Gwynne Dyer: Is Julian Assange a political martyr?

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, is not well served by some of his supporters. When he appeared on the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been holed up for the past two months to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning about allegations of sexual assault, he wisely said nothing about those claims—but some of his friends did.

George Galloway, the British member of parliament who founded the Respect Party, shares Assange’s suspicion that the whole affair was a “set-up” to get him to Sweden, from which he would be extradited to the United States to face trial for “espionage” for placing a quarter-million U.S. diplomatic cables on the internet. That was what Assange talked about on the balcony last Sunday—but Galloway could not resist the opportunity to talk about sex.

Galloway never misses a chance to put himself in the public eye, so he released a podcast on Monday saying that Assange was only guilty of “bad sexual etiquette.” Thanks, George. The last thing Assange needed was for public attention to be distracted from his claim that the U.S. was plotting to seize and jail him and diverted instead to the details of the alleged sexual assaults.

Some of those details are indeed peculiar. The two Swedish women each said that she had consensual sex with Assange, but was asleep or “half-asleep” when he initiated sex again. The real issue in both cases was apparently his failure to use a condom on the second occasion, but neither woman claimed rape. Indeed, one of them threw a party in Assange’s honour the following evening, and asked him to stay in her room again afterwards.

Worried about the condom issue, they subsequently asked him to take an STD test, and went to the police when he refused. The Swedish police issued an arrest warrant for him on August 20, 2010, but one of Stockholm’s Chief Prosecutors, Eva Finne, cancelled it the following day, telling the press: “I don’t think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape.”

Ten days passed before her decision was overturned by another Chief Prosecutor, who issued a European Arrest Warrant for Assange (who was in London by then) demanding that he be sent to Sweden for questioning. The British police arrested him in February, 2011, and he spent the next sixteen months on bail, fighting extradition. When his last appeal was denied in June, he jumped bail and took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy.

But why doesn’t he just answer the Swedish police’s questions? They haven’t even charged him with anything at this point. His answer is that he’d be happy to talk to them in London, but that if he goes to Sweden the United States will lay charges against him (it hasn’t done so yet) and demand his extradition. Even if he is never charged with rape or some lesser offence by Sweden, he would then face decades in an American prison.

Again, there is something peculiar about how the British and Swedish governments are playing this. Sweden has sent prosecutors abroad to interview people suspected of serious crimes before, precisely to determine whether it should lay official charges against them. This time, it won’t do that. And neither government will state that it will not let Assange be passed on to the Americans, although he says he would go to Stockholm if they did.

So is there really an American plot to whisk Assange away and lock him up for good?

There’s no question that many senior American officials would like to do exactly that. Vice-President Joe Biden called him a “high-tech terrorist,” and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described his action as “an attack on the international community.” Great powers are always vindictive towards those who reveal their dirty secrets.

However, the official American outrage that prompted those comments was triggered by Assange’s big document dump in November, 2010. The incidents in Stockholm and the Swedish request for his extradition happened before that.

There is also the question of why it would be easier for the U.S. government to extradite Assange from Sweden than from the United Kingdom, assuming that it eventually does indict him? There is a serious question as to whether US laws on treason, espionage, etc. can be applied to a foreign citizen who has never lived there.

More importantly, London and Stockholm would both be deeply reluctant to hand Assange over to the tender mercies of the American justice system. They would face a huge outcry from their own citizens, most of whom think that WikiLeaks is a useful check on the untrammelled exercise of American power in the world: the domestic political price would be too great.

Indeed, the remarkable absence of a U.S. indictment and a subsequent demand for extradition after all this time suggests that Washington knows there would be no point. So there probably isn’t a U.S. plot to grab Assange.

There probably wasn’t a rape either, but that’s for the Swedish courts to decide. Assange should allow them to get on with it.

Comments (18) Add New Comment
Give it up Dyer.
Like every good liberal, Dyer can't resist an opportunity to take a swipe at Galloway and distort the intent of his comment. Of course, the US has its eye on Assange. These are not the same Swedes as Olaf Palme, these are the new neo-liberal Swedes another country, along with the UK and Cnada, preening to do its master's bidding. The Swedes also have a terrible system where people can be held in jail for extended periods of time without charges which is exactly where Assange would find himself within 15 minutes of disembarking from a plane in Sweden. Dyer would have Assange present his neck to the excutioneer, he has got to be kidding. As though the US, UK,Canada or any of the other 'great' powers listened to the millions and millions of people who were opposed to the murderous rampages of the US/Nato/Coalition of the Willing throughout the Middle East. Dyer should hang it up. Your readers should read Glenn Greenwald instead.

