FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Sieges in an Age of Austerity: Monitoring Julian Assange

by

It is, we are told, an age of bitter austerity, where belts are being tightened with dedication, and services cut with thrifty diligence. There are, however, always exceptions to the rule. The surveillance state needs succour; the intelligence services need their daily bread from the bakers in Downing Street. The dogs of war similarly need to be fed. And then, there is Julian Assange.

Assange would be pleased to know that he is an exception to the rules of austerity. He figures in a singular category in the book keeping of Her Majesty’s Government. The British security establishment continue monitoring him with eagle-eyes. There are three Scotland Yard officers on the task at any one time. One is stationed at the steps to the Ecuadorean embassy, just to make sure no daredevilry is entertained. As they do so, the bill mounts.

The site govwaste.co.uk lists the costs in live time – as at this writing, the amount is 12,173,575 million pounds.[1] Those costs, following accounts from the Metropolitan Police, can be broken down into direct costs – those incurred in the course of normal duties; and opportunity costs, a smaller portion resulting from overtime for being stationed at the Ecuadorean embassy.

The site also lists what the equivalent amount might have funded: 60,868 vaccinations for children; 47,740 hospital beds for one night; the salaries for 558 teachers for a full year. As for food, the figure comes to over 10 million meals for the needy. If one is to lose a sense of priorities, join government.

Assange speaking at the Ecuadoran embassy in London.

This state of affairs invariably finds its way into occasional public comment. It doesn’t happen as much as it should, but it does. In July 2013 before the Home Affairs Committee, Mayor Boris Johnson blew his top off at the bill for the Metropolitan police as it then stood: 4m pounds. “It’s absolutely ridiculous, that money should be spent on frontline policing. It’s completely wasted.”[2]

Calls have been made to withdraw the officers. In the first month of this year, The Daily Mail got onto the job covering the cost of the bill mounting at Knightsbridge. Standing then at 9m pounds, the paper stated that it was “a vigil costing 11,000 pounds a day.”[3] (That daily amount seems to fluctuate, depending on what source one consults.)

Baroness Jenny Jones, deputy chair of the Police and Crime Committee at the London Assembly, told the paper that, “The policing bill for keeping one man holed up in an embassy has reached yet more ridiculous proportions. The Government has yet to explain why taxpayers have to pay this. It’s time to end the stalemate and stand down the officers.”

Those who question the siege bill also do so from another perspective: Assange is being lionised as a cyber criminal par excellence, being unduly privileged by his celebrity status. Andy Silvester of the Tax Payers Alliance, having little time for legal niceties, suggests that, despite Assange’s “legion of celebrity fans [he] should be treated like any other accused criminal… The police have better things to do than a Knightsbridge vigil.”

Former Scotland Yard royalty protection chief Dai Davies never had much time for the rising account associated with the Assange case. Having visions of Assange on the run, his statement made in February 2013 went to lifting the police cordon, and shining the green light of temptation. “The time has come for the Met to review its strategy on Assange, and withdraw the officers currently guarding the Ecuadorean embassy. If he went on the run, he could be hunted down like any common fugitive.”[4]

The perversions of bureaucracy, dedicated to the protection of the state, allows for some latitude in lunacy. Everything should point to a normalisation of the abnormal circumstances – questioning of Assange by Swedish officials in the embassy itself on unplaced sexual charges, a carrot dangled then withdrawn at the last moment; the application of current laws that acknowledge the invidious nature of the European Arrest Warrant, yet are deemed inapplicable for not being retrospective. Then there is the Australian consulate, like many a satrap, a permanent, even redundant absentee.

In reflecting on the cost of the detention, Assange does keep company, in being confined to not so luxurious surroundings, with a still new breed of cyber-publishing activist. There are the exiles, there are the whistleblowers. There are those exposing the Stratfor military complex and the privatised security state. Chelsea Manning remains the most fundamental sufferer here. The issue, as ever, remains the role of information, and where that fits into broader issues of state accountability and transparency.

There a strange irony at work here as well. The London Met have formed what effectively amounts to a ring, not so much of steel, as bizarre protection. But what on earth is it against? It is true that Assange, should he step out, will be nabbed – that’s one voice of the law speaking. It is equally true that others can’t get in, be there, friend or foe, to bag and nab. No funny business allowed, thank you.

