This document provides the facts about Julian Assange’s situation. Mainstream reportage on Assange’s case is of a poor quality, with the result that many members of the public are misinformed on the most basic facts about his legal and factual situation. This document aims to remedy this situation.
This document provides comprehensively cited information about why Julian Assange has been given asylum by Ecuador, and about the sequence of events leading up to that point.
The document also considers the most frequent false or misleading claims made in the media and demonstrates how they are incorrect. Reference is made to all of the necessary documentary evidence and each quotation links to the original source, so that readers can follow up and ascertain for themselves the truth of the matter.
- WHAT IS THE SITUATION?
- HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
- ASYLUM FROM WHAT?
- The claim: “It’s not happening”
- The claim: “It hasn’t happened yet, so it won’t.”
- The claim:”The law wouldn’t allow it.”
- The claim:”The First Amendment will protect him.”
- EXTRADITION FROM SWEDEN
- The claim: “easier from the UK than Sweden”
- The claim: “there are political exceptions”
- The claim: “there are death penalty and torture exceptions”
- The claim: “The UK has a veto”
- The claim: “Sweden has no veto”
- The claim: “Sweden has a veto, but only for ‘legally sound reasons'”
- The claim: “a US extradition would be subject to judicial review”
- The claim: “the rendition was an isolated incident”
- The claim: “Assange doesn’t really fear extradition from Sweden.”
- ATTACKS ON ECUADOR
- THE CASE IN SWEDEN
The European Arrest Warrant
The paper form, a few pages long, that the Swedish prosecutor filled out to seek Julian Assange’s extradition.
The older woman, 31, in the Swedish case; a politician in the Social Democratic Party
The younger woman, 26, in the Swedish case.
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Who is Julian Assange?
Julian Assange is an Australian journalist and publisher. He is the founder and editor of WikiLeaks, a public-interest publication designed to provide a safe conduit for whistleblowers all over the world to expose secret wrongdoing, regardless of political ideology or allegiance. Assange’s publishing and journalistic work is widely recognized: he is the recipient of the 2009 Amnesty International New Media Award, the 2010 Martha Gellhorn Prize, the 2011 Sydney Peace Foundation Gold Medal, the 2011 Walkley Award for Journalism and the 2013 Yoko Ono Lennon Courage Award in the Arts.
He is also a refugee, living under the diplomatic protection of the government of Ecuador, in the embassy of Ecuador in London. He is being investigated for espionage by authorities in the United States. The UK authorities also want him, and have surrounded the embassy with police. And the Swedish authorities want him too.
Why was he granted asylum? Why is the US pursuing him?
In 2010 Julian Assange oversaw the analysis and publication of over half a million documents from the Pentagon and US State Department; the largest such publication in history. He coordinated the analysis of the documents by 110 different media and human rights groups. The documents revealed thousands of issues embarrassing to the United States government, including the precise details about the deaths of more than 100,000 individual people in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In reprisal, the US government initiated a criminal investigation, targeting Assange and his staff at WikiLeaks with espionage charges. That investigation is being carried out by a federal grand jury – a prosecutorial mechanism that virtually assures that he will be indicted. The investigation is ongoing.
There is also a concurrent investigation into the WikiLeaks 2012 publication of “The Global Intelligence Files” : five million documents from the US intelligence contractor, Stratfor.
These are the threats against which he has been granted asylum by the government of Ecuador, which has asserted:
[T]he Government of Ecuador believes that these arguments lend support to the fears of Julian Assange, and it believes that he may become a victim of political persecution, as a result of his dedicated defence of freedom of expression and freedom of press as well as his repudiation of the abuses of power in certain countries, and that these facts suggest that Mr. Assange could at any moment find himself in a situation likely to endanger life, safety or personal integrity.
But why is Assange sought by the UK authorities?
The UK government officially intends to arrest Assange and extradite him to Sweden, in accordance with the orders of a UK court. The extradition order came at the end of a lengthy court battle in the UK, when Assange was challenging an extradition request from the Swedish authorities.
After Assange entered Ecuador’s embassy on the 19th June 2012, the London Metropolitan Police force surrounded the building, and have remained there ever since, at a cost to the UK taxpayer that had reached almost £3m by mid-February 2013. Shortly before he was granted asylum, the UK government threatened to violate the Vienna Conventions, removing the embassy’s diplomatic status, and initiating a police invasion of the premises in order to apprehend Assange. After this was internationally condemned, the UK government withdrew its threat, and resigned itself to respecting the inviolability of Ecuador’s diplomatic premises. The embassy remains surrounded by the London Metropolitan Police force.
So why is Assange sought by the Swedish authorities?
