Author's note: This article is a detailed attempt to address concerns commonly raised about Julian Assange and Wikileaks throughout the media.
Ecuador yesterday granted 'diplomatic asylum' to Julian Assange, bringing about a slew of articles, comments, speeches and opinions; some based on false assumptions, others written by those with malicious intent, and just a few which actually spelled out the facts.
The single largest problem with the Assange case is the need to combat the wave of lies, slurs, smears and misdirection employed by those hostile to the idea of transparency in government and elsewhere. The Guardian, a newspaper with a proud history of holding powerful figures to account, shamed itself with today's editorial. An excerpt here:
...in his [Ecuadorian Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patino] long statement on the case in Quito. Mr Patiño made plenty of other points before confirming Ecuador's decision to grant asylum to Mr Assange. Most of these were based on the claim that the United States wants to get its hands on Mr Assange because of WikiLeaks, that it may torture him, that his deportation to Sweden by the UK would bring this closer, and that Ecuador has a right to protect him.
No one should be naïve about the US, but this is a fallacious chain of reasoning. The US has not said whether it wants to detain Mr Assange, though it has had plenty of time to do so. If it wanted his extradition, the US might logically be more likely to make use of Britain's excessively generous extradition treaty with the US – which has not happened – rather than wait until he was in Sweden, when both Sweden and the UK would have to sign off on any extradition application. And neither Sweden nor the UK would in any case deport someone who might face torture or the death penalty. Ecuador's own human rights record is also far from exemplary, as Human Rights Watch has made clear.
No mention here of the fact that there is strong evidence suggesting that the US has a sealed indictment against Mr. Assange, surely grounds for concern for anyone condemned repeatedly by high-level US officials like Democratic senator Diane Feinstein, who said he should be prosecuted for espionage, a crime which potentially carries the death penalty.
It is also interesting that the Guardian cited Human Rights Watch for Ecuador's human rights record. Human Rights Watch also reports here that two men were sent from Sweden to Egypt, a nation known for torture, at the behest of the US government. From the article:
The Swedish government called for an “international inquiry” after the Swedish television news program—Kalla Fakta—revealed on May 17 that the U.S. government was involved in the transfers of two asylum seekers, Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed al-Zari, from Sweden to Egypt. The Swedish Ministry of Justice has since confirmed this.
The Kalla Fakta program included evidence that the two men were not only tortured upon their return to Egypt—as previously reported by the men’s lawyers and Swedish human rights groups—but were also physically abused by the Swedish police prior to being placed on the U.S. government-leased plane that transported them to Cairo.
The program also included a graphic description of the men’s treatment by hooded operatives aboard the plane, including details about their being blindfolded, hooded, drugged, and diapered. Press reports indicate that Egypt has agreed to an international inquiry into the treatment of Agiza and al-Zari following a visit to Cairo last week by a high-level delegation from the Swedish government.
Agiza and al-Zari were expelled from Sweden in December 2001. The Swedish government had acknowledged that both of the asylum seekers had a well-founded fear of being persecuted if returned to Egypt. However, the men were excluded from refugee status based on secret evidence that they were associated with Islamist groups responsible for acts of terrorism. In 1999, Agiza had been tried and convicted in absentia by an Egyptian military tribunal for terrorism-related acts. It remains unclear on what grounds al-Zari was expelled from Sweden and then imprisoned in Egypt. He was released from a Cairo prison in October 2003 without charge or trial, but remains under constant surveillance and is routinely summoned for interrogations.
To justify the expulsions the Swedish government relied upon “diplomatic assurances,” or formal guarantees from the Egyptian government that the two men would not be tortured and would have fair trials upon return. Human Rights Watch and a coalition of Swedish human rights groups subsequently learned that the men had been tortured and ill-treated in Egyptian prisons. International law prohibits absolutely the return of any person—no matter what his or her status or suspected crime—to a place where he would be at risk of torture or ill-treatment. There are no exceptions to this principle.
