by Fahad Ansari (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 7, Shawwal, 1433)
Julian Assange of WikiLeaks fame is being targeted not because he is guilty of the rape allegation. His real ‘crime’ is that he exposed America’s dirty tricks.
The Julian Assange affair may go down as one of the greatest international manhunts for a suspected rapist in modern history and has all the bearings of a Hollywood thriller. In essence, it involves an Australian citizen accused of rape in Sweden, seeking refuge in the London embassy of a South American country which has granted him asylum over fears he may be extradited to the US and persecuted there for his political opinions. With speculation as to how long he can remain in the diplomatic mission and whether it is logistically possible for him to leave the UK without being arrested, scores of British police keep the embassy under siege whilst the British Foreign Secretary William Hague threatens to breach all diplomatic norms and customs by storming the embassy.
The inevitable question arises as to whether all this is warranted to apprehend a man accused of rape. This is not to undermine the gravity of the allegations but they remain only allegations, especially when the country in which the crime is alleged to have taken place is one which Amnesty International recently condemned for allowing rapists to “enjoy immunity.” According to a separate report earlier this year by the UN agency United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDC), Sweden ranks second in UN statistics with 53.2 reported rapes per 100,000 inhabitants. A 2009 EU study concluded that more rapes occurred in Sweden than in any other EU nation.
Let us remember, Assange has not even been officially charged with the rape or any other criminal offence. Yet, the world is witnessing the type of behaviour by Western countries that is normally associated with the pursuit of fugitives wanted for war crimes, terrorism, and for threatening international security. But that is the reality of this case, which has little to do with rape and all to do with Assange’s role as editor-in-chief and founder of WikiLeaks, a media website which acts as a conduit for worldwide news leaks, with a stated purpose of creating open governance.
His organization is responsible for leaking hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables and secret US military reports exposing US war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, its collusion with death squads in Iraq, and wholesale deceit, corruption and lies of the US and its allies.
For this, current and former US government officials have accused Assange of terrorism, rather than whistle-blowing. US Vice President Joe Biden described him as a “high-tech terrorist,” a phrase later repeated by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
The Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) Peter King has also written to US Attorney General Eric Holder (himself facing calls for impeachment over allegations of improper conduct) calling for Assange to be prosecuted under the Espionage Act 1917 and to be declared a terrorist. King also wrote to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton requesting that she designate WikiLeaks as a foreign terrorist organization due to its being “a clear and present danger to America”. These calls were repeated by Senator Dianne Feinstein and Senator Kit Bond, respectively the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI).
In November 2010, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin called for Assange to be pursued “with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders.” Others have used even stronger language and gone as far as calling for Assange’s assassination. Tom Flanagan, a former aide to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on CBC TV that Assange should be assassinated and that “Obama should put out a contract and maybe use a drone or something.” When the host responded that the comments were harsh, Flanagan was unrepentant and said he was feeling “very manly” and that he would not feel unhappy if Assange “disappeared.” The following month, Republican Mike Huckabee called for his execution and the view was widely propagated by guests and commentators on Fox News.
Furthermore, Bradley Manning, a 24-year-old soldier accused of passing the largest trove of US documents to WikiLeaks, continues to be held in conditions described as “cruel and inhuman” by the UN special rapporteur on torture. He faces up to 52 years in prison for his role in the affair.
In light of the above, Assange’s apprehensions of returning to Sweden out of fear of later extradition to the US appear to be completely reasonable and rational. His seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London is a move made in desperation and out of real fear at the very real prospects of being extradited to the US, where he may face the type of abuse that his organization has exposed in great detail. Moreover, the US Justice Department has confirmed that it was continuing to investigate WikiLeaks, and recently disclosed Australian government documents from last February stating that “the U.S. investigation into possible criminal conduct by Mr. Assange has been ongoing for more than a year.” WikiLeaks itself has published e-mails from Stratfor, a private intelligence corporation, which state that a grand jury has already returned a sealed indictment of Assange.
That the hunt for Assange has little to do with the sex crimes he is accused of is compounded by the Swedish authorities’ stubborn refusal to explore other options to interrogate Assange about the allegations, including interviewing him at the Ecuadorian embassy. The Swedish authorities have often interviewed suspects abroad for more serious crimes so there is no rational basis for refusal in this case. Assange has also committed himself to returning to Sweden immediately if he receives assurances from the Swedish government that it will not extradite him to the US, an option flatly rejected by Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. The British government also has the right under the relevant treaty to prevent Assange’s extradition to the US from Sweden, and has also refused to pledge that it would use this power.
On the contrary, it has threatened Ecuador with withdrawing its embassy’s diplomatic status and forcibly entering the building, a threat followed up with the deployment of scores of police officers outside the embassy with some climbing a fire escape and one standing outside a toilet. With several other South American nations backing Ecuador and the UK not recanting its threat, the political impasse seems far from over. President Correa has said the situation can be resolved by Britain agreeing to give Assange safe passage to Ecuador, failing which the matter could continue for years.
How it ends is anyone’s guess but in light of the US history of deception, corruption and political assassination, it may not bode well for Assange or for Ecuador. Whatever way it ends, we will never know the full truth behind it which is why WikiLeaks plays such a crucial role in the world today, and which is why it and its editor-in-chief are considered so dangerous to America’s interests — far more dangerous than a gangster, a murderer or dare one say, a rapist.