In 2010, a separate investigation was initiated by Swedish prosecutors in connection with allegations of sexual misconduct in Sweden. Assange is sought by the Swedish prosecutor in order to be questioned in this investigation. He has not been charged. He has made every attempt to cooperate short of those which would increase his risk of extradition to the United States. The prosecutor issued an extradition request in order to question him, despite the availability of alternatives.
Why didn’t he go to Sweden?
On the basis that, without adequate safeguards, extradition to Sweden would render him vulnerable to further transit to the United States, Assange fought the extradition in the English courts, over the course of two years, during which he lived under house arrest in the United Kingdom.
It should be stressed that Julian Assange’s court cases in the UK were on the bureaucratic matter of whether the extradition order, or European Arrest Warrant, was valid. They were not on the substance of the allegations against Julian Assange. He has not been charged with any crime, much less convicted of anything.
In June 2012, Assange lost the extradition case at the final court of appeal. He was given two weeks’ leave to seek an injunction against his extradition from the European Court of Human Rights. The Swedish prosecutor announced that he would be imprisoned on remand without bail.
Why did he seek asylum when he did?
After an almost immediate attempt by the Swedish and British authorities to curtail his leave, he was faced with the prospect of indefinite pretrial imprisonment in Swedish custody, with no further opportunities to seek asylum. He therefore chose to avail of his right under international law to seek asylum. Although he had scrupulously observed oppressive bail conditions while living under house arrest in the UK for two years, he was required to ignore them in order to avail of his superior right under international law to seek asylum.
He entered the embassy of Ecuador on the 19th of June 2012 and sought asylum from the government of Ecuador, fearing persecution by the United States government. The building was immediately surrounded by police.
On the 16th of August 2012 after a formal investigation of his asylum claim the Ecuadorian government announced that Julian Assange’s fear of persecution from the United States was well-founded, and granted him political and diplomatic asylum from the United States.
Ecuador has made offers to the Swedish government to facilitate an interview on its premises, as part of good faith efforts to safely facilitate Swedish due process while at the same time protecting Assange from the United States. The Swedish government has refused.
The situation is at an impasse. Ecuador is bound by international law to safeguard Assange’s rights, and cannot allow his transit to Sweden without adequate safeguards against the US threat. Sweden has refused to provide safeguards, or make compromises, ostensibly to maintain “prestige.” The UK authorities are prevented from entering the embassy by the Vienna Conventions, but refuse negotiations to provide Assange with safe passage to Ecuador. Assange remains beyond their reach, in the embassy.
Julian Assange went to Sweden on the 11th of August 2010, from England. Only two weeks before, from a temporary base in England in late July, his publication, WikiLeaks, had released the Afghan War Logs, seventy five thousand secret Pentagon documents about the war in Afghanistan, which included the deaths of nearly twenty thousand people. Earlier that year WikiLeaks had released leaked US military footage of a war crime in Baghdad, Collateral Murder.
This provoked a bellicose reaction from the US political and military apparatus. WikiLeaks specializes in the publication and analysis of records that are of historical, diplomatic or political interest, and that are under the threat of censorship. In that context WikiLeaks had already published many sensitive documents of geopolitical significance including millions of documents related to the US national security apparatus, its foreign policies and its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As far back as 2008, US intelligence agencies were weighing the idea of destroying WikiLeaks.
But the releases of 2010 put WikiLeaks on the US radar as it had never been before. While preparing the release of Collateral Murder in Iceland WikiLeaks had been subject to aggressive surveillance. Julian Assange was tailed by US agents on his journey from Iceland to speak in Norway. This was described by Norwegian publication ABC Nyheter.
From the WIKILEAKS TWEET ARCHIVE
WikiLeaks to reveal Pentagon murder-coverup at US National Press Club, Apr 5, 9am; contact email@example.com
Two under State Dep diplomatic cover followed our editor from Iceland to http://skup.no on Thursday.
We know our possession of the decrypted airstrike video is now being discussed at the highest levels of US command.
Iceland summons top US diplomat over WikiLeaks dust-up | AFP http://bit.ly/ddOmTK
(US operations against WikiLeaks in Iceland did not stop in 2010. It recently emerged in 2013 that eight FBI agents secretly entered Iceland in 2011 to interrogate an alleged associate of WikiLeaks. When discovered by the Icelandic Minister of the Interior, they were asked to leave. They stayed against his wishes, continued their operation, and then took an alleged WikiLeaks associate with them back to the United States.)
