Innocent or guilty, if Assange's rights aren't upheld then neither are ours
I’ve been having heated exchanges with a number of Greens on Twitter about the Assange case. Seeing people whose politics I identify with tweet “he’s a rapist” or “he’s guilty” frankly makes my blood run cold. I like to think myself a member of a liberal political movement committed to due process, the rule of law and human rights not a lynchmob. Clearly it’s better politics to button one’s lip and say nothing but it’s hardly principled to do so. What might be more useful is a calm overview of what is happening in this case.
At stake are the human rights of three people: Julian Assange and his two accusers. His accusers have the right to see their complaints of rape and sexual assault properly investigated, and if prosecutors decide there’s a case to be answered Assange should stand trial.
Meanwhile Assange has the right to a fair trial. He also has the right not to put himself in jeopardy of rendition to the United States where he might face a military tribunal and the possibility of the death sentence by leaving the UK where his activities with Wikileaks have not been judged criminal.
Separating these two cases is hard because the British and Swedish governments make it very hard. According to the Ecuadorian government which, though it has its own human rights issues, has now offered Assange political asylum, the Swedes have refused to give assurances that they won’t allow him to be extradited or rendered to the United States and the Swedes haven’t contradicted that claim. Thus we face a damnable Gordion Knot of competing interests. So let’s start at the beginning and remind ourselves how we got thus far.
Warrants for Assange’s arrest were initially issued late on Friday August 20th 2010 on one charge of rape and another of molestation. The following day those warrants were cancelled. Eva Finne, a Swedish Chief Prosecutor said: “I don’t think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape.”
In the days that followed the women’s case was taken up by Claes Borgstrom, a lawyer and some time spokesperson for Sweden’s Social Democratic Party on gender equality. Borgstrom is a committed campaigner, however his involvement in the case inevitably brought charges that it was becoming politicised.
The fact that police subsequently questioned Assange for an hour in Stockholm on Monday 30th August 2010, when he denied the charges, and also that two days later Sweden’s Director of Public Prosecution, Marianne Ny, decided to resume the investigation, only gave those alleging a political motive more ammunition.
Assange left Sweden in late September after an application for a work permit had been refused and, it would appear, after avoiding attempts by Ny to interview him. He’d been in the UK for several weeks when, on November 18th, Ny went to court to secure an arrest warrant for him.
Meanwhile the hacking community came out heavily for Assange. He was well known on the hacking circuit and many of those who hacked websites, avowedly in his cause, saw the entire episode as an attack on Assange’s work with Wikileaks – which gave the hacker motto ‘information wants to be free’ into its most dynamic and visceral incarnation ever.
Wikileaks had already upped the ante in its freedom of information campaigning in April 2010 by releasing video of a US helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed a number of civilians including a Reuters crew. Then it distributed hundreds of US diplomatic cables – the first major tranche (of 220) being put out on November 28th with thousands more following over the next year.
Quite disgracefully hackers and supporters outed Assange’s two alleged victims and they were subsequently vilified in social media. Even Assange’s London defence team, assembled to fight Sweden’s attempts to extradite him, were careful not to demean his accusers. One of the most neutral accounts of the key proceedings reviewing the evidence is provided by The Guardian. His critics read his defence counsel’s remarks as an admission of guilt. What doesn’t seem to be in dispute is that there were sexual relations but the issue of consent is. His defence team have not conceded that he committed a sex crime.
That is for a court to decide. At present no charges have been filed in Sweden. Assange is wanted for questioning. He has repeatedly offered to be questioned in London and that offer has, apparently, been refused. Instead he exhausted his appeals against extradition and was due for deportation when he sought asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy. Now we have arrived at a juncture where the UK government is apparently hinting it will enter the embassy to seize Assange.
So, what to make of this mess.
Firstly it is impossible to dissociate Assange the FOI activist from Assange the accused. He has seriously angered some extremely powerful interests, notably the United States government.
The US has been expanding its jurisdiction for several years. The Gary McKinnon and Richard O’Dwyer cases are examples of UK citizens pursued for the US though they committed no crime in the UK and never set foot on US soil. The situation has escalated into a major issue in the UK because of the perceived (disputed) difference in the weight of evidence each country needs to produce to secure extradition, with critics saying the bar is set far too low for extradition to the United States.
Likewise European arrest warrants are under scrutiny because British citizens can be extradited and held on remand without charges being levelled and on evidence that wouldn’t bear scrutiny in an English or a Scottish court.
So we face a situation where Assange believes that if sent to Sweden he will be delivered into the hands of the United States and face prosecution, possibly for treason (there is an irony if that is the case since one can only commit treason against one’s own state).
There’s precious little evidence to persuade Assange’s supporters that this isn’t a stitch up.
Put aside the claims of his defence team that his alleged actions wouldn’t be a crime if they had taken place in the UK. That may be so, but plenty would then ask if they shouldn’t be.
Put aside the fact that he hasn’t been charged in Sweden. Rather ask yourself this: why, when Britain’s own record on sexual violence against women is so shamefully bad, is the UK government apparently talking about violating the sovereign territory of Ecuador’s embassy in London in contravention of the 1961 Vienna Convention.
