If you are reading this, you likely understand that the American mainstream media has degraded in quality to the point where it is largely useless—this is why you have sought out independent media outlets like TATM. The failure of the mainstream media isn’t anything new and is a tragic consequence of sensationalism, access journalism, laziness, and corporate influence. It sets the bar pathetically low for many outlets but, every once in awhile, you run across a piece of journalistic malpractice so poorly thought out, morally reprehensible, and absurd, that it makes you pause and marvel at how far the media has fallen.
Last week, Mediaite’s morning editor, Jon Levine, published an article suggesting that Trump should use a drone strike to murder Julian Assange…by leveling the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
Here is a quote from his article that details Levine’s suggestion:
“If a credible threat of drone strike were calmly issued to the Ecuadorians, they would almost certainly eject Assange, negating the need for it in the first place. On the odd chance they refused, a date for droning could be set and publicly announced, giving Embassy staff ample time to evacuate themselves from the area. London’s finest, meanwhile, could ensure the zone was completely cordoned off from civilians.
At the risk of being trite — it would be like droning fish in a barrel.”
Levine’s suggestion is so astonishingly illegal and immoral that it is actually hard to decide where to start attacking it. He is proposing the murder of a journalist—whose only “crime” is exposing the government’s lies—via an act of open terrorism carried out by the United States against the nation of Ecuador, within the jurisdiction of England.
Just for simplicity’s sake, when analyzing this suggestion, I have broken it up into its six most terrifying aspects.
Levine, who likely thinks of himself as a journalist, is suggesting that the US government should assassinate a journalist who publishes information that, while true, offends and embarrasses the government and its leaders. The very purpose of the 1st Amendment is to prevent this type of persecution of the media, and the idea that the editor of a media outlet doesn’t understand this is deeply troubling.
If the government can simply assassinate journalists who publish things that they don’t like, then the 1st Amendment loses all meaning and the government can operate behind an opaque wall of secrecy.
People who hate Assange and don’t really understand the freedom of the press will often single Assange out, saying that this kind of persecution is excusable because Assange is special—he is biased against the US government, an ally of Russia, a bad person, and not a “real journalist” because he doesn’t work for a major corporate outlet. Even if all of these things were true, they are irrelevant. The 1st Amendment doesn’t only apply to people who love the US government (that would be pretty pointless), nor does it only apply to nice people. Similarly, the idea that Assange isn’t worthy of protection as a journalist is equally absurd, and creates a dynamic where the only “real journalists” are easily controlled by the wealthy.
Execution Without Due Process
Assange has never been charged or convicted of a crime in the United States, and the idea that we would assassinate him without due process is deeply troubling. It is well-established law that simply publishing secret documents is not a crime unless the publisher solicits the source to break the law. There is absolutely no evidence that Assange has crossed this line and, even if he did, the punishment is not death.
The US government—nor Levine—wouldn’t dare assert that they could kill a journalist from a famous news service (e.g. the NYTimes, Guardian, or Washington Post) because that journalist published secret information that they possibly solicited illegally. We know this for a fact because these major outlets regularly publish secret information that is leaked to them. Such a power grab by the government would be met would outrage and media would band together to defend itself. Their lawyers would intercede and thousands of scathing articles would be written.
The scariest aspect of this assertion by Levine is that it creates a situation in which journalists who offend the government must choose between returning home to face a kangaroo court (e.g. when Chelsea Manning wasn’t allowed to present evidence of being a whistleblower in her defense), or face execution if they stay abroad to avoid this persecution.
According to the FBI, the definition of international terrorism is:
“Violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or any state, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or any state. These acts appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a government by assassination or kidnapping.”
Under any reasonable reading of this definition, Levine’s suggestion would be considered state terrorism against the government of Ecuador. They are using the threat of violence which constitutes a criminal act in the USA (bombing an embassy), in an attempt to intimidate and influence public policy (Ecuador giving Assange asylum).
The idea that this wouldn’t be considered terrorism because no Ecuadorian staff would be hurt, as they’d be given the time and date of the attack, is just as absurd as the rest of this proposal, because terrorism is a tactic and not a function of the resulting damage. Bombing the Ecuadorian embassy without warning them would be a reprehensible act of terrorism that kills an entire embassy staff (not to mention an act of war), while bombing the embassy after warning them is a slightly-less reprehensible act of terrorism aimed at killing only Assange.
Drone Strikes on English Soil
While the Ecuadorian embassy is sovereign territory of Ecuador, it is surrounded by sovereign territory of England. This means that the attack against the embassy would be launched via an armed drone operating on English soil, presumably without the permission of the English government (because giving that permission would be an act of diplomatic self-immolation by England). Levine apparently doesn’t understand that such an attack would violate a number of international laws and could easily be considered an act of war.
Let’s imagine for a moment that a North Korean strike team decided to launch a missile attack against the South Korean embassy in New York because a high-ranking defector was visiting them. While I’m sure Levine thinks that this is just fine (after all, it is exactly what he is suggesting we do), I doubt the US government and American people would agree and, odds are, we would be bombing North Korea within the day.
England probably wouldn’t go to war with the USA if we decided to start flying armed drones around their country and bombing one of the embassies under their protection, but they would have every right to.
A Diplomatic Nightmare
The United States already has strained relationships in the world community, but this would be nothing compared to what it would be like if we bombed an embassy in an attempt to intimidate its nation into giving up the citizen of a third nation (Sweden). Embassies are protected ground for a reason and no government can tolerate such a violation, if only because the next embassy to be violated could be theirs.
If we can bomb the Ecuadorian embassy, then can we do it to the Italian embassy? The Indonesian? The Jordanian? The Ethiopian? Every nation that doesn’t want to go to war with the USA, but also doesn’t want to be terrorized into complying with demands out of fear of having their property bombed, would align against us—as every other nation on earth fits this description, this puts the USA into very lonely company.
The diplomatic ramifications of the USA perpetrating a terrorist embassy bombing are very hard to predict, but the results are uniformly terrible. We could become a world pariah, economic and diplomatic cooperation would be destroyed, and the USA would be seen as even more of a bully nation than we were after attacking Iraq based upon false accusations.
The Terrifying Precedent
Let’s assume that the USA actually decides to follow through on Levine’s imbecilic proposal, and by some miracle, manages to avoid being excoriated in the international community, what kind of precedent does he think is going to be set? If he had thought of this, he would realize that the precedent would be that big and powerful nations can violate international agreements like those that protect embassies without facing serious repercussions.
There are a lot of repressive regimes that would love this precedent (ironically, after perpetrating this attack, we would be on this list). China, Russia, North Korea, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and all of the other nations that political prisoners must seek asylum from would have the perfect excuse to start hunting and killing these people wherever they can be found. If a Chinese dissident finds himself in New York, Chinese intelligence can just bomb his house and use the “you did it first” argument. If a Russian dissident finds herself in Stockholm, then Russian agents can do the same.
Sadly, Levine is not alone in his failure to understand the ramifications of his own suggestions in regard to Assange. It was reported last year that Hillary Clinton herself had suggested this type of drone assassination against Assange, albeit before he was living in an embassy. Similarly, I’m certain that Trump doesn’t even have a basic understanding of the legal, ethical, and diplomatic consequences of such an assassination and would likely think that it makes him look strong.
By criticizing people like Levine when they make ignorant and dangerous suggestions like the one from his article, we can demonstrate that there are consequences to making such a suggestion–some that can destroy one’s reputation. That said, it is important to note that NONE of the these consequences should be physical and in need of a violent response—after all, we are a lot smarter and more moral than Levine and understand that violence isn’t the proper response to a journalist we don’t like or agree with.