More on the Julian Assange-Ecuador-UK standoff

Glenn Greenwald weighs in on the extensive back and forth that is taking place about the Julian Assange case, looking at the legal and political aspects of the case that have been presented, along with ways on how this could be resolved with both Assange and his accusers being treated fairly and justice served. He also examines the deep hostility of major elements of the media towards Assange and Wikileaks which has extended to those who have been concerned about the attacks on Wikileaks.

The attacks on those who have defended Assange’s extradition and asylum arguments has depended on the disgusting slander that such advocates are indifferent to the allegations of sexual assault made against him or, worse, are “rape apologists.”

The reality is exactly the opposite. I have spoken to countless Assange defenders over the last couple of years and not a single one – literally not one – is dismissive of the need for those allegations in Sweden to be taken seriously and to be legally and fairly resolved. Typifying this view is [Seumas] Milne’s column last night, which in the midst of scorning the attacks on Assange, embraced “the seriousness of the rape allegations made against Assange, for which he should clearly answer and, if charges are brought, stand trial.”

That is the view of every Assange defender with a platform that I know of, including me (one can certainly find anonymous internet commenters, or the occasional named one, making actual, horrific rape apologist claims, but one can find stray advocates saying anything; imputing those views to Assange defenders generally would be like claiming that all Assange critics want to see him illegally shot in the head or encaged for life because some prominent American and other commentators have called for this).

Not only Assange defenders, but also his own lawyers and the Ecuadorean government, have worked relentlessly to ensure that he faces those allegations in Sweden. They have merely sought to do so in a way that protects him from extradition to the US to face espionage charges for his journalism – a threat that could send him to prison for life (likely in a torturous super-max facility), and a threat only the wilfuly blind could deny is serious and real.

In their New York Times op-ed this week, Michael Moore and Oliver Stone correctly argue that it is “the British and Swedish governments that stand in the way of [the sex assault] investigation, not Mr Assange.” That’s because, they note, Assange has repeatedly offered to be questioned by Swedish authorities in London, or to travel today to Sweden to face those allegations if he could be assured that his doing so would not result in his extradition to the US to face espionage charges.

Time and again, “Correa said Ecuador never intended to stop Assange from facing justice in Sweden. ‘What we’ve asked for is guarantees that he won’t be extradited to a third country,’ he said.” Both Britain and Sweden have steadfastly refused even to discuss any agreement that could safeguard both the rights of the complainants and Assange’s rights not to be imprisoned for basic journalism.

Greenwald points out that people who view this as purely a legal matter and think that the US, British, and Swedish legal systems would do their work untainted by the political aspects of this case because those governments have no role in this process are ignoring the reality.

Seumas Milne says,

Can anyone seriously believe the dispute would have gone global, or that the British government would have made its asinine threat to suspend the Ecuadorean embassy’s diplomatic status and enter it by force, or that scores of police would have surrounded the building, swarming up and down the fire escape and guarding every window, if it was all about one man wanted for questioning over sex crime allegations in Stockholm?

To get a grip on what is actually going on, rewind to WikiLeaks’ explosive release of secret US military reports and hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables two years ago. They disgorged devastating evidence of US war crimes and collusion with death squads in Iraq on an industrial scale, the machinations and lies of America’s wars and allies, its illegal US spying on UN officials – as well as a compendium of official corruption and deceit across the world.

The US administration yesterday claimed the WikiLeaks founder was trying to deflect attention from his Swedish case by making “wild allegations” about US intentions. But the idea that the threat of US extradition is some paranoid WikiLeaks fantasy is absurd.

A grand jury in Virginia has been preparing a case against Assange and WikiLeaks for espionage, a leak earlier this year suggested that the US government has already issued a secret sealed indictment against Assange, while Australian diplomats have reported that the WikiLeaks founder is the target of an investigation that is “unprecedented both in its scale and its nature”.

The US interest in deterring others from following the WikiLeaks path is obvious. And it would be bizarre to expect a state which over the past decade has kidnapped, tortured and illegally incarcerated its enemies, real or imagined, on a global scale – and continues to do so under President Barack Obama – to walk away from what Hillary Clinton described as an “attack on the international community”. In the meantime, the US authorities are presumably banking on seeing Assange further discredited in Sweden.