Its efforts in the cause of two Swedish women, whose allegations are yet to result in charges, are out of all proportion to the efforts it makes on behalf of thousands of British women who face sexual violence every year. Still we wait for better street lighting, for more rape suites, for better training for police officers handling allegations of sexual violence and better public education.
And look at the statistics: in 2006/7, 800 people were convicted of rape despite one in 200 women reportedly being raped in that year – a conviction rate of around 1%. Would the UK government go to so much trouble in any comparable case? Has it ever prosecuted any foreign diplomat accused of rape in the UK without the explicit permission of that envoy’s government?
None of this means that Assange should be let of the hook. Whatever he may have achieved in the cause of freedom of information does not absolve him of any crime he may have committed against his accusers. He should face charges as and when they’re brought. Every facility should be offered to the Swedes to question him so that a decision on charges can be made. However given that his fears of being extradited to the United States could hardly be said to be without foundation. Rather the British government should arrange with Stockholm that does not happen. No such arrangement has been sought or offered and I suspect it won’t be.
It leaves his two female accusers bruised and abused not only allegedly by Assange but also by some of Assange’s supporters and by the legal systems and governments of several countries. They deserve justice and we should support genuine efforts to see they get it.
However we should not be prepare to see their plight used by those who would surrender our hard won rights to a government in Washington that preaches one thing at home and pursues an entirely hypocritical line when it suits it abroad.
There’s another victim in all this – the cause of liberty. We’re slowly but surely losing any moral standing we have to take despots around the world to task. Every failing on our parts is used to justify abuses many times worse elsewhere. Our real power comes from our principles. Shame on those who sell them so cheap.
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Innocent or guilty Aliaksandr Barankov also has rights. Less than a year ago, an Ecuadorean judge denied a request to extradite Aliaksandr Barankov to Belarus. But now, the former financial crimes investigator is in imminent danger of losing his political refugee status and being sent home, where he says he could be killed or turtured because he unearthed corruption at the highest levels of government.
The Belarusian’s case indicates that Ecuadorean hospitality may be limited by geopolitics
Seb: “So again this raises the question as to exactly why he couldn’t be questioned in Britain, regardless of extradition possibilities.”
Well, he could be questioned in Britain: http://www.friatider.se/swedish-ministry-of-foreign-affairs-explains-why-assange-is-not-questioned-in-london-you-do-not-dictate-the-terms-if-you-are-a-suspect-get-it#.UDQBDIFSRGJ.twitter
Which may be why the Director of Communications for the Swedish Prosecution Authority was unable to give a reason why he couldn’t, when interviewed on the World at One: http://audioboo.fm/boos/928311-swedish-prosecution-authority-on-julian-assange-case-the-world-at-one-bbc-radio-4
Similarly, when people have said that Assange’s stated concerns about being extradited are unfounded, it has been suggested that he be given an assurance by the Swedish and UK governments that they won’t extradite him. This has been answered by various things like there has been no request for extradition by the US, or it’s for the courts to decide and the government can’t tell them what to do, and other such nonsense.
The courts can either block or allow extradition. They cannot compel it. The government can decide for policy reasons not to proceed with an extradition which the courts have ruled is permissible. That they choose not to do so is something which is entirely a matter of political choice, not out of their hands as some would have us believe.
These things are smokescreens. Those who think he should face his accusers would be well advised to support calls for the smokescreens to be removed.
The main thing that has been bothering me from some Assange supporters is not the suggestion that he might be innocent so much as the unpleasant attitudes towards sex and rape in general that have been coming out. If the supporters had said only “I don’t believe he did any such thing”, that would be one thing, but you know what certain folk have been saying about how one doesn’t need to get consent each time, and how having sex with a man once gives him the right to take his chances whenever he pleases. I must clarify, of course, that you haven’t done that here, and that’s to be commended. In short, the issue of Julian Assange in particular is opening out into the wider issue of rape and assault in general, and it’s leaving some nasty stains. People are hurt by it, so they will lash out.
oops, here’s the letter:
So it seems the key issue is why Assange refuses to answer questions in Sweden as opposed to the UK given that apparently, according to the opinions above, he is more likely to face extradition to the US from the UK.
Personally, I haven’t made my mind up yet as I don’t know enough about the legal technicalities and the chances of extradition from either country. However, Chomsky recently signed a letter to Correa asking for him to grant Assange asylum. Here are a couple of interesting points from the letter:
“the Swedish government insists that he be brought to Sweden for questioning. This by itself, as Swedish legal expert and former Chief District Prosecutor for Stockholm Sven-Erik Alhem testified, is “unreasonable and unprofessional, as well as unfair and disproportionate.””
So again this raises the question as to exactly why he couldn’t be questioned in Britain, regardless of extradition possibilities.
“As U.S. legal expert and commentator Glenn Greenwald recently noted, were Assange to be charged in Sweden, he would be imprisoned under “very oppressive conditions, where he could be held incommunicado,” rather than released on bail. Pre-trial hearings for such a case in Sweden are held in secret, and so the media and wider public, Greenwald notes, would not know how the judicial decisions against Mr. Assange would be made and what information would be considered.”
