One of the first points I wanted to make is that I dreaded from the start the extent to which Julian Assange had become the public persona for Wikileaks, believing it to be unnecessary and a point of vulnerability. When a project that is larger than any one person becomes publicly identified with one person, then smears against the one become smears against all. This is exactly what we see happening in Twitter, which right now is the primary place where news and debates about the Wikileaks case are moving most quickly (click here to see the stream).
Over this past weekend, the Swedish Prosecutor’s Office issued an arrest warrant for Julian Assange, on the grounds of rape and molestation, and then in a matter of mere hours withdrew the warrant for rape–he had been arrested in absentia in fact, so that announcing he was wanted, publicly, is at best bizarre.
Since then, the two women behind the allegations have become the focus of some of the heated discussion, with the identity of at least one of them now known (she too is in Twitter), and the deliberately distracting “big debate” has degenerated into one of whether the women are being “smeared,” or really are tools of the CIA, or whether Wikileaks supporters are “cultish.” None of this ought to matter either–it is entirely irrelevant. Understanding what Assange means by “dirty tricks” does not require that we lambast the women making the accusations.
This is what I think the discussion ought to be about. My premise is that, yes, the U.S. government will attempt anything to silence, marginalize, or put a stop to Wikileaks, and has said so. Secondly, whether directly or indirectly, the U.S. has applied pressure to the Swedish government, or whether the Swedish government pressured itself to please an ally, is almost unquestionably the case. Having stated the premise, let’s replay the key, known facts, and see what they add up to. All of the sources for these items have been compiled, with annotations, here, and some below.
In summary, this is the argument that I thinks makes best use of the available facts:
- The U.S. government was glad to discover that Wikileaks was, at first, not protected by Swedish law, and not registered for constitutional protection.
- But then Wikileaks obtained such protection, with Assange hired as a columnist, and the site to be hosted by the Pirate Party, an official political party with representation in the Swedish parliament.
- The U.S. was “motivating” at least some allies to take measures against Wikileaks, with Australia known to have taken action, and promising more. The news spreads for governments as it does for the rest of us.
- The Swedish Prosecutor’s Office is the legal arm of the Swedish state, a contact point with the U.S. Whether or not the Swedish government, whose territory was playing host to Julian Assange and Wikileaks, was directly contacted, we do not know, and it may not matter. In any event, justice systems correspond and converse with each other on an international level, on a regular basis, on any of a number of concerns ranging from copyright laws, trade regulations, criminal prosecutions, treaties and conventions, diplomatic affairs, etc. To assume that there was no possibility of discussion of the Wikileaks matter between the justice systems of the U.S. and Sweden would be truly remarkable. That there was some conversation between the two is in fact an assumption, but by no means an outlandish or unreasonable one.
- Had Julian Assange been arrested, it’s possible that the US could have asked Sweden to extradite him.
- That Prosecutor’s office failed to act in a credible and appropriate manner, thus raising everyone’s suspicion, including that of a former Chief Prosecutor who has called for an investigation. Something in this case is not right…and it happens to be “not right” in a very high profile case, which makes the moves even more questionable. The prosecutor who issued the warrant, and spoke to the press, certainly knew who Julian Assange is, and what was at stake with his arrest.
- The real story is what happened in the Prosecutor’s Office…the women who voiced their accusations are almost entirely irrelevant here. Both they and/or Assange are likely to have unwittingly created an opportunity that others could then exploit.
- The Prosecutor’s spokeswoman tells Al Jazeera that she has “no idea” if a set up was involved.
Watch this incredible interview on Al Jazeera:
Evidence of U.S. intent against Wikileaks:
On 19 August 2010, John Pilger reported the following:
In Washington, I interviewed a senior official in the defence department and asked: “Can you give a guarantee that the editors of WikiLeaks and the editor-in-chief, who is not American, will not be subjected to the kind of manhunt that we read about in the media?” He replied: “It’s not my position to give guarantees on anything.” He referred me to the “ongoing criminal investigation” of a US soldier, Bradley Manning, an alleged whistleblower. In a nation that claims its constitution protects truth-tellers, the Obama administration is pursuing and prosecuting more whistleblowers than any of its modern predecessors. A Pentagon document states bluntly that US intelligence intends to “fatally marginalise” WikiLeaks. The preferred tactic is smear, with corporate journalists ever ready to play their part.
Previously, when asked if the Pentagon had any authority to act if WikiLeaks ignored its demands, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell responded: “We will cross the next bridge when we come to it. … If doing the right thing isn’t good enough for them, we will figure out what alternatives we have to compel them to do the right thing.”
