Revisiting Julian Assange.

[Cross-posted at The Political Junkies for Progressive Democracy.]

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Scenes outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, January 30, 2013.

[UPDATED, UPDATE 2 BELOW]

A piece by Julian Assange published last November catalogs the malevolent machinations of the U.S. government as revealed by thousands of U.S. State Department cables released by Wikileaks.  Reading it, one cannot help but discern whose interests U.S. foreign policy actually serves.  (SPOILER ALERT!  It is not We the People.)

Yet a curious thing often happens when I mention Wikileaks:  people express a visceral disgust for Julian Assange, even though in context he is personally irrelevant.  Why?  Well, the press campaign to smear him has been relentless and nearly universal — and it is worth noting that it long preceded the sexual abuse allegations against him.  Years before Wikileaks dropped its first bombshell, the Pentagon issued a report deeming it an “enemy of the state” and set out to destroy its credibility and reputation.  But the Pentagon did not need to do anything:  U.S. and U.K. “journalists” descended on Assange with a vengeance, exhibiting a pettiness and personal animosity bordering on deranged.  Rather than focusing on the monumental threat to press freedoms at stake in any U.S. prosecution of Assange, instead we learn about his dirty socks, his alleged toilet habits, uncorroborated musings on his assumed motives and amateur psychological diagnoses by Assange’s enemies.  Glenn Greenwald put it this way:

“By putting his own liberty and security at risk to oppose the world’s most powerful factions, Assange has clearly demonstrated what happens to real adversarial dissidents and insurgents – they’re persecuted, demonized, and threatened, not befriended by and invited to parties within the halls of imperial power – and he thus causes many journalists to stand revealed as posers, servants to power, and courtiers…nothing triggers their rage like fundamental critiques of, and especially meaningful opposition to, the institutions of power to which they are unfailingly loyal.”

With a minimally functional adversarial press, there would be no need for Wikileaks.  But the establishment press, as its name suggests, serves the establishment.

A second curious thing occurs when I mention Wikileaks:  almost invariably the unevidenced assertion is made that Assange sought asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London only to avoid questioning by Swedish authorities on the sexual assault allegations.  Worse, prominent feminist writers have uncritically endorsed the Fleeing Rapist narrative, as if there were nothing else of importance going on that long preceded the sexual assault allegations.  What I find most troubling is the implication that one cannot be a defender of Assange’s rights as a political prisoner and also advocate that he face justice in Sweden:  defenders of his asylum request have been accused of being “rape apologists,” despite repeatedly asserting that Assange should be subjected to questioning by Swedish investigators, and charged and tried if warranted — just like any other accused offender.

But this is manifestly not what Swedish prosecutors are after.  If they were, they could interview Julian Assange at the embassy in London today: interrogating suspects abroad is, in fact, a routine matter for Swedish prosecutors.  They could question him, today, via Skype.  They could interview him today in Sweden, provided they guarantee he will not be extradited to face the U.S. legal system — once the envy of the world, now a Kafkaesque nightmare — where Assange would face espionage charges that could put him in a supermax prison for decades for committing the heinous crime of…journalism. This is hardly unprecedented:  the U.S. imprisoned a Sudanese journalist for Al Jazeera at Guantanamo for six years, without charges.

Assange sought asylum from Ecuador only after a U.K. court determined that he should be extradited to Sweden.  (This is the same U.K., by the way, that refused to extradite Augusto Pinochet, the architect of a mass rape, torture and murder regime.)  While it would be a welcome development if U.K. authorities were serious about seeking justice for sexual assault victims, the reality is quite the opposite.  In an extraordinary editorial in The Guardian last August, Women Against Rape, a U.K. advocacy group supporting women and girls who were subjected to sexual abuse (including asylum seekers), took an unequivocal stand against Assange’s extradition, noting:

“In over 30 years working with thousands of rape victims who are seeking asylum from rape and other forms of torture, we have met nothing but obstruction from British governments. Time after time, they have accused women of lying and deported them with no concern for their safety. We are currently working with three women who were raped again after having been deported – one of them is now destitute, struggling to survive with the child she conceived from the rape…

“Like women in Sweden and everywhere, we want rapists caught, charged and convicted. We have campaigned for that for more than 35 years, with limited success.”

Does that sound like a country that takes justice for sexual assault victims seriously?

When interviewed about the Women Against Rape statement, Amanda Marcotte gave a dismissive and presumptuous response:

“I don’t know why they do that…It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if you support Wikileaks then you must support Assange at all costs.  And I think that’s basically what’s going on.  Even if they really should know better, because again if you look at accusations they’re not anything that falls outside of the realm of even questionable assault. If they’re true, they’re obviously assault. So I really just think it’s one of those situations where they may not know the details, but more importantly they may be ignoring inconvenient information, because they have fallen into the trap of thinking that support Wikileaks equals support Julian Assange.”

