On August 15, 2012 it was clear that the Ecuadorean government was granting political asylum to Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, I wrote an email to professor Noam Chomsky —one of the most important contemporary philosophers— to get his impressions on this matter, the geopolitics of the decision and Freedom of Expression.
It had been months of email exchanges with professor Chomsky, but we did not have the chance to arrange an interview. When I wrote him on the Assange matter, he answered that –although he had a long list of interview requests, he would try to answer them. On Sunday, I received an email with his answers. May you need a translation of such, you can find it in this link.
Dear professor Chomsky. We know you are deluged with interview requests, so we want to thank you with for this opportunity.
We would like to know your impressions on the latest international diplomatic affair that has put Ecuador in the centre of the international spotlight: the Julian Assange asylum.
1. The United Stated government has issued today a statement in which it declares that this matter is a problem between the Brits, the Ecuadorians and the Swedes. Do you find this argument honest? Is the United States really not interested in the faith of Julian Assange?
The statement plainly cannot be taken seriously. The shadow looming over this whole affair is the expectation that Sweden would quickly send Assange to the US, where the chances of his receiving a fair trial are virtually zero. That much is evident from the brutal and illegal treatment of Bradley Manning, and the general government and media hysteria about Assange. These matters aside, for those who believe that citizens have a right to know what their government is planning and doing —that is, who have a lingering affection for democracy— Assange should not be facing trial, but rather should be granted a medal of honor.
2. In an interview with Amy Goodman, from Democracy Now! You affirmed that the main reason for governmental secrets is to protect governments from their own people. Is it for the first time in history the world is seen Diplomacy’s true colours.
Anyone who studies declassified documents soon becomes aware that government secrecy is largely an effort to protect policy makers from scrutiny by citizens, not to protect the country from enemies. No doubt secrecy is sometimes justified, but it is rare, and in the case of the Wikileaks exposures, I have not seen a single example.
This is, however, by no means the first time that “diplomacy’s true colours” have been exposed by released documents. The Pentagon Papers is a famous case. But the truth of the matter is that it is constant. The record exposed even in officially declassified documents is often quite shocking, but it is rarely known to the general public, or even most of scholarship.
3. On the specific matter of the asylum given by Ecuador to Assange, there has been argued that the Ecuadorian Government has shown a ambiguity towards freedom of press: on one hand they maintain a constant rhetorical confrontation (which has been taken to the courts, as in the case against Diario El Universo and the journalists Juan Carlos Calderón and Christian Zurita, authors of the book Big Brother) and the Julian Assange asylum. Do you also see a contradiction in this? Or do you have a different reading?
Personally, I think that only in extreme circumstances should state power be used to curtail freedom of press, no matter how disgraceful and corrupt media behavior may be. And there are no doubt many very severe abuses —for example, when Britain’s libel laws, an international scandal, were used by a major media corporation to destroy a small dissident newspaper that published a critique of one of their stories— as happened a few years ago, arousing virtually no criticism. The Ecuadoran case has to be examined on its own merits, but whatever the conclusion, it has no bearing on giving Assange asylum, just as the shameful suppression of press freedom in the British case I mentioned would have no bearing on Britain’s granting a right of asylum to someone who rightly feared persecution. Nor would anyone ever claim otherwise, in the case of a powerful western state.
4. And since we are speaking of ambiguity, is there a double standard on the application of the law by the British, since the Pinochet case where the extradition requested Baltazar Garzón was denied?
The reigning standard is subordination to power interests. There is rarely a departure.
5. What is, in your opinion, the immediate future of the Assange case? Is the British police going to raid the Ecuadorian Embassy, will Asange be able to leave the UK and, afterwards, will he remain in danger even if he gets to Ecuador?
There is virtually no possibility of Assange leaving the UK, or the Embassy. I rather doubt that Britain will raid the Embassy, a radical violation of international law, but it cannot be ruled out. It is, for example, worth recalling the assault against the Vatican Embassy by US forces after they invaded Panama in 1989. Great powers commonly regard themselves as immune to international law, and the educated classes commonly protect this stance. My expectation is that Britain will wait until Assange can no longer tolerate being confined to a small room in the Embassy —which is in fact a modest-sized apartment.
6. On a more broader aspect, and to ende this interview, Slavoj Zizek said we are not destroying capitalism, but only witnessing how the system destroys it self. Are the Occupy movements, the financial crisis in Europe and the United States, the rise of Latin America and other former marginal regions and the Wikileaks case signs of the crumbling end of the capitalist system?
Far from it. The financial crisis in Europe could be resolved, but it is being used as a lever to undermine the European social contract; it is basically a case of class war. The record of the US Federal Reserve is better than that of its European counterpart, but is still far too limited, and other measures too would be quite possible to alleviate the severe crisis in the US, a crisis of unemployment, primarily. For the general population, unemployment is the major concern, but the financial institutions, which have a dominant position in the economy and political system, are more interested in restricting the deficit, and their concerns prevail. In general, there is a huge gap between the public will and policy. This is only one case. The rise of Latin America is a phenomenon of historic significance, but it is far from shaking the state capitalist system. And while Wikileaks and the Occupy movements are an irritant to the powerful —and a boon for the public— they are hardly a threat to reigning power systems.
Thank you very much, professor Chomsky for your time and answers. We surely hope to have you visting Ecuador any time soon.
I was planning to visit a few years ago, but an emergency prevented it. I hope to be able to arrange it before too long.
An interview with the political philosopher on Julian Assange’s political asylum
Fotografía tomada del sitio del profesor Chomsky