Julian Assange, Sweden, Ecuador and the USA


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Originally published on the Ice Moon Blog on Friday the 17th of August, but as the debate continues to rage it seems appropriate to post it here now as it provides a very balanced and informative but clearly positioned account and may encourage further discussion – DB.

Julian Assange has not, as I write, been charged with anything. There are, however two investigations under way. The first and most pressing is the allegation by two former lovers that he engaged or attempted to engage in unprotected sex with them when they had either expressed a wish that he use a condom or resisted his attempt (the circumstances are slightly different in each case). My understanding is that such actions would constitute an offence under Swedish law and might reach the bar for ‘coercive sex’. I’m not sure whether it would be an offence in either Ireland or England, but the European Arrest Warrant allows for the extradition of a person for something which is not a crime in the host country.

There are suggestions that these allegations are a ‘honey-trap’ (see note below) and, while I think that such a trap is perfectly possible, I believe that the correct place for such suggestions to be tested is in the Swedish courts. In any event, there is a distinct possibility that the charges will not stick. They are hampered by the problems that face most sexual charges, principally that the act occurs without witnesses, even though the balance of credibility in Sweden seems to lie with the complainant.

The question then arises: Why does he not permit himself to be questioned by the Swedish authorities? For that is the entire purpose of the extradition warrant.

He has not been charged with a crime, and in general, when a police force wishes to question a suspect who resides in a different country, they buy a plane ticket for two officers. Assange has offered himself to be questioned in England, most recently inside the Ecuadorean embassy. Why does Sweden not accept that reasonable offer? As far as I can judge, the type of offence that Assange is accused of is likely to draw a suspended sentence. With such a minor tariff, why is the Swedish government pursuing him with the relatively expensive device of a European Arrest Warrant which must be defended in a foreign court? Does it pursue all such sexual offenders equally?

The answer may lie in the second case in preparation. This case is at much the same stage as the Swedish one. The USA Department of Justice is preparing a case against Assange. Sweden has a rather straightforward extradition treaty with the USA, signed under Ronald Reagan, agreeing that ‘each contracting state undertakes to surrender… those persons … who are wanted for the enforcement of any offense’. In the event that Assange is returned for questioning it is unlikely that he will be released on bail, having already demonstrated a tendency to flight. At that point, it seems to me, highly likely that the USA will issue an extradition request. Therein lies the real problem.

It is well-known at this stage that prominent politicians in the USA have called for Assange to be charged with treason and that this is a capital offence in a country that still executes its own citizens, not to mention Guantanamo Bay or Extraordinary Rendition or any of the other practices for which it is justly famous. Even if he were convicted of a lesser offence, it is likely that he would receive a sentence such as no European state now applies. In a country where multiple life sentences running to hundreds of years are not unusual, a ten year sentence is regarded as relatively mild. The tariff for the relatively minor offence of ‘Gathering National Defence Information’, for example, is 35 years. the rather quaintly titled crime of ‘Transmitting National Defense Information; Disclosure of Classified Cryptographic Information; Unauthorized Disclosure to a Foreign Government or a Communist Organization of Classified Information by Government Employee; Unauthorized Receipt of Classified Information’ attracts a tariff of 29 years if top secret material is involved and 24 if not. And, as a matter of comparison, you could get 6 years for tampering with your odometer. I don’t know what tariff odometer crime attracts in Ireland – I’m finding it difficult to get information on it.

Considering the fate of Assange’s alleged informant Bradley Manning, still languishing in reportedly brutal conditions, amounting to torture in the opinion of UN special rapporteur, in a military prison, it’s not surprising that Assange is reluctant to find himself in such a jurisdiction.

So, in a sense this arrest warrant stands as a proxy for a further extradition. I believe that it is at least possible that the Swedish government wishes to have Assange back on Swedish soil in order to make him amenable to such an extradition request. I believe that many other governments, including my own, would pursue the same policy in deference to the USA. I believe that Assange is right to resist it, and that Ecuador was justified in granting him diplomatic asylum. I believe Sweden could solve the impasse very quickly by issuing a written guarantee that Assange would not be extradited to the USA. That, of course, would escalate an already fraught international incident.

Note: On the Honey-Trap Theory

My good friend Ola Larsmo, writer and chairman of Swedish P.E.N. rightly takes me to task for appearing to lend my voice to the sexist attacks on the women who have lodged complaints against Assange: ‘The Honey-trap theory has no practical or theoretical ground whatsoever. The two girls, both organised in the Swedish social democratic left, have claimed the same thing: that Mr Assange during sex wilfully damaged the condom, either trying to get them pregnant against their will or, even worse, to avoid their wishes not to be exposed to possible infections of an STD. This is a tricky and personal business, but the information is all over the web already. I think it’s very, very sad how the so-called left has been harassing these girls.’

I think there are two issues to understand here. The first is that women who allege that they have been the subject of a sexual assault of any kind have traditionally been subjected to harassment on the grounds that their allegations are motivated by jealousy or revenge, or that they brought it on themselves in some way. This is the disciplinary mechanism of the patriarchy at work. I reject it completely. That is why I believe the women must be accorded the state’s support in having their allegations investigated. In the absence of any convincing evidence to the contrary I must trust the Swedish legal system to investigate the allegations. After all, if an Irish woman were to make a complaint of sexual assault I would expect the Irish police and courts to take it seriously and I would encourage her to follow through with her complaint.

That is not to say that I have a blind faith in courts. Very often, courts are sexist, classist and racist. However, there isn’t another system to which we can turn for justice at the present moment, and the Irish courts, for one example have an abysmal record in relation to sex crimes.

The second issue is whether we can accept as constructed any event in international politics. I do not intend to enter into the details of the alleged events, the timescale, or the characters of any of the protagonists. But in my view the handling of the case by the Director of Prosecutions and the Swedish state clearly demonstrates that the investigation is driven by political considerations.

I support the activities of Wikileaks, but I am not a particular supporter of Julian Assange. I disagree in the main with his political views which he has described as libertarian or market libertarian – a mainly right-wing politics with which, for example, Mitt Romney should feel very comfortable. However, I believe, as I argue above, that the Swedish case (as opposed to the allegations themselves) are a proxy for a USA prosecution, or a holding-case for such a prosecution, and that this is an attempt to silence Wikileaks. For that reason I support Ecuador. I do, however, believe that Assange should answer the charges and that were he to be given a ‘no extradition’ guarantee he should return to Sweden to face them. I reiterate again, the central issue for me is the possibility that Assange could be extradited to the USA to face serious charges of espionage specifically because of the activities of Wikileaks.


For an excellent assessment of the work of Wikileaks (see especially the video attached to this article. And for John PIlger’s assessment, see this article. (Thanks to Edward Boyne for drawing them to my attention)

For anyone interested in the events themselves, here are two websites:

Marianne Ny: Making an arse of Swedish law, The Standard, New Zealand

The Julian Assange Rape Case

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William Wall is the author four novels, the most recent of which, This Is The Country (2005), has been described as a 'broad attack on the Celtic Tiger'. He has also published poetry and short stories.

11 Responses

  1. bevin

    August 23, 2012 2:00 pm

    “The two girls, both organised in the Swedish social democratic left, have claimed the same thing..”
    Actually they haven’t. One of them, the one who isn’t Anna Artin, has attempted to withdraw her complaint, which seems to have been turbocharged, literally sexed up, and re-written by the police hours after the interview.

    As to the “honey trap” theory. It is disingenuous to describe these women as “..organised in the Swedish social democratic left…” Quite apart from the fact that you could describe Blair and Straw (not to mention the most recent Prime Ministers of Spain and Greece)as “organised in the social democratic left”, Artin has a very clear record of active work with the fascistic Miami anti-Castro crowd which is almost an annexe of the CIA.

    Nothing could be less fair to these women , or more sexist than to refuse to take their political activities seriously. Artin at least is a partisan of zionism, an ally of the US Empire and, in Cuban terms, a spy and provocateur.

    We should not be intimidated by these specious accusations against Assange. The charge that he wilfully broke a condom in order to get them pregnant or transmit a disease is clearly ludicrous, in the well documented circumstances.- Swift we have need of thee!… (Ola Larsmo, not so much).
    Glenn Greenwald has an excellent summary of the case, plus his usual links and updates on the website that used to be Comment is Free.

  2. Laura Duggan

    August 23, 2012 2:39 pm

    Assange is under investigation for more than having sex without a condom but also for having sex with a sleeping woman – she couldn’t consent therefore it’s Rape, here and in most EU countries. The question of force in regards to the “Coercive sex” has been asked as Assange is also being investigated for the pinning one of the women down in order to force her to have sex with out a condom but later relented before having sex – This falls into the territory of Rape here as well,as fear of further reprisals could intimidate a woman into having sex even without further force actually being used.

    While I agree that Assange is probably being set-up and there are many questions to be answered in regards to how this investigation is being carried out and obviously whats going on with the US, I hate that the reasons he’s being investigated are being made sound like just some crazy Swedish law. They are pretty serious allegations that one would hope would be taken seriously here (One day, Maybe).

    I understand that many people feel the need when defending Assange to dismiss the charges (I don’t know how else to phrase that but I’m aware he has not actually been formally charged with anything)but the reality is the charges are a different discussion, what they are being used to do is the issue. When people dismiss or belittle the accusations to defend Assange it just sound like rape isn’t a big deal if your an icon – Just look at Polanski.