For a Guardian editorial to omit such vital and pertinent information with regard to Sweden's record on this issue is a disgrace to journalism. Given the well-documented falling-out between Mr. Assange and this newspaper, it suggests an even more sinister motive: to paint Mr. Assange in a negative light to add to the already considerable negative publicity surrounding him.
The Guardian also ran a translated (from Swedish) article by Karin Olssen, the 'culture editor' of the Swedish daily tabloid 'Expressen'. For more on the media climate towards Wikileaks in Sweden, partly created by tabloids like Expressen, please read in detail here. That the Guardian allowed this overtly biased piece onto its pages can only add to concerns about its motives with regard to Mr. Assange and the Wikileaks transparency organization.
A few gems as follows:
Julian Assange's circus has pulled off another breathtaking stunt: he has won political asylum in Ecuador. Assange's flight from Sweden, a decent democracy with a largely excellent justice system, takes ever more absurd forms. After the decision of Ecuador's foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, the Swedish Twitterverse filled with mocking jokes.
Circus? Stunt? Absurd? These are hardly neutral terms and they beg legitimate questions as to the agenda of the writer. And since when does a 'decent democracy' preclude the fact that bad things happen? Sweden's 'decent democracy' allowed two men to be shipped off to Egypt and tortured after all.
[Aside: the writer of this article would like to state that he generally has a very positive view of Sweden and its people, as detailed here.]
Patiño praised Assange as a fighter for free expression, and explained that they had to protect his human rights. But Ecuador is a country with a dreadful record when it comes to freedom of expression and of the press. Inconvenient journalists are put on trial. Private media companies may not operate freely.
President Rafael Correa is patently unable to tolerate any truths that he does not own. Reporters Without Borders has strongly and often criticised the way that media freedoms are limited in Ecuador. Assange is a plaything for the president's megalomania.
It is irrelevant to raise the human rights record of Ecuador; it has no connection to the situation Mr. Assange is currently in. This is simply a bogus way of attacking a country that has done something the writer disagrees with. No one pretends that Ecuador is perfect, but what has that do to do with Mr. Assange's asylum request. All he wants is a place to avoid persecution, and frankly, given his options, he is likely to go anywhere he is invited.
Most of the women in Sweden who dare to report experiences of sexual assault to the police, despite the exposure that this brings, will find that the case is dropped because it is her word against his, and the other evidence is slight or non-existent. That is quite probably what would happen in this case, if Assange only dared come to Sweden for questioning. There is no reason to believe the fantastic conspiracy theories which say that the women's accusations are just a way to get at Assange.
Fantastic conspiracy theories? One of the main purposes of this article is to address the 'rape allegations' in detail, as they are bandied around in the media with very few people knowing what actually happened.
Our story begins:
Note: a detailed accounting of the exact events can be seen here.
Assange was invited to Sweden by the press secretary (Ms. A) of the Swedish Association of Christian Social Democrats. He stayed at her home, which was empty as she and her family were away for a few days, but she returned early to do some work and they stayed together temporarily. During this time, the two had consensual sex, but the condom split. She seemed to think he had done this deliberately [aside: why would anyone want to do this deliberately??] but he insisted it had been an accident.
Ms. A nevertheless attended the seminar the next day with Mr. Assange, and it was at this seminar he met Ms. B.
From the article linked above:
In her police statement, [Ms.] B described how, in the wake of the Afghanistan leaks, she saw Assange being interviewed on television and became instantly fascinated - some might even say obsessed.
She said she thought him ‘interesting, brave and admirable’.
Over the following two weeks she read everything she could find about him on the internet and followed news reports about his activities.
She discovered that he would be visiting Sweden to give a seminar, so she emailed the organisers to offer her help.
She registered to attend and booked the Saturday off work.
After the seminar:
At 6pm they entered a bijou cinema to watch a short film about the ocean, called Deep Sea. In the darkness Assange became amorous.