The only trap anyone seems to have fallen into is thinking that one cannot be a defender of Assange’s rights as a political prisoner and also advocate that he face justice with respect to the assault allegations.

On a recent trip to London I went by the Ecuadorian embassy and interviewed some Assange supporters keeping vigil.  One was a woman, and I was particularly interested in her reasons for being there.  Although I directed my questions to her, her male counterpart interjected to answer, while she nodded along.  “Well,” he said, “We’re here because we’re anti-war, anti-imperialism, and pro-free speech.”  He then launched into a monologue on the history of extradition treaties, beginning in the fourteenth century (?!).

“I’m interested in more current events,” I finally interrupted, and turned to her again.

“To bring you up to the 1950s,” he continued, “Blah blah blah reformed extradition treaty of 1979 between the U.K. and Ireland…”

“That’s interesting,” I said, “but I’m focusing on recent events.”  I asked her if she was involved with the Occupy movement.

“Then in the 1990s, — wait, Occupy?  Yes, yes, in fact I was the spokesman for…”

I moved between them to face her.  “It’s a shame,” she said, “But it’s pretty clear they were infiltrated.”

“In fact, I gave a 45 minute interview on…”

“I find it difficult,” I said to her, “to defend the rights of Assange without getting pushback on the rape allegations.”  She reached into a folder and handed me a printout of the Women Against Rape editorial.  “Here,” she said.  “This is key.”

“… because, you see, the United States is not a signatory to the ICC…”

I thanked them both for their protest work and said goodbye.  As I walked away he was still talking.

Unfortunately, women are entirely used to being dismissed and lectured to by men.  (There’s a good word for that.)  It seems to be particularly common in the context of political discussions.  Thus it is problematic that the Fleeing Rapist narrative is so ubiquitous in the feminist blogosphere, and so effective at derailing discussion of other implications of the Assange case.  To the extent that those things are in conflict, only the Swedish government has the power to resolve it — today.

__________

UPDATE:  This recent interview of Assange by Bill Maher is excellent.

UPDATE 2:  See also: Pravda UK: Guardian’s Assange Coverage Descends Into Farce by Simon Wood.

4 thoughts on “Revisiting Julian Assange.

  1. Ah, Mr Assange again! Can’t seem to get enough of him.

    How bout this? His organization released documents that were categorized as classified, and, as such – he’s subject to being prosecuted. I’m not an attorney, but my understanding of the First Amendment protecting journalists sort of implies that – you need to be a journalist. Assange isn’t and either is Wikileaks, they just release information. No reporting, no investigation, no writing, all they did was release info supplied to them by someone else. And a defense of “we didn’t take it, we just released what was given to us” might not work in court. Not unlike a guy who purchased a stolen car trying to tell the judge “but I didn’t steal it”

    I think the bigger issue here is a disagreement with the authority that’s annoyed that classified documents were released – the US. And that the real motivation for all the support that Assange receives, it’s nothing more than backlash against the US.

    So lets forget the subplots about what’s Sweden’s real motivation, or did he REALLY abuse women in some way, is there a conspiracy to ship him to the US after.

    He / Wikileaks, released US classified documents and he has to address that. If he’s such an honorable guy simply desiring to “do the right thing”, let him come to the US and face whatever charges there might be outstanding.

    Just like the NYT and the Washington Post had to when they released the Pentagon Papers.

    Just like Aaron Swartz had to, and speaking of him – where’s all the heart-felt concern for him. Could it be that his target wasn’t the “evil US”, so it’s not important.

    If information classified as – classified or secret is given out, then people get prosecuted!

    If not, what a crazy world this would be, just imagine! We could all find out the ingredients of that Special Sauce in a Big Mac, or know the formula for CocaCola, or the formulation of Viagra, simply by hacking into government or corporate computers then release it on the Internet.

  2. Ah, Mr Assange again! Can’t seem to get enough of him.

    *SPROING!* Oh sorry, that was just my irony meter exploding. I write a post about the bizarre phenomenon of people making it all about Assange personally and imputing nefarious motives to him without evidence whenever I mention Wikileaks, and here is the first commenter on the piece openly suggesting that that I have some kind of unseemly attraction or obsession with him. It just cannot possibly be the case that I write about Wikileaks and Assange’s predicament because I feel very strongly about the principles at stake here and am deeply disturbed by the actions of my government. Nope.

    How bout this? His organization released documents that were categorized as classified, and, as such – he’s subject to being prosecuted.

