Gwynne Dyer: The accusations against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange
The U.S. government is doing all it can to silence the Wikileaks organization, including starving it of funds by getting PayPal, Visa, and Mastercard to freeze its accounts. But has it also persuaded the Swedes to accuse Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder and chief whistle-blower, of raping two women, in order to shut him up?
Or more subtly, as some of Assange’s supporters allege, is Washington using the rape charges to get Assange extradited from Britain to Sweden, from where it hopes to extradite him to the United States to face espionage charges?
The latter accusation is clearly nonsense, because it would be far easier for the United States to extradite Assange from Britain than from Sweden. Under a 2003 U.S.-UK agreement, the United States no longer has to provide prima facie evidence that an offence has been committed—usually in the form of witness statements—when requesting the extradition of an accused person from Britain.
It would be harder for the United States to extradite Assange from Sweden, and in any case the Swedes would have to get British permission to hand him over. Whatever the U.S. government is up to, that is not its strategy. But are the rape accusations in Sweden genuine, or the result of American manipulation or entrapment?
The fact that they were first made after Assange released documents about the American war in Afghanistan last summer, and were then revived after he began releasing a quarter-million State Department confidential messages last month, is certainly a striking coincidence, but coincidences really do happen.
It is possible that a man might be a dedicated campaigner for truth and justice (or whatever) by day, and a serial rapist by night. So what are the odds that the accusations that have been made against Julian Assange in Sweden were brought in good faith and without American influence?
There are no actual charges against Assange. The accusations against him were first made last summer, and Assange voluntarily remained in Sweden until the investigation was closed. He claims that the file has now been re-opened (by a different prosecutor) for political reasons, and refuses to go back to Sweden for further questions, though he offered to be interviewed at the Swedish embassy in London. So he has been sent to jail in Britain.
This came as a surprise to him, since people who are resisting extradition normally get bail in Britain. Unless an appeal succeeds, he will be in jail for at least three weeks, and perhaps for months, while his case makes its way through the courts. Yet the allegations against him, even if true, would not normally lead to a rape charge in Britain or most other jurisdictions.
The definition of rape in Sweden is no longer restricted to coercion, but includes any infringement of another person’s “sexual integrity”. Accusations of rape have consequently increased fourfold in the past 20 years, and Sweden now has the highest per capita rate of reported rapes in Europe. But does anybody really believe that there are more rapists in Sweden than anywhere else?
Swedish courts are clearly unhappy about the politicians’ meddling with the law: they are only delivering about as many convictions for rape as they did 20 years ago. If Assange ever faced a Swedish court, he would almost certainly be found not guilty.
According to a Swedish police leak and an interview given by one of the two Swedish women who brought the accusations, Assange was the houseguest last August of Anna Ardin, an academic and an official with the Social Democratic Party who had organized various lectures for him around the country. They had consensual sex on the day they met in person, and at some point in the proceedings a condom split.
On the following day, she hosted a party for Assange at her home, and still seemed quite happy about his presence in Sweden. “Sitting outside nearly freezing with the world’s coolest people,” she tweeted. “It’s pretty amazing.”
At lunch that same day, however, Assange met another woman, Sofia Wilen. A few days later they travelled to her home in Enkoping, where they too had consensual sex. The following morning, she claims, he had sex with her again while she was still asleep, and this time he did not use a condom. Only after the two women (who did not previously know each other) discovered that he had slept with both of them did they go to the police.
Assange enjoys his rock-star status and the access to women that it brings, and it has made him arrogant. However, although a file was opened after the two women’s complaints, Sweden’s chief prosecutor refused to lay charges against him. He then left Sweden.
So far, no hidden American hand. But another, more junior Swedish prosecutor re-opened the file on Assange last month and demanded his extradition for further questioning. The man who asked the prosecutor to do that is Claes Borgstrom, the two women’s new lawyer.
Bergstrom denies any U.S. ties, and you can probably believe him: he was Gender Equality Minister in the former Social Democratic-led government of Sweden until he returned to the law in 2008. Neither are Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilen likely to lend themselves to an American sting operation. Indeed, both women say that they still admire Assange’s actions in bringing so many secrets to light.