At one point they moved to the back row, where it is clear from the woman’s statement that the pair went far beyond kissing and fondling.
After the show, they wandered towards a park. He turned to her and said: ‘You are very attractive ... to me.’
Assange said he had a traditional Swedish crayfish party to attend and needed a power nap, so they lay side by side on the grass and he fell asleep.
She stayed awake and woke him about 20 minutes later. When she asked if they would meet again, he replied: ‘Of course.’
What he did not tell her was that the party was being hosted by the woman he had slept with two nights before and whose bed he would probably be sleeping in that night.
Later, on the Monday after the party, they met again at Ms. B's home and again had sex:
One source close to the investigation said the woman had insisted he wear a condom, but the following morning he made love to her without one.
This was the basis for the rape charge. But after the event she seemed unruffled enough to go out to buy food for his breakfast.
Her only concern was about leaving him alone in her flat. ‘I didn’t feel I knew him very well,’ she explained.
They ate in an atmosphere that was tense, though she said in her statement that she tried to lighten the mood by joking about the possibility that she might be pregnant.
They parted on friendly terms and she bought his train ticket back to Stockholm. When she asked if he would call, he said: ‘Yes, I will.’
While the crime of rape must never be trivialized, it must nevertheless be noted that one of the alleged victims held a party for Mr. Assange just days after the crime was alleged to have taken place, while the other joked that she might be pregnant and bought his ticket back to Stockholm. This all from sworn statements written by the women themselves. Do these sound like the kinds of things any rape victim would do?
In this article, Mr. Assange's Swedish lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, stated in an interview that he had seen secret police documents which prove that the women had an agenda and "lied" about the allegations.
From the article:
'It was, I believe, more about jealousy and disappointment on their part. I can prove that at least one of them had very big expectations for something to happen with Julian.’
He has asked for Swedish prosecutors’ permission to disclose more ‘sensational’ information.
‘If I am able to reveal what I know, everyone will realise this is all a charade,’ he said. ‘If I could tell the British courts, I suspect it would make extradition a moot point.
‘But at the moment I’m bound by the rules of the Swedish legal system, which say that the information can only be used as evidence in this country. For me to do otherwise would lead to me being disbarred.’
[Ms.] B called the office of [Ms.] A, whom she had briefly met at the seminar, asking the whereabouts of Mr Assange. During the conversation they realised that they had both been ‘victims of his charms’. Mr Assange told Mr Hurtig he refused their request to take a test for sexually-transmitted diseases.
He said [Ms.] B was especially anxious about the possibility of HIV and pregnancy. It was then that she and [Ms.] A walked into a police station and told their stories.
Mr Hurtig said: ‘I don’t believe [Ms.] B felt she had been raped until she went to the police station. She was encouraged by a policewoman and a junior female prosecutor to think that way. While I don’t think there was any conspiracy, Julian says he is being victimised because of his role with WikiLeaks. The fact that he has a high profile has made him a target for opponents.’
Mr Hurtig said that before leaving Sweden to lecture in Britain at the end of September, Mr Assange tried in vain several times to arrange an interview with Stockholm police.
In this article, we can see that the two accusers 'boasted' about their sexual encounters with Mr. Assange, and that Swedish prosecutors confirmed the 'bragging and exculpatory character' of the women in the text messages between the two women after the alleged crimes, and that within the texts, there was no mention of the word 'rape'. The exact content of these text messages has not yet been released for legal reasons.
It should also be noted that one of the accusers wrote on her blog a piece entitled 'Seven Steps toward Legal Revenge'.
All these things need to be considered by readers when they next read the words 'rape allegations' with regard to Mr. Assange.
Nevertheless, under Swedish law, if a woman changes her consent midway through the act of sex, it can be considered rape, and split condoms are also taken seriously in the same way. It can certainly be argued that a Swedish prosecutor has the right to question Mr. Assange on these allegations.
