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PORTSIDE  August 2012, Week 4

PORTSIDE August 2012, Week 4

Subject:

Don't Lose Sight of Why the US is Out to Get Julian Assange

From:

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Date:

Wed, 22 Aug 2012 23:09:34 -0400

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Don't Lose Sight of Why the US is Out to Get Julian Assange

    Ecuador is pressing for a deal that offers justice to
    Assange's accusers - and essential protection for
    whistleblowers

by Seumas Milne

Guardian (UK)
August 21, 2012

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/21/why-us-is-out-to-get-assange

Considering he made his name with the biggest leak of secret
government documents in history, you might imagine there would
be at least some residual concern for Julian Assange among
those trading in the freedom of information business. But the
virulence of British media hostility towards the WikiLeaks
founder is now unrelenting.

This is a man, after all, who has yet to be charged, let alone
convicted, of anything. But as far as the bulk of the press is
concerned, Assange is nothing but a "monstrous narcissist", a
bail-jumping "sex pest" and an exhibitionist maniac. After
Ecuador granted him political asylum and Assange delivered a
"tirade" from its London embassy's balcony, fire was turned on
the country's progressive president, Rafael Correa,
ludicrously branded a corrupt "dictator" with an "iron grip"
on a benighted land.

The ostensible reason for this venom is of course Assange's
attempt to resist extradition to Sweden (and onward
extradition to the US) over sexual assault allegations -
including from newspapers whose record on covering rape and
violence against women is shaky, to put it politely. But as
the row over his embassy refuge has escalated into a major
diplomatic stand-off, with the whole of South America piling
in behind Ecuador, such posturing looks increasingly specious.

Can anyone seriously believe the dispute would have gone
global, or that the British government would have made its
asinine threat to suspend the Ecuadorean embassy's diplomatic
status and enter it by force, or that scores of police would
have surrounded the building, swarming up and down the fire
escape and guarding every window, if it was all about one man
wanted for questioning over sex crime allegations in
Stockholm?

To get a grip on what is actually going on, rewind to
WikiLeaks' explosive release of secret US military reports and
hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables two years ago. They
disgorged devastating evidence of US war crimes and collusion
with death squads in Iraq on an industrial scale, the
machinations and lies of America's wars and allies, its
illegal US spying on UN officials - as well as a compendium of
official corruption and deceit across the world.

WikiLeaks provided fuel for the Arab uprisings. It didn't just
deliver information for citizens to hold governments
everywhere to account, but crucially opened up the exercise of
US global power to democratic scrutiny. Not surprisingly, the
US government made clear it regarded WikiLeaks as a serious
threat to its interests from the start, denouncing the release
of confidential US cables as a "criminal act".

Vice-president Joe Biden has compared Assange to a "hi-tech
terrorist". Shock jocks and neocons have called for him to be
hunted down and killed. Bradley Manning, the 24-year-old
soldier accused of passing the largest trove of US documents
to WikiLeaks, who has been held in conditions described as
"cruel and inhuman" by the UN special rapporteur on torture,
faces up to 52 years in prison.

The US administration yesterday claimed the WikiLeaks founder
was trying to deflect attention from his Swedish case by
making "wild allegations" about US intentions. But the idea
that the threat of US extradition is some paranoid WikiLeaks
fantasy is absurd.

A grand jury in Virginia has been preparing a case against
Assange and WikiLeaks for espionage, a leak earlier this year
suggested that the US government has already issued a secret
sealed indictment against Assange, while Australian diplomats
have reported that the WikiLeaks founder is the target of an
investigation that is "unprecedented both in its scale and its
nature".

The US interest in deterring others from following the
WikiLeaks path is obvious. And it would be bizarre to expect a
state which over the past decade has kidnapped, tortured and
illegally incarcerated its enemies, real or imagined, on a
global scale - and continues to do so under President Barack
Obama - to walk away from what Hillary Clinton described as an
"attack on the international community". In the meantime, the
US authorities are presumably banking on seeing Assange
further discredited in Sweden.

None of that should detract from the seriousness of the rape
allegations made against Assange, for which he should clearly
answer and, if charges are brought, stand trial. The question
is how to achieve justice for the women involved while
protecting Assange (and other whistleblowers) from punitive
extradition to a legal system that could potentially land him
in a US prison cell for decades.

The politicisation of the Swedish case was clear from the
initial leak of the allegations to the prosecutor's decision
to seek Assange's extradition for questioning - described by a
former Stockholm prosecutor as "unreasonable, unfair and
disproportionate" - when the authorities have been happy to
interview suspects abroad in more serious cases.

And given the context, it's also hardly surprising that
sceptics have raised the links with US-funded anti-Cuban
opposition groups of one of those making the accusations - or
that campaigners such as the London-based Women Against Rape
have expressed scepticism at the "unusual zeal" with which
rape allegations were pursued against Assange in a country
where rape convictions have fallen. The danger, of course, is
that the murk around this case plays into a misogynist culture
in which rape victims aren't believed.

But why, Assange's critics charge, would he be more likely to
be extradited to the US from Sweden than from Britain,
Washington's patsy, notorious for its one-sided extradition
arrangements. There are specific risks in Sweden - for
example, its fast-track "temporary surrender" extradition
agreement it has with the US. But the real point is that
Assange is in danger of extradition in both countries - which
is why Ecuador was right to offer him protection.

The solution is obvious. It's the one that Ecuador is
proposing - and that London and Stockholm are resisting. If
the Swedish government pledged to block the extradition of
Assange to the US for any WikiLeaks-related offence (which it
has the power to do) - and Britain agreed not to sanction
extradition to a third country once Swedish proceedings are
over - then justice could be served. But with loyalty to the
US on the line, Assange shouldn't expect to leave the embassy
any time soon.

[Seumas Milne is a Guardian columnist and associate editor. He
was the Guardian's comment editor from 2001-7 after working
for the paper as a general reporter and labour editor. He has
reported for the Guardian from the Middle East, eastern
Europe, Russia, south Asia and Latin America. He previously
worked for the Economist and is the author of The Enemy Within
and co-author of Beyond the Casino Economy.]

==========

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on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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