None of that should detract from the seriousness of the rape allegations made against Assange, for which he should clearly answer and, if charges are brought, stand trial. The question is how to achieve justice for the women involved while protecting Assange (and other whistleblowers) from punitive extradition to a legal system that could potentially land him in a US prison cell for decades.

Greenwald (and others) point out that while courts can adjudicate the permissibility of extradition, the decision to extradite is an executive one that resides with the government.

The article goes on to cite the Swedish extradition law to outline two possible outcomes where the target of an extradition request challenges its validity: (1) the Swedish supreme court rules that extradition is not legally permissible, in which case the Swedish government is not free to extradite; (2) the Swedish supreme court rules that extradition is legally permissible, in which case the Swedish government is free to decide that it will not extradite for policy or other prudential reasons. In other words, the Swedish judiciary has the right to block an extradition request on legal grounds, but it lacks the power to compel extradition; if the courts approve of the legal basis, the Swedish government still retains the authority to decide if extradition should take place.

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones points out the obvious.

But regardless of what you think of that, Assange’s fear of being extradited to the U.S. seems pretty reasonable. What’s more, I have little doubt that if the UK and Sweden really wanted to, they could figure out a way of giving Assange the assurance against extradition that he wants. I’ll bet they’d do it if it were someone worried about being extradited to China [My italics]. I can’t pretend to know everything that’s going on here, but still, common sense suggests that the fact that both the UK and Sweden are stonewalling is telling.

It is absurd to think that the governments of the US, UK, and Sweden are helpless bystanders on the deeply political issue of whether to seek or allow the extradition of someone to another country.


  1. jamessweet says

    I think Greenwald is being a little disingenuous in saying that the “rape apologist” faction is a blip with no mainstream traction. There’s lots of mainstream discussion on whether what Assange is accused of is “actually rape” (or is the phrase “legitimate rape” now?).

    But I do agree with his main thrust, that a false dichotomy is being drawn here. In fact, every time Assange’s name comes up in the media, I get a little confused on how I’m reacting, because of all this. 😀

  2. says

    There’s lots of mainstream discussion on whether what Assange is accused of is “actually rape” (or is the phrase “legitimate rape” now?).

    Yes, and the Swedes could clear up all that, merely by a) agreeing in writing to try Assange only on the rape charges (have specific charges even been filed?) and not send him elsewhere; and b) taking the opportunities given them to question Assange regarding said charges. Swedish authorities have refused to do either, which is why so many people (including myself) are questioning whether any actual rape took place here. The Swedes — who claim to want justice for rape victims — aren’t acting like the rape allegations are important in their own right, so why should we? They’re not even TRYING to prove anyone was raped, so why should we believe the allegations?

  3. slc1 says

    One of the things that’s not quite clear to me is the notion that the Swedish Government would roll over and extradite Assange to the United States upon request. That government is not noted for being overly friendly toward the US (and Israel for that matter). I can only speculate that the Wikileaks claims must have included Sweden in some hanky panky.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    slc1 @ # 3: One of the things that’s not quite clear to me is the notion that the Swedish Government would roll over …

    A truly independent Sweden would not have troops participating in the US occupation of Afghanistan. Do you think the general Swedish population supports that bloody criminal fiasco?

  5. slc1 says

    Re Pierce Butler @ #4

    Maybe I missed something over the years but I was unaware that Sweden had joined NATO. It is my understanding that only NATO troops are involved in Afghanistan, at least in combat roles.

  6. Scott says

    I wonder how is it that he can be extradited to the US for an alleged crime committed outside the US? By that logic, the Danish newspapers that published cartoons of Mohammed could be extradited to Pakistan (or another country) for blasphemy.

  7. kraut says

    slc1 as usually misinformed

    “The Swedish personnel are part of Isaf, the International Security Assistance Force. Isaf was established at the end of 2001 and operates under a UN Security Council mandate and an agreement between the Isaf forces and Afghan government. The headquarters are in Kabul.”