Leading to this: another fallacy thrown around by those hostile to Mr. Assange is the idea that he is somehow evading justice. In fact, and this is a vital point, he has said on multiple occasions that he would fly to Sweden tomorrow for questioning as long as the Swedish authorities provide a guarantee that he will not then be extradited on to another country. As mentioned earlier in this article, he has legitimate fears along with documented precedent that Sweden may well send him on to a country that would love to get its hands on him.
However, Sweden has steadfastly refused to provide this guarantee, and has also rebuffed any attempts to send prosecutors to London to question Mr. Assange, even an invitation from the government of Ecuador to host them on the premises of its embassy.
From the article linked above:
On Thursday, Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said Quito decided to grant him asylum as London, Stockholm and Washington refused to guarantee that Assange would not be sent on to the United States where he fears trial for the release of a trove of classified US documents by his whistleblowing website.
This frankly makes no sense at all unless the Swedish government has ulterior motives for requiring Mr. Assange to fly to Sweden. It is also extremely suspicious that Sweden has yet to charge Mr. Assange with a crime, and rather telling that multiple establishment media publications and figures still, even now, refer to 'charges' against him in the full knowledge that he is only wanted for questioning.
After reading all of the above, try putting yourself in this man's shoes and ask yourself honestly what you would do, particularly when you know perfectly well how the United States treats whistleblowers. The treatment of Bradley Manning, the US army private accused of passing on the diplomatic cables to Wikileaks, has been condemned both by Amnesty International and the UN's top torture official as torture.
We know plenty about the US's record on torture.
For those who ask why the US does not simply apply for the extradition of Assange directly from the UK to the US, there are strong arguments against that happening:
Read the Freedom of Information (FOI) response from the Home Office (February 2012) regarding US Attorney General Eric Holder’s direct participation in UK Extradition Act ’review’
"If the Justice Department were actually to issue charges against Mr. Assange while he was still in Britain there could be potentially a decision for the UK government whether to extradite him to Sweden or to the United States, and that could get to be a complicated clash between the two different requests which would put the UK government in a difficult position." - John B. Bellinger III on Fox News
Some critical voices claim that the UK-US extradition treaty is more permissive than the Sweden-US extradition treaty. Extradition to the US, they claim, would be simpler from the UK than from Sweden.
This argument fails on several points:
The UK’s extradition treaty does not have the temporary surrender (’conditional release’) clause. The UK’s judicial review process, while far from perfect, has a number of practical review mechanisms. The nearest equivalent case, of Gary McKinnon - a UK citizen who has been charged for hacking US military systems - has been opposed in the courts for 8 years.
Public opinion and the media (to a greater extent) are more sympathetic to Julian Assange in the UK than in Sweden. Public pressure could draw out the process of extradition to the United States in the UK. In Sweden the media climate is hostile (see Media climate in Sweden) due to the sex allegations. Public outcry would be significantly weaker and therefore less likely to stand in the way of a strategically convenient extradition.
In the UK, Julian Assange is better able to defend himself, muster support and understand the legal procedures against him. In Sweden on the other hand, the language barrier prevents him from effectively challenging the actions against.
The UK is politically better positioned to withstand pressure from the United States than Sweden. Sweden is a small country of nine million people close to Russia. It has grown increasingly dependent on the United States. In recent years Sweden has complied with directives from the United States in a manner that has not been scrutinised by Parliament, as has been revealed by the disclosed diplomatic cables (see Political Interference).
[Aside: to view sources for the above, please follow the link in the paragraph immediately preceding the italicized text on the words 'strong arguments'.]
These sex allegations have all the hallmarks of a honey trap after the fact, and it has served those exposed as criminal and corrupt by the Wikileaks cables extremely well. The establishment media love Mr. Assange because his stories attract so much attention and therefore promise potentially increased advertising revenue and a higher profile. They also hate him because Wikileaks has exposed in its short lifetime more than all these vaunted organs, which exist to hold power accountable, have done in their entire histories. Wikileaks serves as a devastating comment on the state of modern establishment journalism and those who maintain its influence and power: the smears, the arrogance and the banality of it all.
