of Manning is therefore just one more instance of crimes against American and international legal codes.
Next is related to the Venezuelan embassy in Washington. On March 21, the pusillanimous National Public Radio carried this story: “NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly speaks with Carlos Vecchio, the Venezuelan opposition’s envoy to the U.S., at a building in Washington, D.C., that was recently vacated by the government of Nicolás Maduro.” For those who are unclear, the installation of an illegitimate, unrecognized force from a failed coup in the embassy of another country is an astonishing violation of international law. In response, a group called the Embassy Protection Collective, made up of DC-area progressives (some of whom readers might recognize quickly) occupied the building and have been holding space to prevent Vecchio from taking over.
On April 5, Reuters ran a story headlined “Trump administration revokes visa of International Criminal Court prosecutor.” Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda was scheduled to make an address to the United Nations regarding the docket of cases the ICC plans to take up. In order to do this, she would be required to arrive via airplane at a New York airport, thereby requiring an American visa.
Previously Bensouda has indicated that she might be interested in pursuing investigation of Americans who committed war crimes in Afghanistan. There also has been talk over the past several years of similar action being taken against Israeli leaders like Benjamin Netanyahu for crimes against the Palestinians in Gaza. The State Department said “The United States will take the necessary steps to protect its sovereignty and to protect our people from unjust investigation and prosecution by the International Criminal Court.” (The irony, that America has used the ICC previously as part of a wider selection of utilities to take down its enemies, such as various military and political leaders from the former Yugoslavia and assorted African nations with the annual GDP of Montana, seemed lost upon the State Department.) “The Prosecutor and her office will continue to undertake that statutory duty with utmost commitment and professionalism, without fear or favor,” said Bensouda’s press release. This obvious attempt at obstruction of justice, itself illegal, is a further instance of contempt of the international laws that the US willy-nilly invokes to justify its own behavior.
On April 8, the White House designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group. The move was as lunatic as it was reckless. The Revolutionary Guard is a section of the Iranian armed forces and designating them terrorists is just one step away from designating the entire Iranian government as a state sponsor of terror, a move that would almost totally isolate Tehran from international trade, the first step towards a war.
Finally, on April 11, Julian Assange was arrested in the Ecuadoran embassy by British police, who openly declare they are making the arrest in service of an American investigation. Multiple laws are broken here. First, Assange as an Australian and later Ecuadoran citizen is not bound to observation and adherence to whatever laws, such as the Espionage Act, that have been used to prosecute journalists and whistleblowers, thereby nullifying his legal charges. Second, this action, allowed under duress by the cowardly Ecuadoran President Lenin Moreno in exchange for a loan from the United States, violates the political refugee laws Assange invoked when he was granted Ecuadoran citizenship in the first place. Third, do the British police even have the prerogative or mandate to execute warrants on behalf of the United States per se, as was the proffered reason when Assange was detained? Whatever mandate they would have for such action should instead come through InterPol, the international law enforcement coordination agency. InterPol’s longstanding warrant for Assange has remained for years to be tied to the sexual misconduct accusations lodged against him in Sweden that had been withdrawn some time ago. Fourth, Assange as a publisher should be protected by the First Amendment freedom of the press. Fifth, even if he did engage in actions with his sources that could be designated as hacking, they were undertaken to expose criminal actions whose continued obfuscation would potentially qualify as a further crime. Sixth, this was in direct contravention of a United Nations decision that had already adjudicated upon Assange’s legal status and standing.
Imperial decline never was going to be pretty, folks, and this is the most mild aspect of it.