The Afghan War Logs release had provoked direct sabre-clashing from the Pentagon. There were calls in The Washington Post for Julian Assange’s assassination, on the basis that, as a non-citizen, he had no legal rights. A multi-agency task force was created (initially 80 strong, but later increased to 120) to spearhead operations against and investigations into WikiLeaks:
Although outsiders have not been allowed to inspect the “war room” in suburban Virginia and see its staff at work, national-security officials offered details of the operation to The Daily Beast, including the identity of the counterintelligence expert who has been put in charge: Brig. General Robert A. Carr of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Officials say Carr, handpicked for the assignment by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, is highly respected among his colleagues at DIA, the Pentagon’s equivalent of the CIA, and a fitting adversary to Assange, the nomadic Australian-born computer hacker who founded WikiLeaks and is now believed to be in Sweden.
“I wouldn’t want to go up against General Carr,” a Pentagon official said. “Very smart guy.” Carr served in Afghanistan for much of last year before his transfer to the DIA in Washington, where he runs the Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center. In his battle against Assange, officials say, Carr’s central assignment is to try to determine exactly what classified information might have been leaked to WikiLeaks, and then to predict whether its disclosure could endanger American troops in the battlefield, as well as what larger risk it might pose to American foreign policy.
The team has another distinct responsibility: to gather evidence about the workings of WikiLeaks that might someday be used by the Justice Department to prosecute Assange and others on espionage charges.
In early August in a press conference convened specifically to address the Afghan War Logs, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell demanded the “return” of the released documents, and demanded that WikiLeaks discontinue “soliciting” leaks. He added:
If doing the right thing is not good enough for them then we will figure out what alternatives we have to compel them to do the right thing.
WikiLeaks had launched the Afghan War Logs in England. But there were signs that England was not safe.
In May 2010, the alleged source for Collateral Murder and several subsequent leaks had been arrested, and was put into pretrial detention which has continued to this day, now in excess of 1000 days. A United Nations investigation formally found that his treatment by the US authorities constituted torture. A US military court also found that his treatment was unlawful.
In early August it emerged that the FBI were conducting anti-WikiLeaks operations inside the United Kingdom. One of these operations, a cooperation between the FBI and the British police, involved the raid of the alleged source’s mother’s home in Wales, and the interrogation of his mother and aunt by US Special Agents.
The seriously-ill British mother of the young American military intelligence officer at the centre of the investigation into leaks of classified Afghan war documents was left ‘severely distressed’ after FBI agents turned up unannounced at her home in Wales.
Susan Manning, whose son Bradley has been charged with leaking defence secrets that appeared on the controversial WikiLeaks website, was questioned by two FBI officers believed to be attached to the US embassy in London.
This is the immediate context for Assange’s journey to Sweden on the 11th of August. He also resolved to use the opportunity to pre-empt similar raids on WikiLeaks equipment in Sweden by filing the paperwork necessary to activate an additional Swedish source protection law.
From Assange’s police interview in Sweden, August 30th 2010:
You asked how I came to know [AA] [Political Secretary and Press Officer of the Brotherhood Movement]. In order to come here to Sweden it was necessary for me to obtain diplomatic support in order to get out of England. On account of the security situation between my organization and the Pentagon. Political contacts in Sweden therefore suggested that I should be invited by the Christian Social Democrats to give a talk, and a formal invitation was to be sent to (inaudible) and England, so that I should have a safe journey here. From England. And I understood that [AA] was Press Officer of the Brotherhood Movement within the Christian Social Democrats.
From an interview with an Australian broadcaster in June 2012:
I only visited Sweden because the FBI came to the UK and raided one of my alleged source’s mother’s house, Bradley Manning, in Wales. So the FBI was here in the UK, stomping around the UK, and we thought I’d better get out. And I managed to get some people to write an invite to a talk on the first casualty of… Sorry, the first casualty of the war is the truth, in Sweden, and use that invite as sort-of a safe passage to get out through UK customs to Sweden.
When he arrived in Sweden the United States government had publicly stated it believed WikiLeaks was in possession of over 251,000 U.S. diplomatic cables. These were later to be released as “Cablegate.” Assange was warned on 11 August 2010 of an assessment by an Australian intelligence source that extralegal actions might be taken against him by the United States or its allies. On the same day, his Australian bank card was canceled – an action which was the first stroke in a campaign of economic sanctions against WikiLeaks carried out extrajudicially by banking institutions. Assange’s Unauthorized Autobiography, which has not been approved by Assange, but is nonetheless illuminating, recounts the following events:
[J]ust at the point of arrival I received some news from one of our contacts in a Western intelligence agency, confirming what had already been hinted at by the Pentagon press office. The word was that the US government acknowledged privately that I would be difficult to prosecute but were already talking about ‘dealing with you illegally,’ as my source put it. The source specified what that would mean: gaining evidence about what we had in the way of information; unearthing, by whatever means, some sort of link between Private Manning and WikiLeaks; and if all else failed, deploying other illegal means, such as planting drugs on me, ‘finding’ child pornography on my hardware, or seeking to embroil me in allegations of immoral conduct.