Does this mean Assange would face similar secret hearings if it came to an extradition case? Also, someone mentioned above that you can apply for asylum from prison, but surely if Sweden agrees to extradite him they wouldn’t agree to hand him over to Ecuador. Also, regarding EU human rights standards, the EU has been complicit in torture through rendition. Also, Britain recently sent Abu Qatada back to Jordan as Jordan agreed not to torture him. Based on this precedent, surely the US could make similar promises to Sweden?
“Many fear, based on documents released by Wikileaks, that the U.S. government has already prepared an indictment and is waiting for the opportunity to extradite Assange from Sweden.”
Haven’t personally read the Wikileaks documents mentioned above, but it would seem they add weight to Assange’s case.
However, if it really is the case that he is less likely to be extradited from Sweden, then of course he should face questioning there.
@Rob 35 He made the comments at a July 2010 press conference at the Frontline Club and while he was still on friendly terms with The Guardian and in reference to the release of the first 200 cables.
Not sure if I am talking about the same thing but weren’t the files released because of the stupidity of Guardian reporter David Leigh in printing the password to them in his book, a password Assange had given him, when the Guardian and he were on good terms. I thought Wikileaks thought it best then to release the files so that at least everyone could check them to see if they were named and so possibly in danger and try to take precautions as it was likely all intelligence agencies would have downloaded them at that point. http://nigelparry.com/news/guardian-david-leigh-cablegate.shtml
Craig Murray prints the transcipt of an Australian documentary tracing Assange’s time in Sweden and the actions of Assange, the Swedish Authorities and his accusers.
>>His arrogant dismissal of concerns about his failure to redact the leaked cables and his comments about people who might be harmed as a result – he labelled them ‘collateral damage’ – left me thinking that he was a monstrous hypocrite and had no basis to describe himself as an ‘editor’.<<
Check out this ABC documentary on the Julian Assange case http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2012/07/19/3549280.htm
I get no pleasure from defending Assange’s rights (not I add to the exclusion of those of his alleged victims).
His arrogant dismissal of concerns about his failure to redact the leaked cables and his comments about people who might be harmed as a result – he labelled them ‘collateral damage’ – left me thinking that he was a monstrous hypocrite and had no basis to describe himself as an ‘editor’.
However at time the allegations of sexual assaut were made there was a far more widespread feeling that something didn’t quite add up. (That may in retrospect be wrong – but look at archive items from August 2010 for a reminder about contemporanous perceptions).
Firstly, as I said in the piece, a senior Swedish prosecutor (a woman as it happens) rejected the suggestion there should be charges. Her decision was countermanded a week later by her head of department.
That tells us what? At the very least it says that there was some disagreement about either the veracity of the allegations or (and it may well be this) the possibility of prosecuting Assange successfully.
Given the nature of the alleged assault there’s unlikely to be any forensic evidence, such as injuries a victim might sustain from a violent attack. Moreover Assange isn’t disputing there were sexual relations. Various accounts suggest that there may have been consensual sex previously (which doesn’t make subsequent non consensual sex any less wrong – it just muddies the forensics).
So given the circumstances any case will likely rest of Assange’s word against those of his accusers. It’s a depressing fact that such cases are hard to prosecute successfully.
It’s obvious that opinion is split between those who think there’s no danger of his being extradited from Sweden (or at least that it would be no easier to extradite him from there than the UK) and those concerned that it would be.
What strikes me as interesting is that trust in US justice and its behaviour outside its borders has been haemmoraging for the last decade. This is probably at the root of any genuine worries Assange or those who think he’ll be extradited have – combined with a lot (and its not isolated) of demands for his head from senior members of Congress. Yet those who think he’s simply trying to dodge the rape accusations (and he may be trying to dodge those – as the article pointed out) seem far readier to dismiss worries about the US than I suspect they would if the accusations didn’t involve sexual violence against women.
Even Peter Tatchell has complained that people are trolling him because he supports Assange over Wikileaks even though he doesn’t support him over the allegations – his position is pretty similar to mine namely that any ‘excuses’ should be neutralised to speed Assange’s answering the demands of justice.
That Peter Tatchell is being accused of being a rape apologist, given his record on fighting for human rights, simply tells me that this subject has taken the Green/left into uncharted territory. The level of vitriol and abuse is really not good. It’s deeply depressing.
Echoing Keshav, the problem with Greenwalds argument isn’t that we don’t believe what he’s saying – his facts are pretty much straight – but those presented facts fail to actually demonstrate that he’d be more at risk of extradition from Sweden than the UK, because similar or stronger precedent exist for the UK.
I’m surprised so few are considering that it’s perfectly possible for the US to be up to dirty tricks without wielding the extradition card. You can believe his accusers, believe Assange is avoiding justice, and still believe the US/UK are capitalising on that to further ruin him by going to great lengths to see him in a Swedish dock.
sorry, typo above: I meant “Sweden helped the CIA render two suspected terrorists to Egypt.”