    *Sorry for any Grammer/Spelling, had no time to proof

  3. Conor McCabe

    August 23, 2012 4:47 pm

    “it just sound like rape isn’t a big deal if your an icon – Just look at Polanski.”

    Agreed. It has been frightening the speed to which people on the left – well I’m been generous there, men on the left – have moved from defending Assange to defending rape.

  4. William Wall

    August 23, 2012 6:37 pm

    Bevin, aside from the comments of Laura and Conor above, with which I agree, I’d like to point out that her name is Ardin, to begin with. She is organised in the christian social democratic left “Broderskap” (Brotherhood) which has been heavily involved in the Ship to Gaza-trips. She runs for the council for the social democrats and has been gender equality consultant for Uppsala University, and, incidentally, was awarded a prize for her work.

  5. ciaran

    August 23, 2012 7:56 pm

    The whole business about being afraid of extradition from Sweden doesnt really seem to add up. As if Britain is some sort of safe haven from american influence.

  6. William Wall

    August 24, 2012 7:16 am

    I think you’re right about Britain not being a safe haven, Ciaran. But in this context (a) no extradition has been sought as yet and (b) Britain can leave it to Sweden and avoid the protest and hassle of its own extradition process. It’s a matter of convenience.

  7. Ciaran

    August 24, 2012 1:30 pm

    Hi william thanks for the response. Maybe Bradley manning is a bit of a different case since his under martial discipline .
    It’s hard to see how they could arrest assange and not touch the nytimes or the guardian since they were operating together.
    I thought Peter Galbraith’s piece in the guardian was rather good
    “I have never understood why Sweden – a neutral country with a long tradition of harboring American draft dodgers and deserters – would be more likely to extradite Assange than the United Kingdom, a staunch US ally whose laws authorize prosecution of journalists for official secrets violations in a way that is not possible in either the US or Sweden.”

  8. William Wall

    August 24, 2012 1:38 pm

    I think that’s a red herring Ciaran. I think Britain would extradite him in a flash, but they’re happy to let Sweden make the running.

  9. Davey

    October 2, 2012 1:12 pm

    The author is misinformed. And had he read this article: http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/david-allen-green/2012/08/legal-myths-about-assange-extradition or many of the others like it, they could have written something which wasn’t laced with utter bollocks.

    Let’s not make a free speech icon out of the utter creep that is Julian Assange.

    Sweden was a bastion of freedom when Assange wanted to move his website there. Now that they want to arrest him, and it is for arrest he’s wanted, they’re suddenly a big evil conspirator.

  10. William Wall

    October 2, 2012 1:44 pm

    Davey, I have read David Allen Green’s article. It’s a legalist examination of the ‘facts’ by a centrist liberal. Citing Reporters Without Borders, for example, does not inspire confidence (among the known funders are George Soros, The Centre for a Free Cuba and Benetton).
    I have no idea whether, for example, the allegation would actually come to court in England as I make perfectly clear in the first paragraph and I don’t care. However, if you read my article you’ll see that I believe that Assange should answer the charges in Sweden
    I try to set aside the legal issues because I don’t believe they’re central to the problem. It’s typical of neoliberal commentators to try to situate political problem within a legalist framework, as if the law cannot be set aside when it doesn’t suit (Guantanamo Bay, for example). Extradition in this case is certainly a political issue. It’s beyond belief that a man who has conspired to do as much damage to the interests of the USA would not be of special interest to that country. In addition, we have the evidence of a ‘sealed indictment’ from a Wikileaks release. I believe it is extremely likely that Assange will be extradited to the USA – from Sweden or whichever other compliant country he finishes up in. Sweden just happens to be the front runner at present.
    Allen Green’s point about whether Assange is more likely to be extradited from Britain than Sweden is completely irrelevant since a Swedish extradition warrant already exists. Why should Britain intervene when Sweden is doing all the dirty work?
    I have no idea either whether Assange is ‘an utter creep’, though I assume you know him personally and I’m happy to take your word for it. I’ve also made clear in my article that I find his politics distasteful (last paragraph).
    The real issue here is whether the rupture in inter-state secrecy that is Wikileaks can be halted by the persecution of its most prominent member. I think the punishment of Bradley Manning and the attempt to silence Assange are an attempt to teach a hard lesson to other activists.
    At no point have I suggested that Assange is a ‘free speech icon’. That’s just your own variety of ‘utter bollocks’.
    Finally, have a look at this. You’ll find it contains even more ‘utter bollocks’: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/01/wikileaks-sweden-pirate-bay?newsfeed=true