    Prosecuted for what, exactly? There is no crime “released classified documents or information to the public.” If there were, half the Obama administration could be prosecuted, since they do it routinely (if only to make themselves look good). That is, they release not only “classified” information, but Top Secret information, without first declassifying it. But by all means, please point me to any criminal or civil statute that Julian Assange’s activities violate with respect to Wikileaks. Should be easy enough for you to find…if it exists.

    I’m not an attorney, but my understanding of the First Amendment protecting journalists sort of implies that – you need to be a journalist. Assange isn’t and either is Wikileaks, they just release information.

    Your understanding is completely warped. You don’t need to be an attorney to read the Constitution: the First Amendment says nothing about journalists, or even journalism. It protects freedom of “the press,” which means “the media.” The founders did not have radio, TV or the Internet, but the First Amendment’s press freedom protection applies to all of these.

    No reporting, no investigation, no writing, all they did was release info supplied to them by someone.

    Like The New York Times did with the Pentagon Papers. Or a thousand other cases where government sources and whistleblowers leak confidential, classified and Top Secret documents and information to media organizations that then published it.

    And a defense of “we didn’t take it, we just released what was given to us” might not work in court.

    On what charges? “We didn’t take it, we just released what was given to us” is the very bedrock foundation of the press. How do we know about the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program? Or the network of secret prisons and CIA black sites? Because government sources leaked it to the media, and they published it.

    Not unlike a guy who purchased a stolen car trying to tell the judge “but I didn’t steal it”

    Actually, it’s completely unlike that. Because the guy who purchased a stolen car committed a crime. Again, please point me to the criminal statute that Julian Assange violated by publishing classified documents on Wikileaks.

    I think the bigger issue here is a disagreement with the authority that’s annoyed that classified documents were released – the US. And that the real motivation for all the support that Assange receives, it’s nothing more than backlash against the US.

    I assume you have evidence for this assertion. Do you believe that is my motivation for supporting Assange’s rights?

    He / Wikileaks, released US classified documents and he has to address that. If he’s such an honorable guy simply desiring to “do the right thing”, let him come to the US and face whatever charges there might be outstanding.

    What charges? Espionage? Aiding the enemy? You cannot be naive enough to think that Assange could get anything resembling fair treatment and impartial justice from the US justice system…can you? As I noted in my post, we imprisoned a journalist at Gitmo for 6 years without charges. Or google Bradley Manning. Thomas Drake.

    Just like the NYT and the Washington Post had to when they released the Pentagon Papers.

    And what was the outcome of those attempts at prosecution? Permanent enshrinement into law in no uncertain terms that no crime whatsoever is committed when media outlets publish classified or even Top Secret documents.

    Just like Aaron Swartz had to, and speaking of him – where’s all the heart-felt concern for him. Could it be that his target wasn’t the “evil US”, so it’s not important.

    It’s telling that you are apparently unaware of the support for Aaron Schwartz emanating from exactly the same precincts that support Assange: civil liberties groups like ACLU. Internet rights groups like EFF. Legal and media watchdog groups. Sentencing reform groups. Prominent bloggers with massive platforms like Glenn Greenwald.

    By the way, unlike Wikileaks, Aaron Schwartz actually broke the law. No one denies this – not even Aaron Schwartz denied it. But thanks for bringing it up: the fact that he faced vicious, unjust retaliatory prosecution by US prosecutors who wanted to make an example of him provides additional support for my point that Assange is highly unlikely to be treated fairly by the same DOJ.

    If information classified as – classified or secret is given out, then people get prosecuted!

    In your mind perhaps, but not actually in reality.

    If not, what a crazy world this would be, just imagine! We could all find out the ingredients of that Special Sauce in a Big Mac, or know the formula for CocaCola, or the formulation of Viagra, simply by hacking into government or corporate computers then release it on the Internet.

    The formulation of Viagra is easily found online at the US Patent Office. The others are trade secrets, which if anonymous hackers obtained and gave to a media outlet, could legally be published.

    • WARNING!!!!!!!!!!!!

      The Surgeon General has advised that commenting on a Palace blog may be hazardous to one’s health, or at least, one’s ego!

      So, comment at your own risk!

  3. WARNING!!!!!!!!!!!!

    The Surgeon General has advised that commenting on a Palace blog may be hazardous to one’s health, or at least, one’s ego!

    The Surgeon General has advised that anyone being demonstrably, factually wrong on a Palace blog may subject one to…correction. If one’s health or ego is too fragile to be presented with countervailing evidence and reasoning in response to one’s comments, one should evaluate and consider one’s personal risk accordingly before making them. More information on the Palace commenting policy can be found here.

    FIFY.

    #someoneiswrongonmyblog! ;)

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