In my article, Avoiding Assange, a month ago, right after the first US indictment was issued, I addressed two diversionary arguments that I knew would be used by those who want to hide their complicity with American imperialism under leftish cover—that is, those who don’t want to be seen as endorsing the United States government’s prosecution of Assange for, and intimidation of every journalist in the world from, reporting the embarrassing truth about American war crimes, but who also don’t really want to stand in the way of Assange’s extradition to the United States.
The first of those arguments was the denial that the USG’s charge against Assange posed any threat to press freedom—that it was just about “hacking,” not publishing. Both the New York Times (NYT) and the Washington Post (WaPo) pretended to believe in, and celebrated, the Trump administration’s meticulous threading of the legal/constitutional needle to avoid endangering freedom of speech and the press. For the NYT: “The administration has begun well by charging Mr. Assange with an indisputable crime…not with publishing classified government information, but with stealing it, skirting — for now — critical First Amendment questions.” For the WaPo, the indictment was “not the defeat for civil liberties of which his defenders mistakenly warn,” but “a victory for the rule of law.”
Well, that argument and pretense have now disappeared with the USG’s superseding indictment that uses the Espionage Act to threaten Assange with 175 years in prison. Even the most Assange-hating liberal media personalities and institutions—from the NYT and WaPo to MSNBC and the Guardian—have no way to deny the threat this poses to freedom of the press. As Alan Rusbridger, Assange-hating former editor of the Assange-hating Guardian, recognizes, the US indictment is an attempt “to criminalise things journalists regularly do as they receive and publish true information given to them by sources or whistleblowers.” And, for the NYT Editorial Board, the present indictment no longer “skirts,” but “aims at the heart of the First Amendment.”
(Though, as if it just couldn’t help itself, in its statement, the NYT sneaks in a pernicious point, saying Assange was “a source, not a partner.” This actually ratifies the USG’s “he’s not a publisher” argument, and I foresee the possibility of the USG quoting and using this editorial against Assange.
At this point, nobody can pretend they don’t know what Assange is in for if sent to the United States. He’s facing 175 years of charges under the Espionage Act, which forbids a “public interest” defense. As John Kiriakou has stated, from personal experience: “A fair trial in the Eastern District of Virginia…is utterly impossible.”
Furthermore, by asserting the extraterritorial jurisdiction of American law to demand the extradition of another country’s (Australia) citizen from a third country (Great Britain) for activities that took place entirely outside the US, the present indictment is, as Joel Simon of the Committee to Protect Journalists, points out: “a direct threat to journalists everywhere in the world….Under this rubric, anyone anywhere in the world who publishes information that the U.S. government deems to be classified could be prosecuted for espionage.”
Indeed, under this legal rubric, China can demand that Italy extradite Dean Baquet (Executive Editor of the NYT) for publishing true, leaked information about Chinese military crimes, in contravention of Chinese espionage law! Hard to imagine, I know, because we all—and especially the US political leadership—assume that American imperialism makes that impossible. A correct assumption, for the moment. But we all also know the tricks “assume” can play on us.
Like many, I did not expect the USG would bear its fangs so quickly. I thought the Trump Administration would wait until Assange was on US soil before going for the jugular. The not-so-bad news is that by, for whatever reason, coming on so strong and fast with such an extraordinary threat, the USG has, I think, widened Assange’s base of support, at least for the moment.
This makes the real stakes clear in a way that’s particularly important in the British context, where Julian Assange’s fate is being decided. It also makes, more quickly than I expected, the second of those leftish diversions—a possible Swedish extradition request—a crucial tool for creating confusion in ways helpful to the US prosecution.
As I mentioned in the previous essay, it was heartening to see Jeremy Corbyn and his shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, declare that “the extradition of Julian Assange to the US for exposing evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan should be opposed by the British government,” and it was bizarre to see, immediately thereafter, a concerted campaign arise among liberal British politicians and press, with a letter from 70+ MPs, demanding that the present and future British governments “do everything…to ensure” that Assange be extradited to Sweden, “in the event Sweden makes an extradition request.”
In the space of 48 Hours, Jeremy Corbyn was pressured to say that Julian Assange “must answer” sex allegations “if Sweden decides to re-open their investigation.” It was bizarre because somehow a non-existent, hypothetical Swedish extradition request had instantly taken precedence in British liberal discourse over an actual US extradition request. Corbyn had immediately accepted Great Britain must give greater priority to showing “the seriousness with which such [sex] allegations are viewed” than to protecting the freedom of the press to expose evidence of US atrocities.
Since then, the US extradition request has become considerably nastier and even more difficult for ostensibly anti-imperialist British left-liberals to leave unopposed. This leaves a possible Swedish sex-crime extradition request as the only remaining crutch for those who want to appear less complicit with the U.S. attack on Assange than they actually are.
