Friday, January 14, 2011

A gross abuse of power

The US, like all governments, has the power to (and does) impose economic sanctions against countries or organisations who pose a threat to the international community. It currently has sanctions regimes in place against various Sudan (for genocide), Belarus, Burma and Zimbabwe (for human rights abuse), Iraq, Iran, North Korea and Syria (to prevent them from gaining access to nuclear weapons), and Cuba (for embarrassing them in the 60's - spot the odd one out). It also has programmes aimed at drug-smugglers, terrorists, and arms-dealers. Part of these regimes is the Specially Designated Nationals List,

a list of individuals and companies owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of, targeted countries. It also lists individuals, groups, and entities, such as terrorists and narcotics traffickers designated under programs that are not country-specific
Now a Republican congressman wants them to add WikiLeaks and Julian Assange to that list.

Think about that for a moment: a congressman thinks its appropriate to block all economic transactions with Wikileaks and affiliated individuals simply because it has embarrassed the US government. It's a gross abuse of state power, an action you'd expect from a totalitarian dictator than a supposed democracy. What next? They'll be demanding an economic embargo against international human rights organisations who criticise the US's use of torture and the death penalty? Or other media organisations who publish stories critical of US policy?

The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in the former, embarrassing the government is not a crime. The attempts to criminalise and punish Wikileaks risk turning the United States into a very different country from the one it is now. Hopefully saner voices will prevail.