How the case against Julian Assange came about

One of the big political questions this year is whether the US government will be able to get their hands on Julius Assange. The brutal treatment given to Bradley Manning, the alleged source of the leaked US material, is a likely template for the way Assange will also be treated should he fall into US government hands. These actions by the US government are meant to frighten and thus deter any future potential unauthorized leakers. What they want is to return to the system whereby only selected people in government get to leak secrets to selected reporters to advance their own agendas.

There has been considerable discussion of whether Assange is being framed by the Swedish authorities at the request of the US. I don’t know if that is the case but here is some background information to help people judge for themselves as more details emerge. What becomes clear is that there are very close relationships among the key people involved.

First, some political background. Although Sweden is theoretically a neutral country that is not part of any military alliance, in practice its government acts like it is a de facto member of NATO, by actions such as contributing troops to the NATO mission in Afghanistan, which causes some concern among its population. Mona Sahlin, the leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), campaigned during the 2010 general election on a platform of withdrawing Swedish troops from Afghanistan, starting in 2011 and completing it by 2013. But a secret cable released by WikiLeaks finds her privately telling the US government that, despite her public statements her party “supports Sweden’s continued mission in Afghanistan”. Her party then voted after the election to extend the troops’ presence. The WikiLeaks release of the cable is undoubtedly embarrassing for Sahlin and the SDP, showing how they lied to their own supporters in order to serve the US. This background is significant because all though this secret cable was released after the events involving Assange and the two women, it shows that the people behind the Swedish campaign against Assange are all involved at high levels of the SDP and collude with the US government.

The basic chronology of the events surrounding Assange and the two women who made allegations against him is as follows. (One of Assange’s lawyers gives his side of the story here.)

  1. On the afternoon of Friday, August 20, the two women AA and SW (now both apparently in hiding) make a statement at a police station at 2:00pm. It is not clear if they made a formal complaint of rape or were seeking advice. Their statement is rapidly sent up the chain to the prosecutor on duty who immediately decides it is rape and issues a warrant for Assange to be seized for questioning. Strangely, someone immediately sends a text message to this effect to a reporter at the tabloid newspaper Expressen. It is not normal practice to alert the media like this. The newspaper contacts the prosecutor’s office for confirmation and gets it, again not normal practice. The news is broadcast the next day on the front pages.
  2. The chief Stockholm prosecutor Eva Finné reviewed the charges and dismissed them the following day saying that there was no evidence that a crime had been committed.
  3. AA then contacts criminal defense attorney Claes Borgström the very next day, on Sunday 22 August.

Why would an alleged victim of a crime consult a criminal defense attorney? One reason could be personal: AA and Borgstrom are both active in SDP politics and are friends. Another possibility is that filing a false charge is a criminal offense in Sweden and AA may have felt that the quick dismissal of her charges might leave her open to prosecution.

What is interesting is that according to Borgstrom, AA was not even aware that it was possible to re-open the case and it looks like it was his initiative to do so, which raises the question of why. A possible reason is that he is a self-described feminist who served as ombudsman for gender equality from 2000-2007 when the SDP was in power in the Swedish government and has a high profile. He may have felt that a genuine wrong had been committed that warranted further action. On the other hand, he may have seen an opportunity to advance a political agenda to help his political friends and patrons. After all, Borgstrom is a strong supporter of the Swedish military’s involvement with the US military and is a well-connected member of the SDP and its leader Sahlin.

Borgstrom got the case re-opened (after the chief Stockholm prosecutor in Stockholm decided not to continue with the case) by appealing to Sweden’s director of public prosecutions Marianne Ny, who is a friend of his and also well-connected to the SDP. Ny took over the case on September 1. The police questioned Assange in Sweden and he was told he could leave the country. But after he left, Ny put out a red alert on Interpol that Assange had ‘fled’ and that when he is caught he should be held without access to lawyers, visitors or other prisoners.