Nothing epitomizes this more disgracefully than the Guardian’s editorial of 24 May, under the sub-head: “The founder of WikiLeaks faces charges of espionage in the US and rape in Sweden. He should stand trial for rape.” Yes, embedded among its repeated reminders of how much the Guardian “disapproves” of this “unattractive character” who revealed US war crimes to the world, is the statement that Assange “must be defended against this [US] extradition request because the indictments against him threaten to damage freedom and democracy.” Also because “the Espionage Act is quite the wrong instrument [Is there a right one?] to use against journalists or even their sources,” and “the American penal system would be more cruel than …even in our shameful prisons.” The Guardian’s editors even evoke, on point, the case of British hacker Lauri Love, whom Britain refused to extradite to the US because of the cruelty of its penal system.
But how is it that the Guardian proposes “defending” Assange against US extradition? By demanding that the UK “send Mr. Assange to Sweden”!
Somehow, the Guardian thinks that conjuring up an extradition request from Sweden that still does not exist trumps and solves all concerns about extraditing Assange to the US. The editors never consider the possibility that there may be no extradition request. (Perhaps they know something, but it’s not a sure thing.) Or what happens if Assange goes to Sweden and either is not charged with a crime (He is not, and never has been.), or is tried and found not guilty. In other words, they completely ignore the obvious: That the United States will demand extradition from Sweden just as it is doing from the UK, and that Sweden will comply. Sending Julian Assange to Sweden does not “defend” him from US extradition at all. It’s a liberal media version of “Don’t think of the elephant!”
Does the Guardian not see, or care, about this glaring logical and consequential fault in its position?
Of course it does. The Guardian knows exactly what it’s doing. The purpose of this editorial as written is not and cannot be to “defend…against this [US] extradition”; it is to support that extradition by ignoring it. The Guardian here is carefully crafting a discourse in which the threat of the US indictment and extradition disappears behind the evocation of a rape allegation. The intended effect is to encourage its British readers to support the capitulation to that threat as it will inevitably reappear in Sweden, while thinking they are not—while thinking that all they are doing is assuring their own virtuous adherence to “the seriousness with which such [sex] allegations are viewed.”
The Guardian isn’t asking the British government to honor an extradition request that doesn’t exist, it is suggesting a set-up by which Britain passes Assange through Sweden to the US.
This use of a sexual allegation against Assange to divert attention from, and effectively support, the American extradition demand is pernicious and phony. It’s an obvious attempt to give virtue-signaling identity-politics liberals a reason not to protest Assange’s extradition or imprisonment. It’s already the dominant ruse for such purposes in England, and it’s going to become more prominent everywhere now that the indictment can no longer be portrayed as a relatively minor matter.
As I said before, I agree with Katrin Axelsson and Lisa Longstaff of Women Against Rape that “the pursuit of Assange is political” and “the allegations against him are a smokescreen behind which a number of governments are trying to clamp down on WikiLeaks.” The Swedish prosecution effort against Assange has been part of this stitch-up from the outset, and has been presented in misleading and mendacious ways by the western media, which is also part of it.
Most people do not understand that Julian Assange is not, and has never been, charged with a crime, and that the Swedish process has always been, and still is, a “preliminary investigation” that seeks to determine if there’s enough evidence to bring a criminal charge.
There is one extant allegation against Assange: that, after a night of sexual activity together, he initiated condom-less wake up sex with his partner (SW). It is agreed that the sex was consensual. It is agreed that the condom was at least asked about but definitely not insisted upon. The sole disagreement is over how fully awake his partner was at the moment of initiation—“half-asleep” according to a text she sent and what she told witnesses, “dozed off” according to a police summary (“protocol”) of her interview. Here’s how the Nordic New Network explains it: “According to the interview protocol Ms. Wilén somnade, which can be translated as “dozed off” or “went to sleep.” Prior to the interview, however, she had confided to friends that she was only ‘half asleep’ at the time of penetration.” The only open legal question is whether SW’s state of somnolence, at the moment Assange initiated a consensual act of intercourse, means she was “unduly exploit[ed]” while “in a helpless state,” supporting a charge of “rape.” (See the helpful video from Kim Iversen for the extremely expansive definition of “rape” in Swedish law.)
The Swedes have been “preliminarily investigating” this for nine years. They have all the physical and interview evidence they will ever have. If they could have charged Assange with a crime on the basis of that evidence, they would have. They don’t need him in Sweden to do so. They can charge him in absentia, as they have others. This means they do not have the evidence to make a charge.
And they are not going to get it. There is no new evidence that’s going to magically appear when Julian Assange arrives in Sweden. It is, therefore, unlikely that a charge will ever be made, or that a trial—in which Assange may very well be found not guilty—ever held.