The message was that I would not be threatened physically. I told Frank Rieger, a supporter in Berlin who is the chief technology officer at CryptoPhone, a company that makes telephones for encrypted secure communication, and he said he would prepare a press release making this information public. He then did so, and I had it with me on a laptop ready to edit it. The intention was to get it out as soon as possible, as it did no good to put these things out after some damage had been done, or material had been planted. It remains one of my regrets that I didn’t turn to it immediately. The same day, my Australian bank card suddenly stopped working.The Unauthorized Autobiography, p.228
Shortly after his arrival, the media reported that the Swedish military had taken a national security interest in WikiLeaks’ pending publications. On the 18th of August, state broadcaster SvT was stoking panic over WikiLeaks’ decision to host servers with the Pirate Party in Sweden, on the basis that it would jeopardize US-Swedish relations. And the Swedish intelligence agency MUST told the press that WikiLeaks was a threat to Sweden’s soldiers in Afghanistan.
The circumstances which gave rise to the Swedish investigation into Julian Assange have been much obscured. It is little known for instance that the “complainants” say they did not go to the police to report rape or sexual assault. They went to the police to ask for advice on compelling Julian Assange to get tested for HIV, and the police – apparently over the wishes of the woman who was speaking to them – treated her visit as the filing of a formal complaint. This is agreed by both sides in English court documents, such as “Agreed Statement of Facts and Issues“
4. During his visit he had sexual intercourse with two women [AA and SW]. After AA and SW spoke to each other and realised that they had both had intercourse with the Appellant during the currency of his visit in circumstances where respectively they had or might have been or become unprotected against disease or pregnancy, SW wanted the Appellant to get tested for disease. On 20th August 2010 SW went to the police to seek advice. AA accompanied her for support. The police treated their visit as the filing of formal reports for rape of SW and molestation of AA.
An arrest warrant was issued prematurely, during the visit of SW, and without her knowledge. Before her she was finished talking to the police, she became aware of the fact that her visit was being treated as the basis for a rape investigation. She immediately became distraught about this, and stopped cooperating with the police.
COMPLAINANT REPORT OF [SW]
(as written by police interviewer Irmeli Krans)
During the course of the interrogation I and [SW] were informed that Julian Assange had been detained in his absence. After this information [SW] had difficulty in concentrating on the interrogation, for which reason I judged that it was best to discontinue the interrogation… The interrogation has not been read aloud or read through for approval but [SW] was informed that she has the possibility of doing this on a later occasion.
The fact that neither complainant went to the police to report crimes is attested among the witnesses, one of whom is a close friend of SW’s (MT) and another of whom is her brother (JW2). In particular, MT claims that SW felt as if she had been railroaded against her will into making a complaint against Julian Assange, “by the police and others around her.”
WITNESS REPORT OF [JW1]
Yes, I phoned her [AA] the same day, immediately after talking to Donald. But this call was very short, she was just about to go out to meet [SW] to go and consult with the police. But what emerged from this conversation was, although perhaps I misunderstood it, what came out from this conversation was that it wasn’t what Donald had said previously. It’s actually something I had forgotten, it was quite simply that Sofia wanted to force Julian to take a blood test. Not to report a rape allegation. And that’s what came out of this conversation.
WITNESS REPORT OF [MT]
[MT] wanted to say that when [SW] was at the hospital and went to the police it was not what [SW] wanted to do. She just wanted Julian to be tested. She felt that she had been railroaded by the police and others around her.
WITNESS REPORT OF [JW2]
[SW] had later said that she did not want to report Julian but just wanted him to be tested for diseases. She had gone to the police in order to get advice and the police had then made a report.
WITNESS REPORT OF [DB]
[AA] said that “[SW] has asked me [AA] to go to the police,” – to go with her – “and I have decided to go with her and support her in this. But we do not intend to report Julian, we will just go there and explain”.
In her own police report, the second of the complainants, AA, claims that the sex with Julian Assange in respect of which two of the allegations are being pursued was “consensual.” Only one of these two allegations hinges on the issue of an alleged burst condom. The other of these two allegations alleges that Julian Assange had sex with AA. In her police report AA specifically states that she consented to have sex with Assange. This rules out any criminal element.
[AA] states that she had consented to have sex with Assange, but that she would not have done so if she had known that he was not wearing a condom. [AA] has contacted the health centre and been given a time for testing next week. [AA] consents to the police acquiring medical background.
