Friday, August 17, 2012

The United States of Butthurt

Julian Assange (Above)
It's a small world after all...
And so the Julian Assange saga gets better and better.  This is a near-perfect story for our time, with Internet technology, war, politics, sex crimes and espionage.  And now as it approaches its climax, played out in the international legal and diplomatic playgrounds of London, Washington and Quito, we have the opportunity to consider some of the larger implications.  There are nearly endless questions we need to ask about this, from why President Corea decided to offer diplomatic protection (there is some question about the legal status of so-called 'diplomatic asylum' in the UK) to someone who, for all intents and purposes is a journalist, to why Sweden has a law on the books regarding condom use, but the most interesting question at this point is how Assange might attempt to get out of Britain, or if that is something that is simply impossible.  You would think that the staff of the Ecuadorean Embassy could simply conceal him in the trunk of a car with diplomatic license plates and drive him to the airport, but the Cameron government has been making some substantially belligerent noises about extraditing Assange, and their willingness to accede to the accepted norms of diplomatic protection is questionable at best.

In many ways, this is a classic tempest in a teapot, much ado about nothing.  Assange, after all, through his web-based organization Wikileaks merely facilitated the publication of various pieces of government classified content - he was not personally responsible for appropriating any of the things he published.  In reality, he is not any more culpable than the New York Times was when they published the so-called 'Pentagon Papers' in 1971.  Julian Assange should be a minor, if interesting, footnote in history.

But there are dark manipulations just under the surface, and a foul aura of authoritarian suppression and inter-governmental conspiracy to silence him, and that makes the whole thing so much more important than just another argument over extradition.  Hanging above the whole affair is the real possibility, however remote, that the United States might imprison him for life, or even kill him, for essentially embarrassing them.  The Swedish case against him has a bad smell.  Governments have long used sex charges to not only silence, but to demonize and discredit political opponents, and the history of Sweden's prosecution of Assange makes the entire case suspect.  The arrest warrant was issued, then canceled by the Prosecutor, only to be re-issued a week later by the Director of Prosecutions.  It's hard not to suspect that there has been significant diplomatic pressure brought to bear by the United States government.

How does it all play out?  Despite the unhinged threats of the British government to violate Ecuadorean sovereignty and forcibly extradite Assange, it is unlikely that this will end in any such dramatic fashion.  Assuming the overarching goal is to stay out of American custody, the best outcome is a negotiated agreement with Sweden to return and face prosecution without the threat of extradition to the US.  There would still be a small risk of rendition, but the nature of the charges and Assange's high profile make that eventuality unlikely.

In the meantime it's a chess game, with Julian Assange sitting in the small Ecuadorean embassy in London, as moves and countermoves are made in legal and diplomatic circles.  While there is no doubt that the UK will do Washington's bidding, it remains to be seen how willing Sweden is to play the role of American lap dog over the longer term.


  1. Mr. Leonard Pierce has also writ (& writ & writ & writ) at length on the subject.

    Hey, remember when Sweden granted asylum to U.S. "deserters" during the Vietnam unpleasantness? Some things do change.

  2. I'll be honest, I'm MOST interested by the tactical/tradecraft challenge - using some combination of diplomatic rules and norms and subterfuge to get him out of the UK. But the fact that even after the debacles in Poland, Italy and Pakistan under GW Bush, the fact that smaller nations still feel like they have to violate their own values when the US demands it is...unfortunate...

  3. I found it hard (!?!#**#&!) to find a summary of the Swedish charges in the USA! USA! USA! press.

    The Times of India has one.