Greenwald (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jun/20/julian-assange-right-asylum) gives 3 reasons why Assange would be at greater risk of extradition in Sweden than in the UK, none of which I find convincing:
1. “smaller countries such as Sweden are generally more susceptible to American pressure and bullying.” But surely the UK is one of the USA’s closest allies and has been much more susceptible to US pressure in the past (e.g. the Iraq war, which Sweden opposed).
2. Sweden helped the CIA render two suspected terrorists to Sweden. But the UK has also cooperated in extraordinary rendition (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/feb/13/uk-investigations-torture-rendition-guide; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extraordinary_rendition#United_Kingdom).
3. “Swedish law permits extreme levels of secrecy in judicial proceedings and oppressive pre-trial conditions, enabling any Swedish-US transactions concerning Assange to be conducted beyond public scrutiny.” I followed Greenwald’s link and saw nothing that would allow Swedish transactions *with the US* to escape public scrutiny. (Although the hearing deciding whether he should be held in custody will probably be held in private.) It’s true that Assange could be put in isolation and have his communication restricted – although Fair Trials International deem this unlikely – but in any case, I don’t see how this puts him at greater risk of US extradition.
Who and quotes please? And why are are you automatically assuming Assange is guilty.
Those of us like myself think Assange is genuine in his fear of going to Sweden because of the high risk of being extradited to the US and possible life imprisonment. I judge that the risk and the corresponding punishment and probable torture far exceeds any possible sentence he may receive if found guilty of the sexual offences.. I don’t believe anyone should serve possibly life imprisonment in a barbaric system for having sex with a woman while she was asleep after previously having has consensual sex a few hours earlier. The accusation may or may not be genuine, no one yet knows and maybe never will. However I think it is reasonable to assess the rape claims as serious but not comparable to violent rape or grevious bodily harm.. I am not trying to say that is ok. Of topic is there a difference between rape and GBH and if so why ( apart from possible pregnancy of disease.
The reasons Sweden is a higher risk than the the UK is easily found by people such as Greenwald http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jun/20/julian-assange-right-asylum . Wether you believe him or not is up to you. I certainly find him more convincing than most of the media rabble poring scorn and vitriol over Assange and Wilileaks.
from the Guardian Suzanne Moore
: ‘I bet Assange is stuffing himself full of flattened guinea pigs. He really is the most massive turd.’
Moore later commented to Deborah Orr of the Guardian and ‘Victoria Peckham’ (Janice Turner) of The Times: ‘I never met him [Assange]. Did you?’
Luke Harding Guardian
‘Assange’s plight seems reminiscent of the scene in Monty Python where the knights think to storm the castle using a giant badger’
Christina Patterson of the Independent wrote:
‘Quite a feat to move from Messiah to Monty Python, but good old Julian Assange seems to have managed it. Next Timbuktu?’
She wrote again: ‘Meanwhile, the latest on Assange: he’s hiding up a tree. Or in a ditch. Or in an embassy.’
Twitter quickly filled up with this curiously insipid form of comedic sludge. The Guardian’s Technology editor Charles Arthur tweeted:
‘It is absolutely not true that Julian Assange got twitter to fall over so that he could sneak out of the Ecuadorean embassy for a latte.’
David Aaronovitch The Times wrote:
‘When the embassy stunt fails expect Assange, slung over the shoulders of muscular friend, to be swung into St Paul’s shouting “thanctuary!”’
The Times’ , John Simpson, tweeted:
‘There are now signs offering a free #assange at the Ecuadorian embassy. Apparently nobody wants him. #occupyknightsbridge’
One of the most hurtful things about this whole Assange thing has been the discovery of exactly how many men (and some women) on the liberal left are happy to dismiss Assange’s rape of one woman and sexual assault on another as a trivial matter.
English courts have ruled twice that the allegations against Assange would be allegations of rape under English law: http://jackofkent.com/2012/06/assange-would-the-rape-allegation-also-be-rape-under-english-law/.
If Assange committed rape then it is clearly a very serious matter. If he didn’t then it is a different matter. I wonder if you intentionally misunderstood me? Of course I am not implying that rape is not serious. The undoubted fact that rape is often not taken seriously enough may blind some to the possibility that he may not have committed rape but be the victim of a plot to frame him for rape. According to Jonathan ” the Swedes have refused to give assurances that they won’t allow him to be extradited or rendered to the United States and the Swedes haven’t contradicted that claim.” Wrong as it may be that the particular kind of sexual crime of which Assange appears to have been eventually accused is not classified as rape in UK, but is in Sweden, does not mean that he should have to hand himself over to the Swedish Authorities and risk ending up on Death Row in USA. He should be questioned but in a country where he is safe from extradition. We should let him go to Ecuador.
Lupin: But if this was a CIA plot then it was clever of them to pick on rape as the crime in question as the whole of the liberal left world is liable to take the line “he mustn’t be allowed off with that – whatever good he has done humanity in other ways.”
Ignoring all the rest of your crude speculation that the two women who say Assange raped/sexually assaulted them are lying, I’ll point out that this is a particularly absurd statement.
One of the most hurtful things about this whole Assange thing has been the discovery of exactly how many men (and some women) on the liberal left are happy to dismiss Assange’s rape of one woman and sexual assault on another as a trivial matter.
