Published January 17, 2011
The hot item in Icelandic news these days is the American government’s attempt to obtain information about Birgitta Jónsdóttir—a member of Iceland’s parliament and of that body’s foreign relations committee—from Twitter as part of its campaign against WikiLeaks. Her sins? Birgitta has personal ties to Julian Assange, and she spearheaded Iceland’s widely heralded media initiative, which gave WikiLeaks a safe haven in Iceland and assisted with getting a video of American soldiers shooting at civilians in Baghdad.
Perhaps I haven’t kept up with American legal developments as closely as I should have, but I am not aware that these are illegal actions. I have always been under the impression that: (1) freedom of speech and freedom of the press is guaranteed under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, (2) Iceland is a NATO ally of the United States, and (3) complaints about offence statements by individual members of friendly governments are handled through diplomatic channels, rather than through criminal investigations.
This incident is just one of a string of insults to Iceland’s sovereignty. State Department cables leaked by WikiLeaks indicate that American diplomats have been ordered to gather the DNA and fingerprints of their international counterparts. In the past couple of months, it was revealed that the United States embassy in Reykjavik had been monitoring its neighbours’ activities. Apparently, our garbage presents a threat to the world’s greatest superpower, one that our own police force was incapable of detecting and handling.
Iceland’s relations with Great Britain were severely damaged two years ago when Gordon Brown invoked an anti-terrorism act to freeze the transfer of funds from Icelandic banks. American’s arrogant, bullying behaviour toward Birgitta is bound to have the same result.
It is difficult to understand exactly why the United States is on this witch-hunt against Julian Assange. The leaks of evidence of war crimes—while damaging to the individuals involved and their superiors—should lead to greater accountability. The leaked diplomatic cables, if anything, have enhanced America’s reputation by demonstrating that it says what it means, and it means what it says. ‘The games within games’ that conspiracy theorists had anticipated don’t appear to be there. The general impression is not that these diplomats are cynical pawns doing the bidding of some secret cabal but hard-working, honest individuals who sincerely believe in what they’re doing.
Which is precisely the type of person Birgitta is. Hard-working, sincere, doing what she believes is best for the Icelandic people. We have always suffered under a government that was as transparent as mud. We have discovered, to our dismay, that government officials worked fist-in-glove with the bankers to defraud investors, borrowers, and pretty much everyone else to enrich themselves. It is one of Birgitta’s primary goals to open the government up for public scrutiny in the hope that an open government is an honest government.
Quixotic? Perhaps, but certainly not criminal. Rather than further damaging its long and close relationship with Iceland, it would be best if the United States called off its attack dogs and instead made an effort to get to know us.
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