We know that the FBI is already involved in investigating Wikileaks and its supporters who facilitated any of the leaks of which Pvt. Bradley Manning is accused. Also, “the Pentagon announced it had launched a criminal investigation into the leak.” The Pentagon asserted that it believed the second tranche of documents to be released could potentially be “more explosive” and damaging to U.S. interests. Tracking down and detaining members of the Wikileaks crew is a priority–we see this from 31 July 2010: “Officials from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Army then told him [Jacob Appelbaum] he was not under arrest but was being detained, the sources said. They asked questions about Wikileaks, asked for his opinions about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and asked where Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is…”
We also know that the U.S. urged allies to crack down on WikiLeaks (10 August 2010), and as we read this news, so does the Swedish government, assuming that it was not directly contacted:
There seemed to be some relief for the U.S. in the news that the WikiLeaks website might not be protected by Swedish Law (06 August 2010): “Rules on source protection are written into the Swedish constitution and effectively block individuals and government agencies from attempting to uncover journalists’ sources. Revealing the identity if sources who wish to remain anonymous is a punishable offence….But the law only applies to websites or publications that possess a special publishing license granting them constitutional protection, and WikiLeaks has not acquired the requisite paperwork.”
While we are also told that, “Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesman Anders Jorle said the government had not been contacted by the United States about the WikiLeaks servers and had no plans to get involved in the matter,” the same spokesman then added, “Any decision to intervene would have to be taken by Sweden’s justice system.”
The Problem of Sweden as a Safe Haven:
But then what happened? Any legal avenue, through the above entry points, now suddenly seemed to be closed off. First, Julian Assange was hired as a columnist: ” ‘It’s no coincidence that I’m going to be writing for a Swedish paper. The Swedish publicist culture and Swedish law have supported us from the beginning’.” Assange also declared that “WikiLeaks will be applying for a Swedish certificate of publication (‘utgivningsbevis’) next week to guarantee that the organisation will be protected by Swedish constitutional law, even though they’ve already been offered such protection from two Swedish publications. This Swedish constitutional protection increases support for WikiLeaks, says Assange.” Another report also suggested that with Assange hired as a columnist, this would facilitate Wikileaks getting a license for full journalistic protections. To make matters even better for Wikileaks, the Swedish Pirate Party agreed to host WikiLeaks servers:
“The Pirate Party, by hosting WikiLeaks, hopes to provide it a safe haven much as it’s done for The Pirate Bay. ‘We hope that the new Parliament will give serious consideration to further strengthening Sweden’s press protection legislation,’ says Assange. ‘Western democracies are not always as free as one might think, and freedom of the press needs constant vigilance. In particular, we would welcome Sweden copying Iceland’s Modern Media Initiative, something that the Pirate Party also desires.’ The Pirate Party, for its part, knows that by hosting WikiLeaks servers the threshold for the confiscation is much, much higher. ‘If the servers are placed at an ordinary web hotel the threshold is of course already high when it comes to making a raid and removing them,’ says Anna Troberg (PP), deputy leader of the Pirate Party. ‘But the political price for touching the servers of a political party is even higher. So we can offer them some added protection, of which they are in great need.’ Some have also argued that WikiLeaks lacks the publishing certificate needed for full press freedom protection in Sweden. Now that The Pirate Party is hosting WikiLeaks the matter is no longer of concern.”
Ending the Safe Haven:
The Swedish Prosecutors’ Office arrested Julian Assange in absentia, and then gave this information to the press, a tabloid to be specific, Expressen (see here). Yet, a few hours later, the Prosecutor’s office reversed itself: “On Saturday afternoon chief prosecutor Eva Finné came to the decision that Julian Assange could no longer be suspected of rape. Considering that, Assange is no longer arrested in his absence.” Why? “When Ms Finné became in charge of the matter on Saturday, she had more information than the first prosecutor had on Friday night.” They do not indicate what that “information” was, and we must be clear, no official complaint was ever filed by those accusing Assange. The Police and the Prosecutor’s office took it upon themselves to take action, without being asked to do so. Why did they release Assange’s name? “Normally, the Swedish Prosecution Authority do not publish the names of persons suspected of crime. The authority did not in this case initiate publication. Late on Friday night, a Swedish newspaper got hold of information concerning Mr Assange’s arrest. When interviewed, the duty prosecutor confirmed the facts presented.”
In spite of the reversal, oddly the Prosecutor’s office claims that “absolutely nothing” suggests errors had been made, by either prosecutor (the one who issued the warrant, and the one who withdrew it).
When Karin Rosander was asked if it might have been a setup she said, “I have no idea.”