    Afghanistan had nothing to do with Nato, unlike Iraq, for which there was no support by the UN. Afghanistan was invaded “legally” with approval by the UN.

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    According to a quick DuckDuckGo search, Sweden (though not a member of NATO) has at least 500 troops in the “International Security Assistance Force”, and has taken several fatalities there.

  9. HP says

    -- Only the Swedish legislature gets to determine what “actual rape” is for sex crimes occurring in Sweden. It’s a matter of the criminal codes in Sweden. It’s not like “rape” exists as some kind of Platonic ideal to which various legal codes fall short. My understanding is that Assange is alleged to have penetrated a woman a) while she was asleep, and thus could not offer consent, and b) without a condom, again, without her consent. In Sweden, this is a crime. Sweden is a sovereign nation, and is entitled to define rape in whatever way it feels best serves the citizens of Sweden.

    -- Sweden is not a Common Law country. Under Swedish law, formal charges are filed after the formal indictment. This again is not wrong in some Platonic sense; it’s a different legal system from ours, but it works for them.

    FTR, I believe that Assange very likely broke Swedish law, and that he is, at the very least, a horrible person in the way he treats women. But I don’t think publishing leaks amounts to espionage, and I don’t trust him to the U.S. federal courts post-9/11. IOW, I agree with Greenwald and Mano.

  10. sailor1031 says

    Well Wikileaks did blow the whistle on the Swedish Premier and the immigration minister implementing new deportation policies with regard to iraqi asylum seekers without the knowledge of the parliament -- just a minor constitutional infringement that the gentlemen in question found a little embarrassing I believe.

    There was also something leaked about the swedish government conniving with the US embassy to spy on about 2000 swedish citizens (which the US embassies do in several countries; Norway even has a small police unit to assist the americans). But none of this could have anything to do with rape could it?

  11. astro says

    Thanks Bee!

    “The Swedes — who claim to want justice for rape victims — aren’t acting like the rape allegations are important in their own right”

    I’ve been struggling to find that point, it’s been on the tip of my tongue for a while but I just couldn’t get at it

  12. astro says

    Right. Just like here in the U.S, the government DOES NOT represent the people. The Swedes do it better than us TBS, but to imagine it doesn’t go on everywhere is hubris

  13. jamessweet says

    I agree in general; I just think Greenwald was being a little disingenuous in pretending that, “Pfffft, she already let him put it in her, so it’s not rape if he did it again” is a fringe position. Sadly, that is NOT a fringe position.

    I agree about the rest. It’s very clear that several governments were very happy to hear about these alleged sexual assaults and exploit them to target Assange. I consider it highly unlikely that the women who made the allegations were doing so for political reasons, but it’s no doubt the allegations have been seized upon and manipulated for political reasons.

  14. dorfl says

    (have specific charges even been filed?)

    Because under Swedish law you cannot be charged before you have been arrested.

  15. astro says

    “I agree in general; I just think Greenwald was being a little disingenuous in pretending that, “Pfffft, she already let him put it in her, so it’s not rape if he did it again” is a fringe position. Sadly, that is NOT a fringe position.”

    I missed that. I thought he made it pretty clear Assange should stand trial for the alleged rape. It’s just very clear that the fervor by the U.K and Sweden over this situation is NOT over rape charges, which it should be. The Swedish gvmt need only guarantee non extradition to a third country if he agrees to stand trial. their refusal to do so shows how ‘seriously’ they take the rape charges. It is very likely that the women involved are also being made victims of international political expediency.

  16. astro says

    Then in this situation, this swedish practice of jurisprudence goes against international amnesty principles and should be changed…NOT defended

  17. emburii says

    Many more people are raped per year than charges are filed. Just saying, if those people were actually raped, of course they’d file? ‘Why didn’t you tell anyone, the fact that you didn’t means that maybe it didn’t happen, right?’ ‘Cause bitchez be lyin’.


    It’s terrible that they’re making it political. It’s angering that they’re using the misconduct/rape charges to try and maneuever him into being tortured for WikiLeaks. It doesn’t mean that the two plaintiffs are part of a conspiracy as such. It really is possible to hate what political hay is being made of this without supporting the denial aspects of rape culture.

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