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From Richard Seymour (UK)
Allow me to place my cards on the table right away. I believe very firmly that the US is out to indict Assange. I believe this on the basis of attempts by US prosecutors to inculpate him as a co-conspirator in the Manning case. I believe this on the basis of evidence of a sealed indictment involving a secret grand jury which is pursuing Wikileaks and its founder. I believe it on the basis of the interest expressed by senior US politicians in indicting Assange, and possibly assassinating him. I believe it on the basis of leaked information that the US are actively pursuing Assange, despite official denials. I believe it on the basis of the direction of Obama's policy, the escalation of repression using espionage legislation, the hoarding of executive power linked to imperialism, the hunting of 'hacktivists' of various kinds. I believe it on the basis of Attorney General Eric Holder's declaration that he intends to close any legal "gaps" that might seem to protect whistleblowers.

I think all of this amounts to an active, concrete threat to Assange's safety, grounded in well understood lines of policy under the Obama administration. I think that Assange is right to say that there is a war on whistleblowers, and it is obvious that he is in the crosshairs. I think that if the US gets hold of him, they will try to make an example of him; and I don't believe his celebrity would necessarily protect him. I think the only question is when and how they go after him, and that is a question of politics and timing, not legal niceties. I think those dismissive of this threat (cf. "conspiracy theory") are either being ignorant or obtuse. And I think it is 'no accident', as they used to say, that those who are most attuned to this problem are the likes of Glenn Greenwald and the Center for Constitutional Rights in the US who have been monitoring the administration's behaviour up close.
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R. Lalonde
Gwynne has done the old switcharoo. He has gotten to the details of the reasoning for questioning by claiming to find them to be unnecessary (I approve).
The details of the reason for this witch hunt must be shown otherwise the generic label of sexual assault is used and under the acknowledged circumstances most would find that label to be a gross exaggeration.
The point of this whole exercise is that it shows that government agencies can hold individuals for unlimited periods of time even if they cannot find a charge to lay against you.
Do not fool yourself that this sort of thing only happens in banana republics.
As usual, Mr. Dyer has covered this one quite well and as for the 1st comment I agree people should ALSO read Glenn Greenwald.
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Ilan Hersht
There is a lot of "why don't they just.." just in the Assange Saga with a lot of different parties filling the "they" box: Assange, Britain, Sweden, US, Australia...

My main question is why doesn't Julian Assange brand himself as a journalist. He is a journalist. Wikileaks prints information leaked (mostly) from various government sources. Same thing all journalists do & every major news outlet on earth has done with the exact same leaks after he printed them. Journalists are protected by strong laws, public opinions & norms that officials are very hesitant to break. Calling a Journalist a terrorist or a news leak wouldn't be as acceptable.

Instead, he brands himself an activist. I was in Melbourne when this was just starting & I came across a petition to support his cause. I stopped to sign it on the grounds that this was an Australian who hadn't broken any laws being harassed extralegally by a powerful foreign government. Australia should protect their citizen.

The petition read (I'm paraphrasing) something like:

"Free Jullian Assange. Get our soldiers out of Afganistan. Free Palestine. Free Iraq. America smells."

Journalists have protection that no one else has. Not activists. Not political figures or parties. If your goal is to get information out, those protections are for you.

Anyway, all these "why don't they just.." suggest (to me) that there are important parts of this story we don't know.
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Call Me Skeptical.
Ah, yes. The great "was it, or was it not rape" continues on, brought to us today by Gwynn Dyer.

If Assange were the great paragon Freedom Of Information that he claims to be, he would man up and go to Sweden. In fact, he has been already questioned there. Evidently, they would like to question him again. They owe him no favours by shlepping over to Britain to question him.

Before we put too much truck in the convoluted reasoning and conspiracy theories of hysterics like Galloway or Michael Moore, with regards to Assange being spirited away to the US should he comply with Sweden's request, he needs to deal with that country's laws and system (somewhat refreshingly different than ours, in dealing seriously with sexual matters by complainants).

Again, the histrionics displayed have not added to Mr. Assange's credibility. His personal freedom is much more important to him than real justice, it appears. To paraphrase a famous line by a US politician, "You sir, are no Mandela or MLK."
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Christopher K. Starr
How do you know there is no indictment? These things are often kept sealed until the Americans get their hands on the person.
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Surprised
In Canada, he would be a RAPIST!!

