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Wings over Sealand


How to make a martyr

Posted on August 22, 2012 by RevStu

Alert viewers will have noticed a drop in the frequency of postings on this blog, and it was a toss-up today between what we're about to discuss and posting some pictures of bizarre confectionery-branded candles. And actually, what the heck – you've not had much in the way of content recently, so let's do both.

Seriously, what's the story here? Aren't you just basically inviting small children to eat candles? And is there a cherry-flavoured Skittle anyway? Now, about that rape thing.

We weren't present when whatever happened between Julian Assange and two Swedish women happened, so we're not going to offer a view on whether it did or didn't constitute rape. We're also not going to probe into the somewhat suspicious procedural circumstances of the allegations, because, y'know, feminists.

Because what's really dismaying about the case is, as usual, the counter-productive stupidity of most of the people commentating and agitating about it. There have been some sane pieces in the media, such as this one by Seumas Milne in the Guardian and – somewhat to our surprise – this one by Laurie Penny in the Independent, but most of the coverage has been a predictable outpouring of fundamentalist moralising, usually underpinned by categorical assertions of guilt and a generous sprinkling of constructive and always-helpful terms like "misogynist" and "rape apologist".

Let's be absolutely clear and unequivocal: Julian Assange should face trial over these serious allegations. However, in order to do so he should not be compelled to risk his life, and in the present circumstances that's a circle which simply can't be squared. Numerous blogs and newspaper articles have sought to "bust myths" around the issue, of which this is one of the more restrained examples, but all of them have missed the point. So let's in turn bust a couple of THEIR myths.

"If the US wanted to extradite Assange it would be easier to do so from the UK than Sweden, so he shouldn't be trying to avoid going to Sweden".

This is technically true so far as it goes. The UK's relationship to the US in terms of extradition is that of a particularly timid poodle to its owner, and extraditing Assange from Sweden would require a three-way judicial negotiation rather than a two-way one. However, the scenario by which Assange is extradited from the UK to the US ignores the reality of international relations.

The US and Sweden are allies, and taking Assange directly from the UK to face trial for espionage would be a diplomatic disaster for the US, because it would knock the rape allegations completely out of play. The alleged victims would never see Assange face justice for what they claim he did to them, because once taken to the US he would never leave it. As Laurie Penny puts it in her piece, "nobody should have to stifle one set of principles in order to allow another to live".

The cat is pretty much out of the bag already as far as Wikileaks is concerned. The US wants to put Assange in jail, but not enough that it would court international condemnation and infuriate Sweden by trampling all over its legal system to do it. Perhaps more importantly, doing so would make Assange a martyr, because the issue would then become entirely about Wikileaks and his treatment by the US – somewhere he unquestionably holds the moral high ground – and relegating the rape allegations to an irrelevant footnote.

"But he's safe from extradition anyway, because Sweden and the UK both forbid extradition of anyone facing the death penalty."

Oh dear. Let's assume for a moment that we could trust the US not to promise Assange wouldn't face the death sentence, then put him in a capital trial anyway. And let's assume that they didn't instead arrange to conveniently "Jack Ruby" him either. Let's assume for the sake of argument that they play by the rules and just put him in prison.

Bradley Manning, the Wikileaks suspect the US have already managed to get their hands on, has been detained under extraordinary and unhuman conditions for over two years without trial. There's no reliable way of asserting that Assange – the organ grinder of Wikileaks, rather than just a hapless and vulnerable informant – wouldn't be treated similarly, or even worse. As the continued operation of Guantanamo Bay (which President Obama pledged to close within a year of his election) shows, the USA's commitment to basic human rights is basically zero.

Years would be likely to pass before he faced trial, if he ever did. And when found guilty (let's not go completely crazy and imagine he might be tried but found innocent – there are limits) he'd be shoved in a brutal "supermax" prison for what would in practice amount to the rest of his life.