What we have here, therefore, is a man who assumes too much, and two wronged women, but probably not enough evidence for the law in most countries to treat his actions as rape. Even in Sweden it probably wouldn’t, and it’s unlikely that Assange would be in jail now if he had just gone back to Sweden and answered more questions. Not that the British judge’s decision to imprison him was sensible, or even defensible.
Dec 10, 2010 at 10:48am
The US Supreme Court said re: the release of the Pentagon Papers "only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government". And chiselled in marble (and apparently hypocrisy as well) at the entrance to the CIA are the words from the Bible "And the truth shall set you free". Amen to that, to WikiLeaks and to future similar leaks on all countries of the world so people can make better- informed decisions about their governments through freedom of the press. Absolute power corrupts absolutely,which is most easily enabled through secrecy.
Dec 10, 2010 at 11:04am
Assange's statement of US honey-trap looked like a rather stupid delusion of persecution until this blog appears that might suggest another possibility.
Dec 10, 2010 at 1:13pm
I can understand why he wasn't given bail. He has no family or job connections to Britain, has the access to the financial resources to disappear and the skills to do it. He also may be facing additional more serious charges.
There seriousness of the charges are just one of several factors in deciding whether to grant bail.
Dec 10, 2010 at 1:35pm
Many inaccuracies in this post. It would not be easier for the US to extradite from the UK. The high profile case of Gary Mckinnon has shown that British lawyers are highly adept at fighting extradition under this treaty. Indeed, the UK government has said it is reviewing it currently. The coalition government is weak and for the Liberal Demcorats to be complicit would be the nail in their coffin.
It makes far more sense to trump up a charge against Assange (the case was thrown out before the right-wing politician Bergstrom got involved). The Swedes are far less skilled in extradition and its judiciary far more likely to submit to the US.
By the way, a man accused of murdering his wife gets bail and a man accused of "sex by surprise" for having sex without a condom (not considered rape in any other country) is put in isolation and prevented from seeing his lawyers.
Finally to all those morons who think this is putting American soldiers' lives at risk, are you so stupid that you don't realise that the cavalier attitude in which these soldiers treat Afghans and Iraqis is what puts them at greatest risk, and stamping out this behaviour through media exposure is in fact the best way to improve their security.
Dec 10, 2010 at 2:19pm
His life is not worth the ones he endangered.
Dec 10, 2010 at 2:50pm
The only lives which have been endangered are the social lives of arrogant diplomats....three cheers for Mr. Assange !
Dec 10, 2010 at 6:02pm
The easy explanation is that the arrest warrant was a way to limit his movement, and to ensure that he does not disappear when the inevitable indictment and extradition request come.
Dec 10, 2010 at 6:22pm
Hope he gets rendered to somewhere nice and cozy, maybe for about 20 years.
Ghenghis Khan and his Brother Don
Dec 11, 2010 at 12:56am
Let's put things in perspective.
Assange publishes cables (he wasn't even the one who stole them!) which reveal deceit and lies of diplomatic services, intelligence that reveal some not so nice activities. He gets put in jail and some right-leaning people with too few neurons (such as fRANKLIN here), want him to rot in prison, believe the propaganda that he has endangered lives, or suggest that he has "blood on his hands" (the not too astute Ms Palin).
Not many years ago, "Scooter" Libby, working for the White House, for purely partisan heinous and vengeful reasons, actually publishes real intelligence that puts real people in danger and what does he end up getting? He gets a huuuuge 30 month sentence. But, not wanting to abandon his "Fall guy", Bush pardons him before leaving office.
Speaking of the Devil, Bush, invades a country based on lies, deceit and willful disregard for the truth and human lives, is responsible for the deaths of thousands of US soldiers, and countless Iraqis. What's his punishment? What punishment, although he should quite objectively be charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, he casually writes a book (I didn't even know he was functionally literate) and does the book chit chat circuit.
May the light of the heavens stimulate your pyramidal cells
Ghenghis and Don (Brother)
Dec 11, 2010 at 12:38pm
I think the author has missed the scoop here... The rape charges probably won't stick. My government just needed an excuse to hold him in one place before they extradite him for violating the 'Espionage Act' or some other recent 'homeland' security legislation designed to corral and jail activists. Here's how Senator Feinstein (Senate Intelligence Committe head) put it this week:
He's not going back to Sweden. He is going to be extradited directly here on terrorist charges. You are going to say, "that's not legal"...but that is what will happen.