It’s Assange who has been seeking the resolution of the sex allegations for nine years; it’s the Swedish prosecutors who have been avoiding it—and have been berated by the Swedish Court of Appeals and the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) for doing so. The resolution of the sex allegation is not what any of state actors here—Sweden, Britain, or the US—want.
The purpose of all this is not to resolve the rape allegation—to make it into a real charge and bring it to trial. It is to get Assange moved judicially out of Britain to Sweden under the cloud of “rape,” and for Sweden to send him on to the US—precisely with the rape allegation unresolved and hanging over his head forever. Leaving so many with: “He deserves to be in prison, anyway.”
But, hey, that’s my wild and crazy take on the situation. There is a simple way for the Guardian and all liberal Brits to demonstrate both that the Swedish prosecutors are really interested in resolving the sex allegation, and that the Guardian liberals’ demand for the UK government to honor a Swedish extradition request is something other than a virtue-signaling gesture to wash their hands of imperialist stench with feminist soap: They can demand that any extradition to Sweden be made contingent on no onward extradition to the US. If Sweden is claiming to want Assange in country to resolve a rape allegation, then, to get him, it must promise to do just that—either charge and try him or close the case and release him, and not send him off to the US to face 175 years in prison for something entirely irrelevant to that allegation. If, per the Guardian, the UK really has the ethical obligation to defend Assange from US prosecution, then it must carry that defense through any process of extradition to Sweden.
And it can. The Swedish Prosecutorial Authority tells us so:
Once the British authorities enforce the UK Supreme Court’s decision to extradite Julian Assange to Sweden, Sweden is bound by the so-called “Doctrine of Speciality” which means that Sweden cannot extradite him further to a third country, for example the USA, without permission from the UK. This means that Julian Assange would be in the same position in Sweden as he would be in the UK with regard to further extradition to a third country.
Did you know about this rather significant point of law, which is publicly posted on the internet? Did the 70+ British MPs, and the entire editorial staff of the Guardian and of liberal politicians and media organizations crying for extradition to Sweden not know about this? Or did they just ignore it? Which is more damning?
Of course, we don’t need this law to demand no onward extradition from Sweden but it’s quite nice to know that it is there to support us, and quite interesting to know that nobody mentions it.
So, now we know: The British courts can, as a matter of ordinary law, make Sweden honor the defense of Assange from US extradition. And we can insist that anybody in Britain, Sweden, the US, or the outer planets who claims—as the Guardian and Jeremy Corbyn and most of the liberal media now do—to be concerned about resolving the sex allegation and to reject the threat to press freedom posed by the US indictment, must demand that.
Even those who may claim not to care much about the US indictment, with all the issues it raises and penalties it carries, because resolving the sex allegation is so much more important to them, have to recognize now that it’s reasonable for Julian Assange and his supporters and most of the journalistic world to be very concerned about those issues and penalties. Indeed, those people especially should be eager to demand that the entirely irrelevant US indictment, with all its heavy baggage, be taken off the table, so that proper, focussed attention can be paid to what they see as the much more important issue task of deciding, after nine years of preliminary investigation, whether consensual wake-up sex should be charged as felony rape.
In other words, in the present situation, the only people who would not demand that extradition to the United States be taken off the table as a condition for extradition to Sweden are those for whom the US political charges are more important than the Swedish sex allegations, and who support extraditing Assange to the US for trial on those charges.
Bottom line: Anyone who explicitly supports extradition from Britain to Sweden without explicitly objecting to onward extradition to the United States is, in fact, supporting that onward extradition—and, now, knowingly.
Our principal task here, as it always has been, is to prevent Assange from being extradited and imprisoned in the US for revealing the truth about US war crimes. With the demise of the “hacking not publishing indictment” argument, the Swedish sex allegation is going to become the prominent tool for misdirecting us from that task over the next few months, as Julian Assange’s fate is settled in Britain. It is a ruse and a diversion whose purpose is to support Assange’s extradition to the US by ignoring it. This can be proved by raising the obvious and legally valid demand that any extradition to Sweden be conditioned on no onward extradition to the US, and watching the reaction from those who claim to be so concerned about resolving the sex allegation. Those who are speaking in good faith will accept that position immediately. Those who are liars and hypocrites, and are basically chill with Assange being extradited to the United States, will hem and haw and try to ignore. Don’t let them.
Those who actually do oppose extradition to the US cannot let that diversion stand unchallenged. Everyone—from the Guardian to Jeremy Corbyn—who demands Assange be extradited to Sweden must be challenged to also demand forbidding onward extradition to the United States. The defense of freedom the press and the just resolution of any investigation into a sexual allegation demand it.
I call on the Guardian, the 70+ MPs, and all the media voices who have been crying for the UK to honor any Swedish extradition request, to revise their calls to include the condition of no onward extradition, or stand exposed as lying, hypocritical enablers of the empire’s war on free speech and freedom of the press.
Never mind the bollocks.