If a crime were to be fabricated and pinned on Assange by the CIA, my guess would have been illegal drugs – much less problematic than a charge of rape or sexual assault.
There is no evidence that either of the alleged victims were working for the CIA (http://www.salon.com/2010/12/07/julian_assange_rape_accuser_smeared/) and it’s completely wrong to smear alleged rape victims in this way. If he’s innocent, Assange should go to Sweden and clear his name. And yes, I do believe that people shouldn’t be allowed off with rape just because they have done humanity good. I hope this isn’t controversial. *If* I thought Assange was safe from US extradition in the UK, but he was certain to be extradited to the US to face the death penalty the minute he touched Swedish soil, then yes, I would oppose sending him to Sweden. But no-one has presented one whit of evidence that he is at greater risk of US extradition in Sweden than in the UK. Or even explained what “ancient liberties” we are at risk of ditching by sending him to Sweden.
Not sure which statement by Assange you’re referring to, but here, again, is the statement by Assange’s lawyers (http://studentactivism.net/2011/07/12/assange-lawyer-concedes/) – it appears that they are not admitting that he committed the acts described, except for the sake of argument, but they’re not denying it either. Rather, they deny that the acts described constitute rape. I (and many other people) disagree.
I am not normally a conspiracy theorist, (and I don’t watch lots of James Bond films) but in this case it does seem possible that one of the two women with whom Assange had sex may have been working for the CIA – an old fashioned honey trap perhaps? If you read the Indymedia account http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2012/07/498184.html it tells a story that seems to be about consensual sex, with subsequent anxiety about STDs because a condom was not used. The young woman went to the police to ask if she could insist on Assange being tested. I wonder, was the second woman encouraged to do this by the first woman who had whipped up her anxiety by drawing attention to his promiscuity? (The two women were in touch, evidently). From this account it sounds as though his behaviour wasn’t good but was consensual and therefore not rape. And initially he was cleared and given permission to leave Sweden. And then a RED ALERT went out for him! That was strange. What the hell was going on there? (Where can I read Assange’s own statement referred to earlier in this thread? I still have an open mind.) But if this was a CIA plot then it was clever of them to pick on rape as the crime in question as the whole of the liberal left world is liable to take the line “he mustn’t be allowed off with that – whatever good he has done humanity in other ways.” And even “he must face questioning whatever it takes and at whatever personal risk – extradition, life imprisonment … hanging.” (Even before we know he is guilty). And as Jonathan says, maybe even, “lets get him even if we have to ditch hard won ancient liberties to achieve it.” Has William Hague suddenly got tougher on rape? Pull the other one.
But Jonathan, the only person at this point who is preventing Julian Assange from getting due process is Julian Assange.
He can have his legal rights and due process by walking out of the Ecuador embassy and giving himself up to the nearest policeman.
(Except he would probably do it with maximum drama and leaked press-releases, so.)
I think my final rejoinder to those few in the Green movement who aren’t able to accept a disagreement over principled concerns about competing human rights and who want to shut down discussions with accusations that questioning Assange’s situation, however explicit my declaration that he should face trial, amounts to apologising for rape should ask themselves what they’re doing in a democratic political movement. These same people have prejudged Assange’s guilt on the basis of two blog posts which take legal proceedings out of their full context – and that full context is simply testing evidence against English law and not prejudging it. He may indeed be guilty and we need a proper trial to establish his guilt or innocence.
I disagree with those that think it’s fine to send Assange to Sweden to face trial AND the possibility to extradition to a United States whose record on justice has been severely compromised since September 2001, however I’d never suggest that they’re beyond the pale. It’s not my position but it’s hardly one that is unarguable. Trying to silence those one disagrees with through name calling or defaming them however is unacceptable and undemocratic and has no place in a movement with a commitment to democracy and free speech that doesn’t amount to hate speech. Shame on those people.
Again, Greenwald (http://www.salon.com/2012/06/19/assange_asks_ecuador_for_asylum/ – not sure if this is the article you’re referring to) doesn’t really compare the UK and Sweden. He just says “Sweden in particular has a demonstrated history of aceeding to U.S. demands when it comes to individuals accused of harming American national security.” But so does the UK.
It’s true that Sweden has no bail system. I don’t see why you can’t apply for asylum while in prison, as Ratner asserts.
From what Glenn Greenwald says and Michael Ratner ( and many others) it is much easier to extradite Assange from Sweden than here. I do believe Assange is seeking asylum because he is rightly terrified of being extradited to the US and spending perhaps the rest of his life in prison and quite likely tortured. I don’t believe he is so worried about the rape charges or the possible imprisonment if he is found guilty. I think it is ridiculous to think that a intelligent person could possibly believe that seeking asylum in Ecuadorian embassy with all the future repercussions and exile is preferable to facing charges for a relatively minor rape charge. (discussed here but admit this may be biased http://justice4assange.com/Fair-Trial-for-Julian-Assange.html) He may or may not be guilty of rape , I am not sure but I think he is genuine in resisting extradition to Sweden because of his fear that he will then be imprisoned, will not have the media exposure he has here and could quite quickly be extradited to disappear to the US.
