Julian Assange, Sweden, Ecuador and the USA
Friday 17 August 2012 14:56
Julian Assange has not, as I write, been charged with anything. There are, however two investigations under way. The first and most pressing is the allegation by two former lovers that he engaged or attempted to engage in unprotected sex with them when they had either expressed a wish that he use a condom or resisted his attempt (the circumstances are slightly different in each case). My understanding is that such actions would constitute an offence under Swedish law and might reach the bar for ‘coercive sex’. I’m not sure whether it would be an offence in either Ireland or England, but the European Arrest Warrant allows for the extradition of a person for something which is not a crime in the host country.
There are suggestions that these allegations are a ‘honey-trap’ (see note below) and, while I think that such a trap is perfectly possible, I believe that the correct place for such suggestions to be tested is in the Swedish courts. In any event, there is a distinct possibility that the charges will not stick. They are hampered by the problems that face most sexual charges, principally that the act occurs without witnesses, even though the balance of credibility in Sweden seems to lie with the complainant.
The question then arises: Why does he not permit himself to be questioned by the Swedish authorities? For that is the entire purpose of the extradition warrant.
He has not been charged with a crime, and in general, when a police force wishes to question a suspect who resides in a different country, they buy a plane ticket for two officers. Assange has offered himself to be questioned in England, most recently inside the Ecuadorean embassy. Why does Sweden not accept that reasonable offer? As far as I can judge, the type of offence that Assange is accused of is likely to draw a suspended sentence. With such a minor tariff, why is the Swedish government pursuing him with the relatively expensive device of a European Arrest Warrant which must be defended in a foreign court? Does it pursue all such sexual offenders equally?
The answer may lie in the second case in preparation. This case is at much the same stage as the Swedish one. The USA Department of Justice is preparing a case against Assange. Sweden has a rather straightforward extradition treaty with the USA, signed under Ronald Reagan, agreeing that ‘each contracting state undertakes to surrender... those persons ... who are wanted for the enforcement of any offense’. In the event that Assange is returned for questioning it is unlikely that he will be released on bail, having already demonstrated a tendency to flight. At that point, it seems to me, highly likely that the USA will issue an extradition request. Therein lies the real problem.
It is well-known at this stage that prominent politicians in the USA have called for Assange to be charged with treason and that this is a capital offence in a country that still executes its own citizens, not to mention Guantanamo Bay or Extraordinary Rendition or any of the other practices for which it is justly famous. Even if he were convicted of a lesser offence, it is likely that he would receive a sentence such as no European state now applies. In a country where multiple life sentences running to hundreds of years are not unusual, a ten year sentence is regarded as relatively mild. The tariff for the relatively minor offence of ‘Gathering National Defence Information’, for example, is 35 years. the rather quaintly titled crime of ‘Transmitting National Defense Information; Disclosure of Classified Cryptographic Information; Unauthorized Disclosure to a Foreign Government or a Communist Organization of Classified Information by Government Employee; Unauthorized Receipt of Classified Information’ attracts a tariff of 29 years if top secret material is involved and 24 if not. And, as a matter of comparison, you could get 6 years for tampering with your odometer. I don’t know what tariff odometer crime attracts in Ireland - I’m finding it difficult to get information on it.
Considering the fate of Assange’s alleged informant Bradley Manning, still languishing in reportedly brutal conditions, amounting to torture in the opinion of UN special rapporteur, in a military prison, it’s not surprising that Assange is reluctant to find himself in such a jurisdiction.
So, in a sense this arrest warrant stands as a proxy for a further extradition. I believe that it is at least possible that the Swedish government wishes to have Assange back on Swedish soil in order to make him amenable to such an extradition request. I believe that many other governments, including my own, would pursue the same policy in deference to the USA. I believe that Assange is right to resist it, and that Ecuador was justified in granting him diplomatic asylum. I believe Sweden could solve the impasse very quickly by issuing a written guarantee that Assange would not be extradited to the USA. That, of course, would escalate an already fraught international incident.
Note: On the Honey-Trap Theory
My good friend Ola Larsmo, writer and chairman of Swedish P.E.N. rightly takes me to task for appearing to lend my voice to the sexist attacks on the women who have lodged complaints against Assange: ‘The Honey-trap theory has no practical or theoretical ground whatsoever. The two girls, both organised in the Swedish social democratic left, have claimed the same thing: that Mr Assange during sex wilfully damaged the condom, either trying to get them pregnant against their will or, even worse, to avoid their wishes not to be exposed to possible infections of an STD. This is a tricky and personal business, but the information is all over the web already. I think it’s very, very sad how the so-called left has been harassing these girls.’
I think there are two issues to understand here. The first is that women who allege that they have been the subject of a sexual assault of any kind have traditionally been subjected to harassment on the grounds that their allegations are motivated by jealousy or revenge, or that they brought it on themselves in some way. This is the disciplinary mechanism of the patriarchy at work. I reject it completely. That is why I believe the women must be accorded the state’s support in having their allegations investigated. In the absence of any convincing evidence to the contrary I must trust the Swedish legal system to investigate the allegations. After all, if an Irish woman were to make a complaint of sexual assault I would expect the Irish police and courts to take it seriously and I would encourage her to follow through with her complaint.
That is not to say that I have a blind faith in courts. Very often, courts are sexist, classist and racist. However, there isn’t another system to which we can turn for justice at the present moment, and the Irish courts, for one example have an abysmal record in relation to sex crimes.
The second issue is whether we can accept as constructed any event in international politics. I do not intend to enter into the details of the alleged events, the timescale, or the characters of any of the protagonists. But in my view the handling of the case by the Director of Prosecutions and the Swedish state clearly demonstrates that the investigation is driven by political considerations.
I support the activities of Wikileaks, but I am not a particular supporter of Julian Assange. I disagree in the main with his political views which he has described as libertarian or market libertarian – a mainly right-wing politics with which, for example, Mitt Romney should feel very comfortable. However, I believe, as I argue above, that the Swedish case (as opposed to the allegations themselves) are a proxy for a USA prosecution, or a holding-case for such a prosecution, and that this is an attempt to silence Wikileaks. For that reason I support Ecuador. I do, however, believe that Assange should answer the charges and that were he to be given a ‘no extradition’ guarantee he should return to Sweden to face them. I reiterate again, the central issue for me is the possibility that Assange could be extradited to the USA to face serious charges of espionage specifically because of the activities of Wikileaks.
For an excellent assessment of the work of Wikileaks (see especially the video attached to this article. And for John PIlger’s assessment, see this article. (Thanks to Edward Boyne for drawing them to my attention)
For anyone interested in the events themselves, here are two websites:
Marianne Ny: Making an arse of Swedish law, The Standard, New Zealand