The strange business of walls, with their double meaning – whether they keep people in, or make sure people stay out – is at play. History tends to be, not merely a register of folly and blood, but a register of inane projects. Assange, despite his health, has little desire to leave. Ecuador, in turn, has given him indefinite residency at the embassy. And the age of austerity continues with its exceptions.

Notes.

[1] http://govwaste.co.uk/

[2] http://www.london24.com/news/politics/mayor_s_office_may_launch_ethics_committee_to_deal_with_police_complaints_1_2271509

[3] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2894224/Taxpayers-bill-policing-WikiLeaks-founder-Julian-Assange-s-two-year-stay-Ecuadorian-embassy-soars-9MILLION.html

[4] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2279488/Julian-Assange-Fury-cost-fugitives-embassy-stand-soars.html

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

January 18, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Destabilizer: Trump’s Escalating Threats Against Iran
John W. Whitehead
Silence Is Betrayal: Get Up, Stand Up, Speak Up for Your Rights
Andrew Day
Of “Shitholes” and Liberals
Dave Lindorff
Rep. Gabbard Speaks Truth to Power About the Real Reason Korea Has Nukes
Barbara G. Ellis
The Workplace War: Hatpins Might Be in Style Again for Women
Binoy Kampmark
Corporate Sickness in May’s Britain
Ralph Nader
Twitter Rock Star Obama’s Silence Must Delight Trump
John G. Russell
#Loose Lips (Should) Sink … Presidencies … But Even If They Could, What Comes Next?
David Macaray
The “Mongrelization” of the White Race
Ramzy Baroud
In Words and Deeds: The Genesis of Israeli Violence
January 17, 2018
Seiji Yamada
Prevention is the Only Solution: a Hiroshima Native’s View of Nuclear Weapons
Chris Welzenbach
Force of Evil: Abraham Polonsky and Anti-Capitalist Noir
Thomas Klikauer
The Business of Bullshit
Howard Lisnoff
The Atomized and Siloed U.S. Left
Martha Rosenberg
How Big Pharma Infiltrated the Boston Museum of Science
George Wuerthner
The Collaboration Trap
David Swanson
Removing Trump Will Require New Activists
Michael McKinley
Australia and the Wars of the Alliance: United States Strategy
Binoy Kampmark
Macron in China
Cesar Chelala
The Distractor-in-Chief
Ted Rall
Why Trump is Right About Newspaper Libel Laws
Mary Serumaga
Corruption in Uganda: Minister Sam Kutesa and Company May Yet Survive Their Latest Scandal
January 16, 2018
Mark Schuller
What is a “Shithole Country” and Why is Trump So Obsessed With Haiti?
Paul Street
Notes From a “Shithole” Superpower
Louisa Willcox
Keeper of the Flame for Wilderness: Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Sinister Plan to Kill the Iranian “Nukes” Deal
Franklin Lamb
Kafkaesque Impediments to Challenging Iran’s Theocracy
Norman Solomon
Why Senator Cardin is a Fitting Opponent for Chelsea Manning
Fred Gardner
GI Coffeehouses Recalled: a Compliment From General Westmoreland
Brian Terrell
Solidarity from Central Cellblock to Guantanamo
Don Fitz
Bondage Scandal: Looking Beneath the Surface
Rob Seimetz
#Resist Co-opting “Shithole”
Ted Rall
Trump Isn’t Unique
January 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Democrats and the End(s) of Politics
Paul Tritschler
Killing Floor: the Business of Animal Slaughter
Mike Garrity
In Targeting the Lynx, the Trump Administration Defies Facts, Law, and Science Once Again
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Hong Kong Politics: a Never-Ending Farce
Uri Avnery
Bibi’s Son (Or Three Men in a Car)
Dave Lindorff
Yesterday’s ‘Shithole Countries’ Can Become Classy Places Donald, and Vice Versa
Jeff Mackler
Lesser Evil Politics in Alabama
Jonah Raskin
Typewriters Still Smoking? An Interview with Underground Press Maven John McMillan
Jose-Antonio Orosco
Trump’s Comments Recall a Racist Past in Immigration Policy
David Macaray
Everything Seems to Be Going South
Kathy Kelly
41 Hearts Beating in Guantanamo
Weekend Edition
January 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
George Burchett
Wormwood and a Shocking Secret of War: How Errol Morris Vindicated My Father, Wilfred Burchett
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail