Veteran investigative reporter John Pilger gives an update on the status of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, confined to the Ecuadoran embassy in London since 2012 that is guarded round the clock by police to ensure that he does not slip out of the country. Pilger says that even the British government that, like the US, hates Assange with a passion and would hand him over to the US in a minute to be tortured, is getting frustrated with Sweden’s intransigence and unwillingness to take any steps towards resolving this impasse.
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.
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.
Pilger recounts the history of the case, for those unfamiliar with the details, that led to Assange seeking refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy two years ago.
Meanwhile, a Swedish appeals court has refused to lift the arrest warrant on Assange but also criticized the authorities for not trying to find alternate ways to resolve the issue.
[T]the court also noted that Sweden’s investigation into Assange had come to a halt and prosecutors’ failure to examine alternative avenues of investigation “is not in line with their obligation – in the interests of everyone concerned – to move the preliminary investigation forward”. The ruling is expected to put pressure on prosecutors to find new ways to break the deadlock.
Per Samuelsson, one of Assange’s lawyers in Stockholm, said the court’s criticism of the prosecutor was aimed at her refusal to come to London to question Assange.
Asked what he meant by the need to pursue “alternative avenues” of investigation, Niclas Wågnert, the appeal court judge in the case, told the TT news agency: “That’s a matter for the prosecutor. One way would be to interrogate him in London.”
Britain’s Foreign Office said last month it would “actively welcome” a request by the prosecutor to question Assange inside the embassy and would “do absolutely everything to facilitate” such a move.
Pilger asks some pertinent questions.
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?
The answers seem clear. The US is pulling the strings behind the scenes, telling the Swedish prosecutor not to give an inch in order to get their hands on Assange. I think that they did not expect that this standoff would last so long.