The problem is not wether Assange has committed rape or not but that the US is a vicious and major human rights violator and I think if we are compassionate we should support Assanges asylum claim as we should support any one else’s claim in a similar situation.
Incidently as I understand it, the reason Wikileaks released the trove of diplomatic files was that David Leigh, a Guardian journalist stupidly( in my opinion) printed the password to them in his book. The Guardian denies that they or Leigh were at fault for this. I think they are evading reponsibility. http://unspecified.wordpress.com/2011/09/03/wikileaks-password-leak-faq/
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Ratner, to those who say, “Why doesn’t he simply go to Sweden to answer the questions about sexually abusing two women?” why can’t he go and do that?
MICHAEL RATNER: The issue on that is, first, he has offered—and the Ecuadorean government—to try and avoid this situation that would escalate it, asked Sweden if they would be willing to come to the United Kingdom and question Julian Assange. Let’s remember, this is about allegations and about questioning. There’s been no charges, no crime, etc., charge. It’s about questioning. So they asked Sweden if they would come. Sweden so far has said, no, they won’t. Sweden could have avoided this in two seconds by that.
But it’s really not about Sweden. If Julian Assange were to go to Sweden, he would be put in jail immediately. He is not allowed to get bail in Sweden. Let’s understand that. He would be in prison in Sweden, and he could no longer apply for asylum. You can’t apply for asylum from a jail when you’re in the very country that’s meaning to persecute you or prosecute you. He’s just in Sweden. At that point, the U.S. files its extradition request. Julian Assange never sees the light of day and winds up going to the United States.
His only choice, when he made the choice, was either to go to Sweden, get put in jail and wind up in the United States, or take the risk that he could get political asylum from Ecuador and, thereby, ultimately, get out of the hands of the United States.
Mark – I don’t know anything about extradition law, so I might be wrong here. But I can’t see anything in your link showing that Sweden’s extradition treaty makes it easier to extradite to the US than the UK’s treaty. The author’s concern is that Sweden’s treaty allows ‘temporary surrender’:
“VI. If the extradition request is granted in the case of a person who is being prosecuted or is serving a sentence in the territory of the requested State for a different offense, the requested State may:
b) temporarily surrender the person sought to the requesting State for the purpose of prosecution. The person so surrendered shall be kept in custody while in the requesting State and shall be returned to the requested State after the conclusion of the proceedings against that person in accordance with conditions to be determined by mutual agreement of the Contracting States.”
But the UK-US Extradition treaty (http://www.dipublico.com.ar/english/uk-us-extradition-agreement-2003/) seems to allow basically the same thing:
Temporary and Deferred Surrender
1. If the extradition request is granted for a person who is being proceeded against or is serving a sentence in the Requested State, the Requested State may temporarily surrender the person sought to the Requesting State for the purpose of prosecution. If the Requested State requests, the Requesting State shall keep the person so surrendered in custody and shall return that person to the Requested State after the conclusion of the proceedings against that person, in accordance with conditions to be determined by mutual agreement of the States.”
So again, I don’t see why Assange is more at risk in Sweden than in the UK. As I said, I’m not an expert on extradition law – if anyone can confirm that the UK’s treaty does *not* permit temporary surrender in the same way as Sweden’s treaty, or if there are other safeguards in the UK that don’t exist in Sweden, I’ll be happy to admit that I’m wrong.
I’ve just reread your piece Jonathan, and surprised myself that I missed the bit where you quoted rape stats. In other words, because the UK’s record on taking rape seriously is flawed, when they take rape seriously, we should fight it, because they aren’t really taking it seriously?
Also, the UK’s letter is idiotic and unhelpful, but that’s far from ‘we will seek to breach Ecuadorian Embassy immunity’. That the UK have the domestic legal framework doesn’t matter in terms of international law.
There’s the usual inability of a section of the left to do nuance here. Assange might be the victim of a plot. The US might want his head on a platter. And he might be a rapist. The first two in no way trump the latter in my political value set and think anyone for whom they do who wants to call themselves radical needs to think on a little.
You’re right. On reading the Guardian article more closely, it’s not clear that Assange’s lawyers admit that he committed the acts alleged, except for the sake of argument (although they aren’t denying that he did so) – my mistake. (I don’t know whether Assange or his lawyers admitted to these acts elsewhere.)
I agree, the Swedish prosecutors and others appear to be treating this case differently from other allegations of rape (in a better world, all governments would treat all rape allegations this seriously). I agree the UK government should not invade the Ecuadorian embassy, whether or not that constitutes a breach of sovereignty. I agree Assange should not be extradited to the USA. I agree we should be skeptical of the UK government’s motives.
But I don’t think this changes the fact that Assange should face questioning in Sweden, just as any alleged rapist should face questioning. I don’t see why it breaches due process for him to face questioning in Sweden – if anything, it seems to me that due process requires that he do so, given the Supreme Court ruling. And I still don’t see why he is more at risk of being extradited to the US from Sweden than from the UK. I suspect we are not going to agree on this one.
