From Iceland — Birgitta Jónsdóttir and the Icelandic-American Debacle

Birgitta Jónsdóttir and the Icelandic-American Debacle

Published March 2, 2011

Birgitta Jónsdóttir and the Icelandic-American Debacle

For both Iceland and the U.S., Cablegate has been a point of great contention. Whether that changes remains to be seen. The involvement of Icelandic MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir makes an appropriate case study in understanding Icelandic-American relations in this great debacle. To find out more, we decided to explore possible directions in her future and the intergovernmental relationship she is undoubtedly influencing.
Though the circumstances surrounding the unsealing of Twitter documents, which described a U.S. order to obtain Ms. Jónsdóttir’s information remain unclear, we’ve learned new insights that clearly illuminate its politically charged ramifications. They include revealing conversations stating Ms. Jónsdóttir’s and a former American official’s viewpoints, possible rationales for a U.S. Government investigation, the unclear involvement of IMMI, a subsequent U.S.-Icelandic legal dilemma and the words that may shape the future of relations between the countries.
To begin with, we received a statement from Ms. Jónsdóttir that included admissions of behaviour and an assertion of innocence. It also gives a fresh perspective of WikiLeaks and the role of media:
“I helped with ‘Collateral Murder’ and I still feel that was the right thing to do. I don’t see why I should be a target or anyone else who helped produce that material,” says Birgitta. “We worked it as any other production for media within the journalistic framework.”
“I did not help with other leaks. […] WikiLeaks acted like the middleman that got handed a brown envelope from a source and they handed that information in this digital envelope to other media and the general public. Newspapers and other media outlets have been in this role for many decades, and often been vilified like WikiLeaks right now.”
But would the representatives of the United States agree to this statement? It would seem that the answer is no. Despite her impassioned words, some U.S. officials might suggest that the release of ‘Collateral Murder’ is suspect. Therefore, we asked the opinion of former U.S. State Department official Dr. George Lambrakis to help us understand the roots of the American government’s perspective. “In criminal law parties that pass on stolen goods are also liable,” says George. “Of course rights to freedom of information affect this kind of case. […] As others have noted acts in foreign policy are best judged on the results they cause—and WikiLeaks, along with the press that published some of this stuff, are guilty of at least criminal negligence.”
With this view in mind, another question demands to be answered: what is to stop an American investigation from prodding into the other projects Birgitta Jónsdóttir developed with input from WikiLeaks? So far, she’s asserted to us how the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI) and its international participants should be clear from such scrutiny:
“IMMI doesn’t have anything to do with this investigation. There are people all over the world, including people from the USA working on it with me. It is important to note that IMMI does not pose any threat to either USA or other countries.”
But will America take that assertion seriously? Given the desire of some U.S. officials to prosecute foreign citizens involved with Cablegate, what is to say that MP Jónsdóttir’s mentioning in the u nsealed Twitter order doesn’t offer the beginnings of extradition and prosecution proceedings against her? Thus far, the Justice Department has made no clear public statements on the subject.
To know what’s going on requires us to make mention of the danger in using such charged words as extradition and prosecution. They affect Birgitta Jónsdóttir’s reputation, career, and private life. But just the same, we should still consider them, if only to get them out of the way. To help us understand the significance of these controversial topics, Dr. Lambrakis offered the following:
“a) it seems very probable that Iceland will not extradite an MP for this kind of thing, which is not only not a crime in Iceland, apparently, but people are trying to make it specifically legal (and the U.S would not try),  but
b) it seems unlikely that the Icelandic parliament will vote in the law you describe as that would seriously envenom relations with the U.S. and could lead to very serious U.S. counter-measures.”
Though we should hesitate to judge an ongoing situation or senselessly misinterpret the words of a leading authority on diplomacy, with the potential use of U.S. counter-measures as an option and their possible shape in the words of current American policymakers, it is worthwhile to understand where Icelandic-American conventions stand on the issue in order to avoid a international legal dilemma.
A quick search for evidence influencing this story’s future proceedings uncovers relevant American-Icelandic legislation that may challenge the direction of Washington’s investigative efforts. Despite not knowing how or if the legislation will be used, its existence allows us to add historical context to Birgitta’s thoughts on prosecution gained in email: “Iceland has never extradited its citizens to other countries.”
In the midst of January’s media blackout, we that the 1902-5 Conventions between the United States and Denmark applicable to Iceland might challenge views on her situation. Stated by the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be in effect, and verified on “a prominent U.S. government website, these conventions are to be referenced by the two countries when dealing with extradition. According to Icelandic government sources, Article V of the conventions may have relevance in Birgitta’s case. It states the following:
“Neither one of the contracting parties shall be bound to deliver up its own citizens, born or naturalized, under the stipulations of this convention.’
Whether or not the conventions will be honoured is another matter. MP Jónsdóttir has sustained that she has not committed a crime, and until a credible authority rules otherwise that should be respected. In both word and in deed, the U.S. and Iceland enshrine and respect the presumption of innocence before guilt.
In keeping with a spirit of respect, Birgitta recently offered unofficial gestures of good faith in cooperating with the American Embassy’s overtures. In turn, they have done the same with hers. Officially, words indicating the truth behind the actions of nicety were offered in press conference format by a U.S. Justice Department that is conducting “an active, ongoing, criminal investigation.” In addition, Birgitta’s American lawyers offered this statement as well: “[…] we are planning to defend Ms. Jónsdóttir’s right to use Twitter, and other internet services, to publish her thoughts without (the) U.S. government tracking her.”
But there is more to American involvement than U.S. government tracking. With Iceland’s coverage of the issue easily seen and U.S. airwaves remaining quiet on the issue, Birgitta offered this statement directly to the American nation:
“As a politician I think it is my role to serve not to govern. It is important to think ahead for the next generation, not just the next term. I firmly believe that individuals can change the world. I find it important that we all take part in co-creating our society and am working on making it possible by creating legislation for national referendum. My role model is [the] Dalai Lama and I have been a vegetarian for 25 years for ethical reasons. I try to walk my talk and understand that I am like all of us, not perfect. I think it is important to help others and to develop the heart not just the mind.”
And it will be the hearts and minds of Americans that MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir and her ideas must win over. As this Icelandic-American debacle continues, many questions remain important to answer: Will the U.S. government take her unique situation into account? Can Birgitta successfully distance herself from WikiLeaks while defending and ensuring the creation of IMMI? What will become Iceland and America’s mutual commitments to each other? To answer these questions, Dr. Lambrakis offered the following:
“I doubt the U.S. will get very excited about (Ms. Jónsdóttir) unless she does something outrageous to call attention to herself […] I suspect there are far more important matters between the two governments, and this will blow over—if not envenomed further by the actors themselves or the press.”
But will that be the case? How will public opinion be shaped? No matter what is considered and concluded, the precedents that this situation will set will be relevant for years to come.

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