On the 23rd of August, at 16:40, the police released the casefile for AA’s report under Freedom of Information on the Assange case. AA’s name was supposed to be redacted throughout the document, and it was, throughout the body of the document. But the police failed to redact her name from the title of the document. The police are therefore the sole and effective reason that AA’s privacy as an alleged victim was breached, and that her identity is known publicly.
AA gave an interview to the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, in which she stated that Assange is not violent, and that neither she nor SW are afraid of him. She gave this interview anonymously, and yet, when the interview was reproduced in The New York Times her full name was given out. The New York Times is therefore the effective reason that AA’s name became known all over the world. From Aftonbladet:
It is completely false that we are afraid of Assange and therefore didn’t want to file a complaint. He is not violent and I do not feel threatened by him.
But the original privacy blunder by the police had happened much earlier: a matter of hours after the women visited the police on the 20th of August. Within two hours of the issuance of the arrest warrant, a reporter at the tabloid Expressen had been tipped off by SMS. The duty prosecutor, Maria Kjellstrand, was called, who illegally confirmed that there was an arrest warrant out for Julian Assange. Expressen then ran the story, and Kjellstrand was quoted in it. Within a matter of hours, the news had travelled around the world, was reported by every major English-language news outlet, and had associated Julian Assange’s name with the word “rape” in over 3 million Google search results.
The arrest warrant had been issued by Kjellstrand during the interview with SW. The Chief Prosecutor Eva Finne was on holiday at the time. When she read SW’s interview the next day, she canceled the arrest warrant, saying “I don’t think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape.” It has been reported by Aftonbladet that, internally, Finne has been extremely critical of the police conduct in the issuance of the warrant.
Finne continued the investigation into AA’s statement, and to see if there was evidence of a lesser charge in SW’s statement. After a few days, she closed SW’s file completely, having made the assessment that the “conduct alleged by SW disclosed no crime at all.” She did not believe that SW had lied about anything. She simply didn’t believe the conduct alleged disclosed any crime. This is agreed upon in the English court documents, such as “Agreed Statement of Facts and Issues“:
7. A preliminary investigation was commenced and both women were interviewed (SW on 20th August, and AA on 21st August). At the conclusion of those interviews, on 21st August 2010, the case was taken over by the Chief Prosecutor of Stockholm (Eva Finne). Having assessed the evidence, she cancelled the arrest warrant against the Appellant; she having made the assessment that the evidence did not disclose any offence of rape (against SW).
8. The preliminary investigation continued in respect of:
i. Whether the conduct alleged by SW could constitute some lesser offence,
ii. Whether the conduct alleged by AA could constitute ‘molestation’.
9. On 25th (sometimes erroneously referred to as 23rd) August 2010, the Chief Prosecutor determined that:
i. The conduct alleged by SW disclosed no crime at all and that file (K246314-10) would be closed.
ii. The preliminary investigation into the conduct alleged by AA would continue (on suspicion of the offence of ‘molestation’ only).
As a result of the closure of SW’s file, only one allegation was being investigated when Julian Assange was interviewed – an allegation in connection with AA’s statement. This is the only allegation that Assange was interviewed about. This was the only time he was interviewed. It has become a commonplace claim in the UK press that Assange was interviewed about all four of the allegations. This is false. Two had not yet been created; a third had been canceled. He was not questioned about them. From the “Agreed Statement of Facts and Issues“:
10. On 30th August 2010, the Appellant, who had voluntarily remained in Sweden to cooperate with the investigation, attended for police interview in respect of the ongoing Preliminary Investigation in respect of AA’s report. He answered all questions asked of him.
The policewoman who interviewed SW in the presence of AA was an associate of AA’s, being a party colleague in the Swedish Democrats and a personal friend. She carried out the interview with SW despite this conflict of interest, which she did not declare in her report. As reported in the Swedish press:
The interrogator [Irmeli Krans] and the woman [AA] who reported Julian Assange were in touch with one another as far back as April 2009 – 16 months before Julian Assange was reported to the police for rape, among other things… Expressen can today reveal that there really were political and personal connections between one of the women who reported [Julian Assange] and the interrogator… The interrogator and the woman who reported Julian Assange got to know one another because both are involved with the Social Democrat Party. Despite participating in the criminal investigation of Assange, the interrogator made very negative comments about the WikiLeaks’ founder on her Facebook page… In their blogs, the interrogator and the woman who reported Julian Assange have been open with their friendship… the interrogator and the woman corresponded openly with one another on the Internet 16 months before Assange came to Sweden, invited by the woman, who subsequently reported him [to the police] […]
16 months later the policewoman played an important role as interrogator in the Assange investigation, when the WikiLeaks’ founder was first sought for arrest on suspicion of rape. The policewoman realised immediately that her friend and party comrade was one of the complainants – but she made the interrogation nevertheless. She commenced the interrogation at 4.21pm without declaring a conflict of interest.