The 1984 US-Sweden Extradition Treaty (TIAS 10812) would allow Sweden to hand Julian Assange over to the US without going through the usual long-winded extradition proceedings which are required in the UK: http://justice4assange.com/US-Extradition.html#TR
Also the USA have done loads of bad things, revealed by the leaked cables that probably deserve a mention.
Keshav – that blog selectively quotes. If you read the longer account you’ll see from the context that they’re simply testing the evidence given by one of the alleged victims and saying ‘well let’s, for the sake of argument take this at face value and even if that were the case it wouldn’t be a crime under English law’.
Look – I can see what I’m trying to argue being misconstrued here. Assange is a flawed individual. Some of his FOI work has been invaluable but even I questioned Wikileaks failure to redact any of the material as any good journalist would have done where the details would have added nothing but potentially jeapordised individuals named.
I can entirely believe that he may have behaved as has been alleged. I am not arguing that his ‘hero’ status (please bear in mind this description involves a degree of irony) excuses him facing a proper trial.
I am simply looking at the UK government taking unprecedented steps to try too arrest Mr Assange that have caused an international incident (that’s why it’s leading so many serious news outlets) that potentially jeapordises asylum seekers and Westerm diplomatic missions elsewhere. I’m highly sceptical about its motives and I’m quite naturally asking why this precedent in this case. I can’t wholly believe it’s out of any concern for the alleged victims of sexual violence. As I pointed out and Allasdair has echoed nothing in the rape prosecution statistics hints at so vigorous approach as that taken with Assange and the embassy. Frabnkly you could have been forgiven hitherto for not realising they cared so much.
The fact iis laws and rights protect bad people as well as good people but if they don’t protect us all then they potentially protect none of us.
To call for due process isn’t an attempt to excuse Assange or accord him special status. It’s a concern about precedent. It’s out of concern about civil liberties and it’s from a desire to see justice done – including for his alleged victims.
Defending a principle does not equate to defending Assange or excusing rape.
I’m sure justice will take its course. No doubt in due course he’ll be seized and sent to Sweden. If he’s not extradited to the US I’ll breathe a sign of relief and if he is I’ll leave you guys to do the whole ‘but there was no way of knowing that would happen’ routine. But given the blood thats been shed since 1215 to buy our rights I am not going to take the easy couse and shut up while governments play fast and loose.
Not to labour the point, but why do you suspect it would be *more* politically difficult to extradite Assange from Sweden than from the UK? I would suspect the opposite – the UK and the US governments seem pretty close allies. I can’t see any mention of Sweden in the CCR link you provided.
And re. the issue of whether Assange has admitted anything – Alasdair’s point, as I understand it, was that Assange’s lawyers have admitted that Assange committed acts which *we* believe constitute rape ([trigger warning] http://studentactivism.net/2011/07/12/assange-lawyer-concedes/). His lawyers deny that these acts constitute rape. Since there is no disagreement about the facts of the case (only about the definition of consent), I think it’s perfectly reasonable for folk on Twitter or wherever to call him a rapist if they have a different definition of consent than Assange’s lawyers. But I agree, we should have proper hearings etc., and that’s precisely why Assange should go to Sweden and face questioning.
Actually there have been numerous politicians in congress calling for charges that carry the death penalty – including the heads of key house committees – and that isn’t the extreme end. Mike Huckabee, a former presidential candidate called for Assange’s assasination.
And yes – you’re right questionable extradition arrangements shouldn’t be a get out of jail card, but so long as there are persistent questions about miscarriages of justice, capital punishment and the abuse of extradition arrangements they muddy the cases they impinge on.
And I didn’t say there was a clear prima facie case of rape – it is contested but it needs to be heard. The concerns about his human rights are, however, legitimate and plenty of people on Bright Green have bemoaned the actions of the UK and US over rendition since 2001. The difference in this case is that it concerns an alleged case of rape and at that point some people’s principles seem to shift.
Given the appalling statistics on rape conviction, the way survivors are treated and the crime is downplayed constantly in society, I think we’re allowed to treat it a little differently from some other crimes. (Also that it’s a horrific crime in itself, unlike some things for which people are arrested, detained or renditioned – for example Breanna Manning, who deserves our support and sympathy far more than Assange does.)
I had seen the letter and the mention of the 1987 law, I don’t see the problem. It’s not an attack on their sovereignty. It’s removing diplomatic status because they’ve misused it to allow him to evade trial, something you want to see.
When you say:
“However we should not be prepare to see their plight used by those who would surrender our hard won rights to a government in Washington that preaches one thing at home and pursues an entirely hypocritical line when it suits it abroad.”
What you mean is ‘although there’s a very clear prima facie case of rape alleged, at the end of the day, the US is a very bad player, foreign policy wise, and so we should ignore it’.
I wonder what a significant enough crime might be to override this, or is being an enemy of the US Government a permanent get out of jail card?
Also, the UK and Sweden are signatories to the ECHR, and can’t extradite to any jurisdcition where the crimes under issue carry the death penalty. The fact that one can find a politican in the US calling for the death penalty is a pretty low threshold is a rhetorical device which says rather more about your analysis. One can find people in the US Congress to justify nearly any viewpoint one cares to mention.
