There has been more rubbish written in more papers, and more guff spoken on radio and television by intelligent people who ought to know better, about this single case then I have heard in years. Someone must just make matters clear.
This is a blog read almost exclusively by Americans, and I note that America has been most poorly served by facts in this case. And, as someone concerned with the extension of American legal reach extra-judicially this is something I feel should be made clearer.
The facts, such as they are, are these.
Back in 2010 Assange, who ran Wikileaks, a whistle blowing web-site, was passed a large number of emails which purported to come from America. Mr Assange is not an American citizen, was not in America, and had never touched these documents previously. It has never been alleged he stole the documents. He had not sought their removal or theft and had never asked for them. However, now they were in his possession he chose to publish them. And hell came in its wake.
If these documents were stolen, and it is entirely clear that whoever stole them he did not, Assange has never been charged or arrested in connection with their theft or re-set.
About this same time, and in what many feel was curious timing, Assange became the chief figure in a sex case in Sweden, where two women claimed that they had been coerced, molested and sexually assaulted by Assange. See TOK here. The Swedish authorities wished, and still wish to speak to him in regard to this event. To be absolutely clear, Assange has not been accused of anything whatsoever. No charges have been raised, no arrest warrant exists for rape or sexual assault, nor indeed anything else. Despite two years, the prosecutors in Sweden still have not made a case of any kind. However they still ask that extradition be made available for Assange, simply to answer questioning. Questioning which could be done by PC Wallander catching a plane to Britain or even by Video link. Questions which Assange and his lawyers have always said they are happy to answer. Questioning by video link has been used by Swedish authorities before, even for murder suspects. Which begs the question as to why not here?
I don’t doubt that Assange is egotistical, arrogant or unpleasant. But being difficult does not make one a criminal.
Far from being, as he is portrayed in America, a criminal or an alleged criminal, Assange’s true position is of being an alleged, alleged criminal.
The lack of any charges whatsoever being brought by Sweden before seeking extradition makes me, for one, very uneasy. Rightly, Assange is fearful of going to Sweden, as Sweden has a woeful record of illegally rendering persons to America for the CIA, for which it has been taken to task by the UN and European Courts. Hence why Assange sought asylum in the embassy.
Despite a Grand Jury having sat in Virginia for eighteen months, no charges whatsoever have been drawn against Assange by American authorities. Assange fears that this delay is a deliberate ploy to hold fire until he lands in Sweden, prior to answering the questions about this sexual encounter. Then, he reasons, the Americans will raise their charges against him, possibly under the Espionage Act 1917 and likely label him as being a terrorist, and seek extradition which, as we noted, is all too readily available from Sweden. The Swedish foreign minister, questioned on this very point yesterday, was disappointingly evasive.
In any crisis we can always rely on the British Diplomatic Service to make a bad situation truly appalling. Last week they stummbled up to the plate and delivered. It seems they fronted up some green and plooky youth, fresh into the service from Law School, who threatened the Ecuadorians with the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987. This Act, he claimed, would allow the British Government to revoke unilaterally Ecuadorian diplomatic immunity and let the British Police enter and remove their guest by force!
This foolishness has inflamed the situation, with Britain now being placed directly in contravention of the Vienna Convention 1961, which allows all governments of all countries to maintain safe houses in hostile countries.
OK, but why Ecuador? Well, President Correa of Ecuador, like so many of America’s southern neighbours, is no friend of Washington. Last year a spat between the two governments lead to loss of Diplomatic representation on both sides for five months. Since when, Correa has been casting round, looking for something that is high profile and low risk, something which serves to tweak Uncle Sam’s nose. Correa also has a less than wonderful record on press freedom and human rights in his own country. He could do with a bit of a lift on that. Enter Assange.
How would this be resolved? Well, America could confirm that they are not seeking extradition for Assange. This would allow Assange to go to Sweden and answer the questioning and face any charges that may or may not come. Likelihood? Pretty much nil.
Sweden might give cast iron assurances that it would not extradite Assange to the United States. Likelihood as above – pretty much nil.
Britain would give Assange free passage to a plane to get him to Ecuador. As things stand, that too would be a nil.
The chances that Britain would seek to strike down Ecuador’s immunities over it’s Embassy in the face of the Vienna Convention. Absolutely nil.
Could he just stay put? Well, Cardinal Jozsef Mindzenky sought asylum in the United States Embassy in Budapest, Hungary in 1956 and was stuck there for fifteen years. For the moment until someone backs down we are in an Ecuadorian standoff.
Copyright David Macadam 2012.