All this does not mean that the allegations against Assange are false and purely trumped up. That is something for the courts to decide. It is quite possible that the original series of events between Assange and the two women and the resulting charges against him were purely apolitical. But once a prosecutor has decided to drop a case, it usually requires someone influential with a strong interest in the case to go to a higher authority to get it re-opened. The actions of Borgstrom in going over the head of a chief prosecutor to re-open the case, his close relationship with the head of the SDP, his access to high levels of government and willingness to use them, the immediate release to the press of the fact that Assange case had been re-opened, are all suggestive that political factors are at play at some level.

The zeal with which high-level politically connected people in Sweden are vigorously pursuing what everyone concedes is at most a low-level offense does suggest that political motivations entered the picture quickly, likely originating with Borgstrom, Ny, Sahlin and the SDP, all anxious to curry favor with the US government.

This should not be a surprise. After all, WikiLeaks is a real threat to the secret backroom dealings and lying practices of both governments. They will do whatever they can get away with to shut it down. Even if AA and SW are truly victims and completely innocent of any malicious intent, the US and Swedish governments would be eager to seize the opportunity presented by them to discredit their nemesis.


  1. Steve LaBonne says

    “Everyone” concedes it’s “at most a low-level offense? I most certainly do not. As a forensic DNA specialist I know what rape is. To take just one of the elements of the allegations, having unprotected sex with a sleeping (i.e. unable to consent) woman, who previously made it clear that she did and would NOT consent to having sex without a condom, is rape. Rape is not a “low-level offense”.

    These are serious charges and it is perfectly reasonable to expect Assange to return to Sweden for questioning; his guilt or innocence is an open question (which I in no way mean to prejudge) and should be determined in the proper manner by the Swedish legal system. Assange is not Wikileaks nor is he even essential to its continued operation, not that should give him immunity even if it were true. Furthermore it is perfectly possible for someone who is a bad person in some respects to do good work in other respects. It is quite clear from the record that, even if innocent of these charges, Assange is at minimum a pretty creepy misogynist.

    Now, if the US tries to concoct some bogus espionage charge, I will be 110% on your (and Assange’s)side.

  2. Jared A says

    I agree with you Steve about what constitutes rape. I also agree that even by his own account Assange is a total douchebag and misogynist. I am a little confused though because I don’t remember reading that anyone claimed to have been asleep for one of the alleged incident. I thought in one case it was centered around a broken condom and in the other it was allegedly verbal pressure to not use a condom. Perhaps I’m mistaken.

  3. Steve LaBonne says

    Jared- I will stipulate that that detail was from a possibly unconfirmed report about the contents of an as yet unreleased police report.

  4. Peter says

    I agree with the position that rape should not be considered a low-level offense (whether that’s what occurred or not).

    But how does the Swedish judicial system normally act in these sorts of cases?
    Is the notice to Interpol that he be held incommunicado routine?
    Does Sweden normally send out this sort of notice for a rape investigation?

    Whether or not we feel rape *should* be considered a serious crime is immaterial -- what matters is how Sweden and Interpol customarily treat it. And that’s what I see as the meat of this post: Compared to a [unworkable] charge of espionage, rape is lesser, but it will nonetheless serve to get the figurehead of WikiLeaks out of the way.

    On another point, I remember reading that the charge of ‘sex by surprise’ isn’t accurate at all -- that there’s no such thing in Swedish law.

  5. says

    I should have made it clearer that what I meant was not that I think rape itself is a low-level offense but that Swedish law has three levels of this charge: severe, standard, and less severe, and Assange is being charged with the lesser one.

    I should have written “lower-level offense” than “low-level offense”.

  6. says

    This was a great program, but one complaint was there was an implication that the mass home ownership that began in the 30s was a major factor in the crisis. The home finance system worked fine (for several decades) until the wave of deregulation of banking and growth of the unregulated shadow banking sector occurred. The large investment banks were allowed to use our money to make their risky bets. Not just in housing securities, but in hedge funds and other risky vehicles. We took most of the risk they took most of the profits. All in the name of removing burdensome government. Had sensible regulations been in place, this mess could not have occurred.

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