Every time I’ve asked those who say he’s admitted rape to point to the statement they’ve linked me to part of his defence counsel’s statement and ignored a later part where counsel disputed the issue of consent.
There’s a reason we have proper hearings to consider all the evidence and not simply partial evidence. Sticking to this principle where an accsation of rape has been made is clearly uncomfortable but I don’t believe that the resulting outrage is sufficient grounds to prejudge the case. Indeed a few people who would never consider such a standpoint in another sort of case rushed to pronounce him guilty.
Moreover if you read less partisan sources than your friend at Edinburgh Eye you’ll see that the UK government told the Ecuadorians it might use a 1987 law passed in the wake of the Libyan Embassy shootings to access the building http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19281492
As for extradition from Sweden this may be one of the things that got people worked up http://ccrjustice.org/newsroom/press-releases/ccr-condemns-reported-sealed-indictment-against-wikileaks-founder-julian-assange
Make of that what you will. So far he hasn’t faced extradition from the UK to the US. I suspect it would be politically difficult. He may be fine in Sweden – but if he is surrendered and does face the same fate as Bradley Manning or worse it’ll be a little late to complain about it.
I’m not sure I understand your answer. What is the difference between Swedish politics and UK politics that makes Assange *more* likely to be extradited from Sweden than from the UK? If Sweden put a stop to rendition, as you say, it sounds like he would be safer there than in the UK. Of course, Assange himself *says* he fears being extradited from Sweden – but another plausible explanation of this fact is that he doesn’t want to face questioning/charges in Sweden.
Exactly Keshav. And articles like this that purport to be just about considering all the possibilities and giving him a fair hearing make his excuse easier to believe, and appear to have more support – they obfuscate what I think is the more likely explanation. (I’m Jonathan doesn’t see it like that, or probably intend that, but that’s how it comes across and why I’m very unhappy hosting things like this frankly.)
And as has been pointed out many places (for example here: http://edinburgheye.wordpress.com/2012/08/14/julian-assange-pity-ecuador/) there has been no threat on Ecuadorian sovereignty, or breach of any international convention, if that’s something we’re worried about.
With regards the issue about charging, I don’t think your piece was clear Jonathan.
On the broader point, if you think he needs to face due process before any sentence, fine. But that’s an entirely different statement from complaining about people calling him a rapist. He is a rapist. He has admitted to non-consensual sex, he hasn’t admitted that what he did was illegal, but that’s not the basis most of us are using to define him as a rapist. Most people who commit rape are never convicted, that doesn’t change that they are still rapists. I don’t understand how you can think otherwise having read his own statement.
And you’re right, the extradition to the US issue *is* a distraction, so why spend so long talking about this hypothetical when it has still never even been explained how it would be easier from Sweden than from the UK?
That’s a good question. As Naomi points out Sweden and the UK are both signatories to the ECtHR. However the communication sent to the Ecuadorian embassy was, as far as I’m aware, unprecedented even if William Hague has noow clarified that the UK won’t enter the embassy to seize Assange. Sweden did put a stop to rendition in 2006 after the cases of Ahmed Agiza and Muhammad al-Zery who were taken from Stockholm Airport by alleged (underlined) US agents.
Assange’s case is that unusual that given both the UK and US government’s apparent flouting of the law his concerns strike me as not entirely irrational.
At least one prominent US politician has implicitly called for his assasination and the head of the House Committee on Intelligence has requested the US Attourney General to declare Asssange a terrorist and Wikileaks a terrorist organisation. Even Diane Feinstein, a Democrat, has called for him to be prosecuted for espionage – a charge that carries the death penalty.
The basic problem seems to be that we are trusting three governments to behave honourably and within the law that have not always done so.
Moreover I do understand the way that Swedish law works to the extent Naomi points out – however I think my account is pretty clear. And I do think he should face justice. If the effort were put into taking away any grounds for Assange to protest about possible extradition/rendition to the US rather than into threatening Ecuador wouldn’t it produce the desired result of a proper trial faster?
The piece is explicit – charges of rape need to be heard in full before a court of law. The US extradition issue is a distraction and needs to be nixed and trial by blogosphere is no substitute for proper justice.
There is no excusing rape nor apologising for it, but wanting due process does not amount to either
Jonathan, why do you think Assange would be more likely to be extradited to the USA if he was in Sweden, rather than in the UK?
This comes down to a *belief* that he would be extradited to the US. This is a belief, not a fact. It is not grounds to deny due process.
Of course Sweden has not ruled out the possibility that he would extradited, because they have not received a request from the US. No serious judiciary would never rule something out on principle without going through a proper process. It would be ridiculous to make a statement on a hypothetical, especially one of this magnitude.
The UK and Sweden are both EU countries, both signatories to the ECHR therefore at the very least will not extradite where there is a risk of the death penalty. But most likely will be months if not years on contestation of any potential extradition through the ECtHR.
(And just on a quick point on questioning/charging – this is Swedish procedure. They cannot charge him without formal questioning which they have not done. This is an incidental point but screams of “HE HASN’T EVEN BEEN CHARGED” on the internet, are driving me mad)