By all accounts Aaron Swartz was brilliant, gifted, idealistic ... and fragile. Too bad he wasn’t “too big to fail.” I never met Aaron, but I know a lot of people who knew him well. (We did “converse” as members of the same online discussion group.) I learned about Aaron’s suicide at the age of 26 the same way millions of other people did: on the Internet whose freedom he served with such dedication and brilliance.
His death, just before his coming prosecution by the United States Department of Justice, brought to mind a line from the London Times' famous 1967 editorial protesting prosecutorial overreach in the drug trial of Mick Jagger:
"Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel?"
Suicide is an expression of the most profound pain imaginable, and mental health professionals caution against blaming it on any single factor. But they'll also say that external stress can drive a person at risk over the brink. That's what Aaron Swartz's family and domestic partner say the Justice Department's prosecution did to him.
So the question goes out to Massachusetts District Attorney Carmen Ortiz, and to Attorney General Eric Holder too: Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel? And, even more importantly: Why?
Richard Eskow, an Affiliate Scholar of the IEET and Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America's Future, is CEO of Health Knowledge Systems (HKS) in Los Angeles.
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