The offences Assange is accused of in Sweden are at – batten down the hatches, folks – the lesser end of the rape scale. Even if convicted he'd be unlikely to face more than a couple of years in a pretty civilised Swedish prison at the most. One may regard that as overly lenient, but under Swedish law as it stands his certain fate in the US is vastly disproportionate to the severity of his alleged crimes against the two women.

It's all very well for those of high-minded principle to assert that Assange must run that risk in the name of integrity and justice, but we feel confident in asserting that they would be of a different opinion entirely if they were to find themselves in his shoes. It's a fundamental human right, protected by laws worldwide, that nobody should be obliged to place themselves in peril beyond that for which they are legally culpable.

The only way that Assange could be put inescapably behind the eight-ball would be if Sweden gave a binding commitment not to extradite him to the US on the espionage charges. That would leave him with no legitimate grounds whatsoever to resist his removal to Sweden. But David Allen Green in the New Statesman piece linked above tells us that such a commitment cannot be made under Swedish and international law, and Sweden has certainly shown no inclination to do so.

Assange, therefore, has been left with no real option other than the one he's taken, unless he wishes to sacrifice the rest of his life to uphold other people's principles. And that, too, would lead to him being widely (and with some justification) seen as a martyr. His alleged victims, already the subject of suspicion or outright abuse from some misguided or just downright unpleasant quarters, would be portrayed as complicit stooges in America's vindictive and vengeful persecution of a whistle-blower.

Many years, even decades, after Assange would have been released from a Swedish prison even if found guilty, he would still be locked in an inhuman concrete coffin somewhere the USA with no prospect of release, a figure of hero-worship. It's hard to believe that such adulation is the ultimate fate feminists wish for an alleged serial rapist. Yet by insisting he be extradited to Sweden, it's the one they're arguing for.

We have no answers. Perhaps a Swedish court could somehow have been convened in Britain, in the same way a Scottish court was in the Netherlands for the trial of the "Lockerbie bomber". But even if feasible, the window of opportunity for such a move would seem to have now passed. The refusal of Swedish police to question Assange in London gave him a legitimate case that asylum was his only recourse, and it's hard to see any way back from there.

Between house arrest and being trapped in the tiny Ecuadorian embassy in London, Julian Assange has already faced almost two years of confinement, with no end in sight. (And if there is an end, the best he can hope for it to be is a life in exile.) We're not suggesting that that's a satisfactory punishment, from any perspective, for crimes which he hasn't actually been found guilty of. But due to the blind, short-sighted fundamentalism of those pursuing his sexual misdeeds, it may be all that's on offer.

Also, since when did M&Ms even have a smell?

17 to “How to make a martyr”

  1. Dean says:

    One solution would be for the US to give an undertaking that they won't seek extradition from Sweden until the rape case is concluded.
    If, as everyone is saying, he's no more at risk in Sweden than the UK, then they lose nothing by making such an undertaking.
    The really sad thing though, is if the ardent feminists get their way and he goes to Sweden, and if the US then do something that results in him being locked up for life… (especially if found innocent but even if guilty) as you say, he'll be a martyr, and this will drag on, and on, and on. For pretty much his entire lifetime. And all that time it'll be linked to the feminist movement: "they did this" "this is what happens when people try to do the right thing" "a false rape accusation sent a man to solitary confinement for life". That's pretty much that movement done for the next fifty years.
    Unlike the ardent feminists, Assange seems to actually understand what he's risking here.