Saddest of all is the fact that so many readers of the establishment media are not clued up to this: while maintaining a healthy skepticism of the media as a whole, in particular with regard to celebrity scandal and gossip thanks to the ongoing Leveson Inquiry, people generally appear to believe what they read about 'serious' news, topics like Wikileaks, and are therefore less likely to realize that vital information is often twisted or omitted entirely, fundamentally influencing their opinions on the subject. This lying by omission, for lying is what it is, can be devastating and even give people the opposite view to that they would take if they were given all the facts. The nuts and bolts of the Wikileaks saga detailed above, so vital for understanding the actual circumstances of the case, are routinely ignored.
For example, as detailed here, the media often label Wikileaks as reckless for releasing all 250,000 cables in unredacted form, neglecting of course to mention that it was due to the ignorance of the Guardian's David Leigh that all the files came to be accessible online. Recall that before the unauthorized release, Wikileaks were very slowly and in a careful and professional manner releasing cables in redacted form in order to protect diplomatic sources inside the cables.
Another claim commonly made is that the release of the cables caused harm to suddenly exposed informants. However, the US State Department itself admitted that no harm had come from the release of the cables except for considerable embarrassment to some of the governments involved. Considering the scale of the abuse, corruption and criminality exposed by the cables, a little embarrassment is surely a small price to pay.
So it is OK for the government to read our mail and listen to our telephone calls, 99.99999999% of which are utterly innocent (and, indeed, private), but as soon as someone has the temerity to expose the horrifying abuses and criminality committed in our names and with our tax dollars, the shit really hits the fan. This is in no way whatsoever the behavior of a democracy; indeed, it has been clear for a long time that the majority of us do not live in democracies.
This deluge of misinformation is extremely harmful and has directly led to the current diplomatic row between Ecuador and the UK/Sweden, and also a crisis of international law. The establishment media is culpable: articles like this monstrosity by Richard Littlejohn do not help in the slightest: filled with baseless smears and attacks on Wikileaks and its supporters, and can only fuel even greater confusion over the issue, as the comments below the line clearly show. It is a tragic comment on the state of the UK media that a person as ill-informed, biased and offensive as this is given free rein in a very widely-read newspaper, potentially influencing the opinions of millions of readers in a very negative fashion. People, far from being logical, rational beings, are a mass of cognitive biases and articles like this can only exacerbate them.
It is essential that people get a balanced picture from the media: the alternative is mass ignorance, which is dangerous and counterproductive for democracy. We live in a world with greatly warped perceptions: 27 million people are slaves around the world and millions of human beings, many of whom are children, are trafficked into the sex industry and the world responds with a shrug; but millions upon millions will read tripe like Fifty Shades of Grey or expend all their energy and attention on inane controversies in the fields of sport and entertainment. This skewed sense of priority: where human rights abuses and real tragedies are practically ignored by all except activists while the world and his dog obsess about the latest celebrity divorce is brought about in the main by the inanity of the mainstream media.
Until the media is reformed so that its serious watchdog role is restored, its cozy associations with those in power are expressly banned, its work reviewed by impartial citizen committees to ensure fairness and neutrality, and its lies, by omission or otherwise, punished in prohibitively severe ways, we do not stand a chance of having informed democracies. If there is one thing that the circumstances surrounding Julian Assange and Wikileaks have shown us, it is surely that.
'The 99.99998271% - Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy’ by Simon Wood is available for free download. In this 70-page book, the current state of human rights and democracy is discussed, and a simple method of implementing direct democracy is suggested.
Simon Wood on twitter (@simonwood11) and Facebook or at his blog. The Direct Democracy Alliance, a group dedicated to creating national/global direct democracy, is now also on twitter: (@DDA4586)