Saturday 18 August 2012

Assange and Asylum

Two days ago, the long and tortuous drama of Wikileaks, starring the handsome, silver-haired Australian-born Julian Assange, took another turn, when Ecuadorian Foreign Affairs minister Ricardo Patino announced that Mr. Assange had been granted political asylum by the Latin American nation. So now Mr. Assange is technically in Ecuador, but only in that small part of it that lies within Britain -- the embassy.
Meanwhile, the British government has clearly stated that Assange will be arrested the moment he leaves the embassy.
As with any drama, perhaps, the first problem is, Where to Begin? Some would say it begins with the founding of WikiLeaks. Others would say that the real beginning was the release of the torrent of  confidential, secret and top secret documents detailing US actions and personnel around the world, and the subsequent decision by the US government to get Assange at any cost, on any pretext, including the ridiculous notion that he could be charged with treason. (As to how could any citizen of any country other than the USA be charged by the USA with treason, that detail went overlooked.)
Still others would say that the story begins on 11 August 2010, when Assange arrived in Stockholm on a speaking trip arranged, in part, by "Miss A", a member of the Christian Association of Social Democrats. It was reported that Miss A agreed to let Assange stay at her apartment during the trip.
On 14 August 2010, Assange and Miss A attend a seminar hosted by the Social Democrats Brotherhood Movement, whose topic was "War and the Role of Media." Miss A and Assange reportedly had sex that night.
On 17 August 2012, Assange and "Miss W", a woman he met at the seminar three days prior.
Some time within the next three days, Misses A and W met with a journalist and expressed concerns with aspects of their sexual encounters with Assange.
On 20 August 2010, the Swedish Prosecutor's Office issued a warrant for Assange's arrest, on two charges, one of rape and one of molestation. Wikileaks quoted Assange as saying that the charges are "without merit" and that the timing is "deeply disturbing." (This refers to Assange's application for residency in Sweden and his plan to open a Wikileaks office in Stockholm; Sweden has laws protecting whistle-blowers.)
The next day the charges were withdrawn. One of Stockholm's chief prosecutors, Eva Finne, is quoted as saying, "I don't think that there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape." Karin Rosander, chief of communications for the Prosecutor's office, said that the investigation into the charge of molestation would continue.
On 1 September, Swedish Director of Prosecution Marianne Ny announced that the rape investigation would be reopened.
On 18 October, Assange was denied residency in Sweden. Shortly thereafter, Assange returned to London.
On 18 November, the Stockholm District Court approved a request to detain Assange on suspicion of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion. Director of Prosecution Marianne Ny stated that Assange was unavailable for questioning.
On 20 November, Swedish police issued an international arrest warrant for arrest of Assange via Interpol.
On 8 December, Assange surrendered to London police, then taken to an extradition hearing.
Act II
Those interested in the blow-by-blow details can read them at For our purposes, we can jump-cut to the near-present, when suspicions began that it was the long arm of the American government that wanted its fingers around Assange's throat. Naturally, the US denied any such thing, only to be contradicted today (18 August) by the Sydney Morning Herald, in a story titled "US intends to chase Assange, cables show", from which I quote:

AUSTRALIAN diplomats have no doubt the United States is intent on pursuing Julian Assange, Foreign Affairs and Trade Department documents obtained by the Herald show.
This is at odds with comments by the Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, who has dismissed suggestions the US plans to eventually extradite Assange on charges arising from WikiLeaks obtaining leaked US military and diplomatic documents.
The Australian embassy in Washington has been tracking a US espionage investigation targeting the WikiLeaks publisher for more than 18 months.
The declassified diplomatic cables, released under freedom of information legislation, show Australia's ambassador, the former Labor leader Kim Beazley, has made high-level representations to the US government asking for advance warning of any moves to prosecute Assange.

Read more:

We are not quite yet at the climax in this powerful play of sex and politics, but clearly the audience's sympathies have been divided, several times over.
One camp sides with the position of the American government, regarding Assange as the bin Laden of the Internet, intent upon the destruction of the USA.
Its immediate opposition cites the American sacred cow of Freedom of Speech in Assange's defense, and adds to this that charges of treason, etc. are irrelevant since Assange is an Australian citizen.
Still another group argues that he ought to return to Sweden and face the charges. Some of the more extreme in this camp go further and argue that any defense of Assange amounts to blatant sexism. Its opponents argue that should Assange set foot in Sweden, that government would happily honor the US request to extradite him to face the music of an American court. Others argue that granting an extradition to the US might result in a death sentence for Assange.
In Canada, which refuses any requests for extradition made by any country in which the death penalty might result), opinion (as judged by letters to the CBC and virtually all the nation's important newspapers) in favour of Assange far outweighs that supporting the Swedish extradition request -- precisely because of the fear that a successful extradition to Sweden will, despite the outcome of any trial in that country, result in a subsequent extradtion of Assange to the US.
This writer's mind is mixed on this drama. I applaud Assange's intentions with Wikileaks, and deem it a strike against government secrecy and in favour of the people's right to know. On the other hand, I deem charges of rape exceedingly serious. On still another hand, I've read too much John Le Carre to dismiss the possibility of a setup engineered by the darker elements of US policy, and also seen too much to doubt the extent of the pressure the US can apply to its friends, not to mention the petulant reaction the US can be expected to take when its "friends" do not acquiesce (as for example the reaction against France when it refused to play along in Iraq).
So I have come up with a final Machiavellian move: Ecuador should make Assange a citizen and a diplomat of its nation, thereby extending all the rights and privileges of diplomatic immunity. Hence, the freedom to ride out of the embassy in a limousine, and board a plane to Ecuador. The irony here, of course, is that Ecuador is among the least friendly nations to the concept of freedom of expression.

All along, Assange has polarized discussion over the WikiLeaks web site, whose most notorious (or heroic, depending on your viewpoint) act was to release hundreds of thousands of documents detailing US secret actions in countries all over the world.
Meanwhile, another group of

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