Conspiracy theories from Assange supporters do his case no favours

AS A HUGE fan of the immensely important work that Wikileaks has done in recent years, it has been depressing to watch the deranged cult that surrounds its founder sully its brand.

There is little doubt that Julian Assange, having exposed some of the barbarities perpetuated by the American military in its ill-fated war in Iraq, has reason to fear the wrath of an enraged US government — particularly given the appalling treatment meted out to whistleblower Bradley Manning, the army private accused of orchestrating the biggest leak of state secrets in US history.

However, outlandish claims that a sovereign Western state, Sweden, has morphed into a deferential colonial stooge, desperate to arrest the journalist on the flimsiest of pretexts in a nefarious plot that would ultimately see him incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay, are laughable.

Assange supporters paint his plight as one of a trail-blazing political prisoner, who has been stitched up in an elaborate plot hatched between the US and Swedish governments.

They spin a convoluted tale the details of which, it has to be said, would make an excellent summer blockbuster. Hang onto your tin-foil hats, the story goes something like this.

Assange, in Sweden in 2010 to deliver a lecture, had the misfortune to sleep with two vindictive harpies who later filed complaints against him with the police, alleging a number of serious offences, including sexual molestation and rape.

Absolutely no credence should be given to these fanciful claims as the women are clearly nothing more than scorned groupies and the allegations, even if true, amount to, in the words of noted feminist George Galloway, “bad sexual etiquette” on the part of suave ladykiller Assange.

Enter stage right, in incontrovertible evidence of a high-level conspiracy, none other than Karl Rove, George Bush’s former chief of staff and evil empire spin doctor, who is now acting as an advisor to Sweden’s governing Moderate Party and demanding that country deliver Assange’s head on a plate to the Obama administration.

Not enough evidence for you? What about this for a smoking gun? The law firm representing one of Assange’s accusers is, drum roll please, Borgström and Bodström, which just happens to have Thomas Bodström, a former Swedish Minister for Justice, as a named partner. Mr Bodström was in office when Sweden authorised a 2001 rendition request that allowed the CIA fly two asylum seekers from that country to Egypt, where they were tortured.

This 11-year-old human rights abuse by the then Swedish government is prima facie evidence that a similar fate would befall Assange if he were delivered to a Nordic kangaroo court — a feat that would be accomplished despite the international media microscope that is trained on his every move.

The defence, in the case of reality versus Assange supporters, rests. Convinced?

Regretfully, a less hysterical interpretation of the facts is a far duller, and much more unedifying, affair.

Assange, who submitted to police questioning in Sweden in the immediate wake of the complaints in late 2010, left the country unaware that a police warrant had been issued for his arrest. Since then, he has taken his fight against a European Extradition Warrant (EEW) through three different courts in the UK, the Magistrates’ Court, the High Court and Supreme Court, and lost on every occasion.

His response was to flee to the Ecuadorian embassy two months ago and seek political asylum, which he was duly given.

Unfortunately for him, there is no logistical way for him to get to Ecuador that doesn’t involve leaving the embassy, standing on UK soil and being swiftly arrested and extradited so, unless he’s planning on tunnelling his way to South America, there is a certain inevitability about the conclusion of this story.

His defenders say Assange has persistently said he would happily submit to a further round of questioning, as long as it is done by Swedish police in the UK, and that he would even return to Sweden if the government first guarantees that it will not extradite him to the US.

Sadly, this is where, once again, pesky reality must intervene.

Imagine the chaos that would ensue, if Assange were to get his way and Swedish police did travel to London to question him over tea and cucumber sandwiches, when every other criminal on the continent decided to follow his lead and evade arrest by holing up in embassies and dictating interrogation terms to investigating officers from sovereign states?

The lie that the Swedish government is in a position to offer any guarantee to Assange vis-à-vis an, as yet, hypothetical extradition request by the US has also been firmly nailed by a number of Swedish legal experts, who have been busy blogging on the issue. According to them, it would be impossible for the government to give any such guarantee because the extradition request would first have to work its way through their court system.

Any attempt to preempt the courts would have no binding power and any guarantee would be completely worthless.

Despite Assange’s plaintive pleas, it’s not possibly to rewrite international treaties, or a nation’s criminal justice system, to suit individual cases and the rule of law must be applied evenly to everyone.

Furthermore, the notion that an extradition request in Sweden would be treated more favourably than one in the UK flies in the face of a very controversial extradition treaty, that exists between the UK and the US, which has the effect of express delivering UK citizens, wrapped in a bow, with a minimum of fuss to American prisons.

Assange who, to give him his dues, has been responsible for some groundbreaking journalism in the six years since Wikileaks was founded, is in danger of undoing much of his good work, and playing into the hands of those seeking to discredit the organisation, with his petulant insistence that he is being persecuted by a country which, the crackpots should remember, has been ranked first of 66 nations, by the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index, for its fundamental legal rights.

Meanwhile, his misogynistic supporters, like the odious Galloway, who have apparently developed psychic abilities which allow them to preempt due process and definitively state that the alleged offences are works of fiction, seem to think that, in Assange’s sole case, trial by their gut feeling, that he is an honourable and innocent patsy, is reason enough to dispense with the remainder of the investigation.

This belies the inconvenient truth that if the case against Assange is as weak as is being claimed it will never see the light of a Swedish court and, in the event that it does, Assange will be vigorously defended and his legal team will have ample opportunity to poke holes in the prosecution’s case.

Of course, the only way he can do any of that, clear his name and save Wikileaks from the ignominy of being imminently reduced to a grotesque parody of itself, is to get on a plane and go to Sweden — a scenario that remains, for now, as incredulous as the hyperbolic conspiracy theories swirling around the case.

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Wednesday, October 5, 2022

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