When news emerged, on the 25th of August, that the Chief Prosecutor had canceled the allegation from SW’s report, which Irmeli Krans herself had written, Krans had an outburst on Facebook, exclaiming “SKANDAAAAAAAAL.”
The siege of Julian Assange is a farce – a special investigation
16 November 2014
The siege of Knightsbridge is a farce. For two years, an exaggerated, costly police presence around the Ecuadorean embassy in London has served no purpose other than to flaunt the power of the state. Their quarry is an Australian charged with no crime, a refugee from gross injustice whose only security is the room given him by a brave South American country. His true crime is to have initiated a wave of truth-telling in an era of lies, cynicism and war.
The persecution of Julian Assange must end. Even the British government clearly believes it must end. On 28 October, the deputy foreign minister, Hugo Swire, told Parliament he would “actively welcome” the Swedish prosecutor in London and “we would do absolutely everything to facilitate that”. The tone was impatient.
The Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny, has refused to come to London to question Assange about allegations of sexual misconduct in Stockholm in 2010 – even though Swedish law allows for it and the procedure is routine for Sweden and the UK. The documentary evidence of a threat to Assange’s life and freedom from the United States – should he leave the embassy – is overwhelming. On May 14 this year, US court files revealed that a “multi subject investigation” against Assange was “active and ongoing”.
Ny has never properly explained why she will not come to London, just as the Swedish authorities have never explained why they refuse to give Assange a guarantee that they will not extradite him on to the US under a secret arrangement agreed between Stockholm and Washington. In December 2010, the Independent revealed that the two governments had discussed his onward extradition to the US before the European Arrest Warrant was issued.
Perhaps an explanation is that, contrary to its reputation as a liberal bastion, Sweden has drawn so close to Washington that it has allowed secret CIA “renditions” – including the illegal deportation of refugees. The rendition and subsequent torture of two Egyptian political refugees in 2001 was condemned by the UN Committee against Torture, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch; the complicity and duplicity of the Swedish state are documented in successful civil litigation and WikiLeaks cables. In the summer of 2010, Assange had been in Sweden to talk about WikiLeaks revelations of the war in Afghanistan – in which Sweden had forces under US command.
The Americans are pursuing Assange because WikiLeaks exposed their epic crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq: the wholesale killing of tens of thousands of civilians, which they covered up; and their contempt for sovereignty and international law, as demonstrated vividly in their leaked diplomatic cables.
For his part in disclosing how US soldiers murdered Afghan and Iraqi civilians, the heroic soldier Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning received a sentence of 35 years, having been held for more than a thousand days in conditions which, according to the UN Special Rapporteur, amounted to torture.
Few doubt that should the US get their hands on Assange, a similar fate awaits him. Threats of capture and assassination became the currency of the political extremes in the US following Vice-President Joe Biden’s preposterous slur that Assange was a “cyber-terrorist”. Anyone doubting the kind of US ruthlessness he can expect should remember the forcing down of the Bolivian president’s plane last year – wrongly believed to be carrying Edward Snowden.
According to documents released by Snowden, Assange is on a “Manhunt target list”. Washington’s bid to get him, say Australian diplomatic cables, is “unprecedented in scale and nature”. In Alexandria, Virginia, a secret grand jury has spent four years attempting to contrive a crime for which Assange can be prosecuted. This is not easy. The First Amendment to the US Constitution protects publishers, journalists and whistleblowers. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama lauded whistleblowers as “part of a healthy democracy [and they] must be protected from reprisal”. Under President Obama, more whistleblowers have been prosecuted than under all other US presidents combined. Even before the verdict was announced in the trial of Chelsea Manning, Obama had pronounced the whisletblower guilty.
“Documents released by WikiLeaks since Assange moved to England,” wrote Al Burke, editor of the online Nordic News Network, an authority on the multiple twists and dangers facing Assange, “clearly indicate that Sweden has consistently submitted to pressure from the United States in matters relating to civil rights. There is every reason for concern that if Assange were to be taken into custody by Swedish authorities, he could be turned over to the United States without due consideration of his legal rights.”
There are signs that the Swedish public and legal community do not support prosecutor’s Marianne Ny’s intransigence. Once implacably hostile to Assange, the Swedish press has published headlines such as: “Go to London, for God’s sake.”