Where are the organizations who always protect the victims, and rightly so??

But he is nothing, but a mysoginist coward trying to avoid the music.

Enough said!!
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Howler
Surprised: So you have convicted him already despite no charges having been laid and a shaky story from the complainants.
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surprised
Howler,

If you can read, which I doubt, he had every opportunity in a democratic country, Sweden, to defend himself. Rather than bringing his side of the story, as an innocent person would do, he left the country in a hurry.

In Britain, he went through four courts, higher and higher, and they looked at the evidence and denied his claims.

Afterwards, he run to some South American Embassy, a country he had never visited or cared about, and asked for asylum. If the Iranian or Syrian Embassy would have been in his path, he would have jumped inside with no qualms.

Perhaps, the two women are lying. But, someone who runs like a coward from the courts, should not be a hero to anyone.

No matter if you agree with his political activities.

Don't we always ask, "what part of the word NO doesn't he understand??"
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P.Peto
I've been a longtime reader and fan of Dr. Dyer's column but I suspect his opinions and attitudes have changed for the worst si'nce the Bin Laden execution. He has become far too sympathetic with the 'powers that be' for my liking. Assange is case in point,it's hard not to suspect that the U.S. government does not want to crucify him and set set an example,like Bradley Manning,to other would be whisleblowers. It's hard not to suspect that behind the "sex charges" lies a political conspiracy in which the UK and Sweden are complicit. Surrender to Swedish justice ,indeed? Bravo to Ecquador for granting him assylum. Even so he is not a free man any longer let us hope he continues with his Wikileak work and exposes the dirty nature of American statecraft. Gywne's reservations not withstanding.
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Howler
Surprised,

Like I said, you've already convicted him.

As to "If you can read, which I doubt", your doubts as to my ability to read are wrong on the face of it.

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Issac Chandler
"There is also the question of why it would be easier for the U.S. government to extradite Assange from Sweden than from..."

It would be harder to extradite from the UK .The US has been seeking Gary McKinnon's extradition for 7 years.

Glenn Greenwald answers these questions in the Guardian:
http://m.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/22/julian-assange-media-c...

The esteemed feminist Naomi Wolf supports Assange unlike the instant feminists used to justify the war in Afghanistan:
http://m.democracynow.org/stories/11487

Unlike those who suddenly discover the imperatives of feminism when it comes time to justify the war in Afghanistan,
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Mosby
There is no need for Assange to physically go to Sweden (or anywhere else) to answer questions. Questioning of any sort can be done online over secure networks, the same as millions of financial transactions are done every day throughout the world.

This fact indicates that Sweden (and the US) is interested in more than simply questioning Assange.
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Issac Chandler
Oops - A delay of seven years is peanuts when both governments (UK & Sweden) can reject/resist any extradition requests. This has been done with the Bush 6 and the former Chilean prez Pinochet:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/24/new-statesman-error-...

Greenwald claims that the sad behaviour of the media is a result of "intense personal loathing". I suggest that their loathing is probably paid for:
http://tmh.floonet.net/articles/cia_press.html
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Molly Isaac
"However, the official American outrage that prompted those comments was triggered by Assange’s big document dump in November, 2010. The incidents in Stockholm and the Swedish request for his extradition happened before that."


The Swedish request for extradition actually happened "after" two very major and controversial Wikileaks releases - On April 5, 2010 the shocking video "Collateral Murder" documenting the gunning down of innocent civilians and 2 Reuter's journalists on a Baghdad street from a US helicopter, followed in July 2010 by a release of a "major " number of 91,000.00 documents entitled the "Afghan War logs ". I'm sure American politicians were , albeit quietly, furious prior Assange's visit to Sweden.
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bob's ur uncle
Gwynne states "There is a serious question as to whether US laws on treason, espionage, etc. can be applied to a foreign citizen who has never lived there."

The problem with this is that Washington has amply demonstrated in the last decade that the law and the constitution are malleable and meaningless.
Guantanamo
NDAA
Libyan war without congressional approval
and the list goes on
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Martin Dunphy
Issac Chandler:

Thank you for providing the link to the 1977 Rolling Stone article about US media cooperation with the CIA.
The New York Times has proven repeatedly, and even defiantly, since then that it is still in bed with the CIA, the Pentagon, and the White House.
People can make up their own minds about CBS and Time, but both organizations have long since become irrelevant.
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bcameron54
Why would the US want him charged and extradited from anywhere? He is already sidelined, and all tied up for a long time already. Almost like being in jail.
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