Given the obvious irregularities here, which the Prosecutor’s spokespersons can themselves barely veil, “A small Swedish justice watchdog group, RO, said it filed a complaint Sunday against the on-call prosecutor to the Ombudsmen of Justice, an office that investigates wrongdoing by public authorities. The complaint accused her of issuing the arrest warrant ‘without having enough information to make such a decision,’ said Johann Binninge, the group’s chairman and founder.” Even a former Swedish Chief Prosecutor is demanding an explanation for the arrest order:
“The former Swedish chief prosecutor, Sven-Erik Alhem, demands an explanation from the prosecutors that filed the arrest order for Assange and later withdraw the order. Alhem tells the Swedish newpaper Dagens Nyheter that he finds the actions of the prosecutors bizarre and confusing. Alhem points out several actions to DN that he finds questionable; the arrest order was based on the assumption probable cause, the strongest grade of suspicion of crime that is required for an arrest order, and later this probable cause suspicions is withdrawn without the appearence of any new information in the case. This is very confusing. An order for an arrest in absentia is not normally made official as this will give the suspect a chance to escape. This was not the case here it was announce to the world and no one could avoid the media storm that followed these news. In this case when the arrest order was issued for a well known person, extra caution would have been taken by the prosecutor’s office to make sure an experienced and well educated spokesperson could have explained to the public and media the reasons for each step in the investigation.”
The same Swedish group named above, that monitors government actions, also called for an investigation of the original prosecutor, identified on Twitter as Maria Haljebo Jkellstrand: “We can see that, time after time, prosecutors don’t follow the Swedish objectivity laws,” Johann Binninge, founder of Organization for Safe Legal Proceedings, told CNN.”
This is not an ordinary screw up, and this is not a screw up involving an ordinary person.
The Distraction and the Tricks of Debate:
There should be no doubt whatsoever now about at least two key facts:
- Julian Assange is the victim of a wrongful rape allegation, so he is the one who has been smeared.
- That this article, like so much other discussion in the news, and about the news, is a distraction from the real work of Wikileaks and the war in Afghanistan.
Some, however, are determined to cling to the allegations as if for dear life. One example is an apparently well known lawyer in the UK, David Allen Green, whom I have been “debating” in Twitter (that’s if his multiple responses consisting of “ha ha ha” can be considered debate), who goes by the name Jack of Kent in Twitter (in the last hour or so he has moved to close his tweets from public viewing), has a blog by that name, and a Facebook page, and has written: “Is there a WikiLeaks Cult?” –short answer: yes– and “Rape Allegations and Due Process.” He appears to be gallantly defending the honour of these two mystery damsels in distress. His chief concern: that they suffer no smears (even though they seem to have made some of their own, and those led to an arrest warrant, something they did not suffer). One of the persons’ identities is unknown, but in the meantime “Julian Assange, rapist” occupied thousands of screaming headlines.
The other trick, after reducing this to a story about the honour of unfairly tarnished female “complainants” (who never filed any official complaint…and for some reason, Green, as a lawyer even, refuses to grasp that fact), is to make Wikileaks the recipient of charges and attacks against Assange. Thus most of Green’s tweets specified “Wikileaks” when he is actually speaking about Assange. Distraction accomplished, and it is deliberate, and a smear too, especially when those who protest such moves are immediately called “cultists.”
The third trick is to thus malign any suggestion of U.S. interest and involvement as “conspiracy theory” and to naively demand “evidence” (as if the CIA freely furnished documentation about its current and intended actions…which, keep in mind, have been as far fetched as exploding cigars for Castro, among other attempts, let alone unseating various elected governments). That others have recalled how anti-war critic and former weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, went up for sex charges that were then dropped, and that the same “fate” befell anti-war celebrity Robert del Naja, in a pattern that almost perfectly mirrors that of Assange, should at least cause a reasonable person to ask questions. The only conspiracy, then, would be the conspiracy to refuse to ask questions and maintain silence.
There is, even now, considerable circumstantial evidence that incriminates both the U.S. and Swedish governments in the hounding of Julian Assange. There is no definite, decisive, and fully documented proof–and there won’t be, without another leak–that this event and its handling was orchestrated by the CIA. But the best one can do is to construct an argument that makes use of the available facts, and to remember: in the real world, all we need is for three of five fingers to be pointing in the same direction. The U.S. went to war in Afghanistan on far less than that. I do not recall the widespread outrage in the West against Bush and others spouting an “Osama Bin Laden conspiracy theory” even when that is all it was, and no evidence of any kind had been furnished prior to the war, and no attempt was made to provide evidence until years later.