Why won’t she? More to the point, why won’t she allow the Swedish court access to hundreds of SMS messages that the police extracted from the phone of one of the two women involved in the misconduct allegations? Why won’t she hand them over to Assange’s Swedish lawyers? She says she is not legally required to do so until a formal charge is laid and she has questioned him. Then, why doesn’t she question him?
This week, the Swedish Court of Appeal will decide whether to order Ny to hand over the SMS messages; or the matter will go to the Supreme Court and the European Court of Justice. In high farce, Assange’s Swedish lawyers have been allowed only to “review” the SMS messages, which they had to memorise.
One of the women’s messages makes clear that she did not want any charges brought against Assange, “but the police were keen on getting a hold on him”. She was “shocked” when they arrested him because she only “wanted him to take [an HIV] test”. She “did not want to accuse JA of anything” and “it was the police who made up the charges”. (In a witness statement, she is quoted as saying that she had been “railroaded by police and others around her”.)
Neither woman claimed she had been raped. Indeed, both have denied they were raped and one of them has since tweeted, “I have not been raped.” That they were manipulated by police and their wishes ignored is evident – whatever their lawyers might say now. Certainly, they are victims of a saga worthy of Kafka.
For Assange, his only trial has been trial by media. On 20 August 2010, the Swedish police opened a “rape investigation” and immediately – and unlawfully – told the Stockholm tabloids that there was a warrant for Assange’s arrest for the “rape of two women”. This was the news that went round the world.
In Washington, a smiling US Defence Secretary Robert Gates told reporters that the arrest “sounds like good news to me”. Twitter accounts associated with the Pentagon described Assange as a “rapist” and a “fugitive”.
Less than 24 hours later, the Stockholm Chief Prosecutor, Eva Finne, took over the investigation. She wasted no time in cancelling the arrest warrant, saying, “I don’t believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape.” Four days later, she dismissed the rape investigation altogether, saying, “There is no suspicion of any crime whatsoever.” The file was closed.
Enter Claes Borgstrom, a high profile politician in the Social Democratic Party then standing as a candidate in Sweden’s imminent general election. Within days of the chief prosecutor’s dismissal of the case, Borgstrom, a lawyer, announced to the media that he was representing the two women and had sought a different prosecutor in the city of Gothenberg. This was Marianne Ny, whom Borgstrom knew well. She, too, was involved with the Social Democrats.
On 30 August, Assange attended a police station in Stockholm voluntarily and answered all the questions put to him. He understood that was the end of the matter. Two days later, Ny announced she was re-opening the case. Borgstrom was asked by a Swedish reporter why the case was proceeding when it had already been dismissed, citing one of the women as saying she had not been raped. He replied, “Ah, but she is not a lawyer.” Assange’s Australian barrister, James Catlin, responded, “This is a laughing stock… it’s as if they make it up as they go along.”
On the day Marianne Ny reactivated the case, the head of Sweden’s military intelligence service (“MUST”) publicly denounced WikiLeaks in an article entitled “WikiLeaks [is] a threat to our soldiers.” Assange was warned that the Swedish intelligence service, SAP, had been told by its US counterparts that US-Sweden intelligence-sharing arrangements would be “cut off” if Sweden sheltered him.
For five weeks, Assange waited in Sweden for the new investigation to take its course. The Guardian was then on the brink of publishing the Iraq “War Logs”, based on WikiLeaks’ disclosures, which Assange was to oversee. His lawyer in Stockholm asked Ny if she had any objection to his leaving the country. She said he was free to leave.
Inexplicably, as soon as he left Sweden – at the height of media and public interest in the WikiLeaks disclosures – Ny issued a European Arrest Warrant and an Interpol “red alert” normally used for terrorists and dangerous criminals. Put out in five languages around the world, it ensured a media frenzy.
Assange attended a police station in London, was arrested and spent ten days in Wandsworth Prison, in solitary confinement. Released on £340,000 bail, he was electronically tagged, required to report to police daily and placed under virtual house arrest while his case began its long journey to the Supreme Court. He still had not been charged with any offence. His lawyers repeated his offer to be questioned by Ny in London, pointing out that she had given him permission to leave Sweden. They suggested a special facility at Scotland Yard used for that purpose. She refused.
Katrin Axelsson and Lisa Longstaff of Women Against Rape wrote: “The allegations against [Assange] are a smokescreen behind which a number of governments are trying to clamp down on WikiLeaks for having audaciously revealed to the public their secret planning of wars and occupations with their attendant rape, murder and destruction… The authorities care so little about violence against women that they manipulate rape allegations at will. [Assange] has made it clear he is available for questioning by the Swedish authorities, in Britain or via Skype. Why are they refusing this essential step in their investigation? What are they afraid of?”
This question remained unanswered as Ny deployed the European Arrest Warrant, a draconian product of the “war on terror” supposedly designed to catch terrorists and organised criminals. The EAW had abolished the obligation on a petitioning state to provide any evidence of a crime. More than a thousand EAWs are issued each month; only a few have anything to do with potential “terror” charges. Most are issued for trivial offences, such as overdue bank charges and fines. Many of those extradited face months in prison without charge. There have been a number of shocking miscarriages of justice, of which British judges have been highly critical.
The Assange case finally reached the UK Supreme Court in May 2012. In a judgement that upheld the EAW – whose rigid demands had left the courts almost no room for manoeuvre – the judges found that European prosecutors could issue extradition warrants in the UK without any judicial oversight, even though Parliament intended otherwise. They made clear that Parliament had been “misled” by the Blair government. The court was split, 5-2, and consequently found against Assange.
However, the Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, made one mistake. He applied the Vienna Convention on treaty interpretation, allowing for state practice to override the letter of the law. As Assange’s barrister, Dinah Rose QC, pointed out, this did not apply to the EAW.
The Supreme Court only recognised this crucial error when it dealt with another appeal against the EAW in November last year. The Assange decision had been wrong, but it was too late to go back.
Assange’s choice was stark: extradition to a country that had refused to say whether or not it would send him on to the US, or to seek what seemed his last opportunity for refuge and safety. Supported by most of Latin America, the courageous government of Ecuador granted him refugee status on the basis of documented evidence and legal advice that he faced the prospect of cruel and unusual punishment in the US; that this threat violated his basic human rights; and that his own government in Australia had abandoned him and colluded with Washington. The Labor government of prime minister Julia Gillard had even threatened to take away his passport.
Gareth Peirce, the renowned human rights lawyer who represents Assange in London, wrote to the then Australian foreign minister, Kevin Rudd: “Given the extent of the public discussion, frequently on the basis of entirely false assumptions… it is very hard to attempt to preserve for him any presumption of innocence. Mr. Assange has now hanging over him not one but two Damocles swords, of potential extradition to two different jurisdictions in turn for two different alleged crimes, neither of which are crimes in his own country, and that his personal safety has become at risk in circumstances that are highly politically charged.”
It was not until she contacted the Australian High Commission in London that Peirce received a response, which answered none of the pressing points she raised. In a meeting I attended with her, the Australian Consul-General, Ken Pascoe, made the astonishing claim that he knew “only what I read in the newspapers” about the details of the case.
Meanwhile, the prospect of a grotesque miscarriage of justice was drowned in a vituperative campaign against the WikiLeaks founder. Deeply personal, petty, vicious and inhuman attacks were aimed at a man not charged with any crime yet subjected to treatment not even meted out to a defendant facing extradition on a charge of murdering his wife. That the US threat to Assange was a threat to all journalists, to freedom of speech, was lost in the sordid and the ambitious.
Books were published, movie deals struck and media careers launched or kick-started on the back of WikiLeaks and an assumption that attacking Assange was fair game and he was too poor to sue. People have made money, often big money, while WikiLeaks has struggled to survive. The editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, called the WikiLeaks disclosures, which his newspaper published, “one of the greatest journalistic scoops of the last 30 years”. It became part of his marketing plan to raise the newspaper’s cover price.
With not a penny going to Assange or to WikiLeaks, a hyped Guardian book led to a lucrative Hollywood movie. The book’s authors, Luke Harding and David Leigh, gratuitously described Assange as a “damaged personality” and “callous”. They also revealed the secret password he had given the paper in confidence, which was designed to protect a digital file containing the US embassy cables. With Assange now trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy, Harding, standing among the police outside, gloated on his blog that “Scotland Yard may get the last laugh”.
The injustice meted out to Assange is one of the reasons Parliament will eventually vote on a reformed EAW. The draconian catch-all used against him could not happen now; charges would have to be brought and “questioning” would be insufficient grounds for extradition. “His case has been won lock, stock and barrel,” Gareth Peirce told me, “these changes in the law mean that the UK now recognises as correct everything that was argued in his case. Yet he does not benefit. And the genuineness of Ecuador’s offer of sanctuary is not questioned by the UK or Sweden.”
On 18 March 2008, a war on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange was foretold in a secret Pentagon document prepared by the “Cyber Counterintelligence Assessments Branch”. It described a detailed plan to destroy the feeling of “trust” which is WikiLeaks’ “centre of gravity”. This would be achieved with threats of “exposure [and] criminal prosecution”. Silencing and criminalising this rare source of independent journalism was the aim, smear the method. Hell hath no fury like great power scorned.
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