  2. Indy says:

    There are many issues around the Assange case and I can see there are valid concerns around the possibility of extradition to the USA. But nothing can really overcome  the absurdity of someone claiming asylum from the Ecuadorian Government on human rights grounds to avoid being sent to Sweden to be interviewed by police. Ecuador – Sweden. Which one has the better record on human rights? It cannot be anything but farcical. It may be quite tragic for Assange on a personal level but it is still farcical.
    Regarding the rape stuff.  The specifics of any allegation of rape are rightly a matter for courts. This case looks unlikely to get to court unless things change. But what has come out from various supporters of Assange are views on rape in general which are quite repulsive. George Galloway in particular has crossed a line that should not be crossed. His views and the manner in which he expressed them are not only wrong according to the laws of Scotland, the rest of the UK, Sweden and quite possibly Ecuador, they are repulsive.
    These people are not helping Julian Assange, they are undermining him. This may well be another tragic aspect of this case. We don't know Julian Assange's personal views on rape. There is no reason to believe that he is of the same mind as George Galloway. But he will be forever associated with Galloway's views now. It is very sad.

  3. RevStu says:

    Indy: Galloway's comments were idiotic, taking a small atom of truth and twisting it into something that no sane person could possibly agree with. But he's hardly alone in doing that – Julie Bindel said some stuff on the Guardian yesterday that was every bit as ludicrous, doing the other side no favours either.

    For every vile misogynist loony in this debate, there's an equally contemptible fundamentalist feminist, and it's taken both of them to get us in the mess we're in now.

    Dean: exactly my point.

  4. RevStu says:

    "nothing can really overcome  the absurdity of someone claiming asylum from the Ecuadorian Government on human rights grounds to avoid being sent to Sweden"

    Beggars can't be choosers, though. And as this excellent piece, also from yesterday's Guardian, points out, we probably need to get over our hypocritical Western view of ourselves as the great protectors of freedom:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/21/west-hypocrisy-pussy-riot

  5. MojoJojo says:

    "The US wants to put Assange in jail, but not enough that it would court international condemnation and infuriate Sweden by trampling all over its legal system to do it."
    Why would they have to trample all over Sweden's legal system to do it? There are processes in place for when two countries want to extradite the same person – because surprisingly enough people have been accused of crimes in more than one country before.
    This just seems flimsy, and I just don't see what additional danger Assange would face by going to Sweden.
    Except for getting convicted of rape, of course.

  6. RevStu says:

    "Why would they have to trample all over Sweden's legal system to do it?"

    Because if he goes from the UK to the US, he'll never stand trial in Sweden. How do you imagine that would happen? Do tell us how the "process" would work.

  7. Dean says:

    MojoJojo – I suspect you're probably right. But would you bet your life on it? Because that's what you're expecting someone else to do.

    I'm finding myself also somewhat confused by friends telling me that Assange shouldn't be an exception to the system just because of the bizarre circumstances of this case, and treated like anyone else. And then when he runs off to a country without an extradition treaty, just like the system allows and 1000s of others have done before him, they get angry.
    Much like Laurie Penny's point: people seem to want the system fixed so Assange can't take asylum in Ecuador, but don't want the system fixed so he can have a fair trial.
    (And the notion that either Assange or the woman accusing him can even have a fair trial while the whole US/Wikileaks thing hangs over his head and fuels the fire is somewhat optimistic. God knows if I was the girl involved I'd want that sorting first so my trial could actually be about what happened to me, and not something else entirely).

  8. CdrJameson says:

    I think we're all missing the point here.
    The aim is to get kids to stick skittles and M&Ms up their noses to see what they smell like, not to eat the candles.

  9. MojoJojo says:

    http://www.statewatch.org/news/2003/jul/UK_USA_extradition.pdf

    Article 15 of the Treaty covers this:

    If the Requested State receives requests from two or more States for the extradition of the same person, either for the same offense or for different offenses, the executive authority of the Requested State shall determine to which State, if any, it will surrender the person. In making its decision, the Requested State shall consider all relevant factors, including but not limited to:

    (a) whether the requests were made pursuant to a treaty;

    (b) the place where each offense was committed;

    (c) the gravity of the offenses;
    (d) the possibility of any subsequent extradition between the respective Requesting States; and
    (e) the chronological order in which the requests were received from the respective Requesting States.

    (sorry for the screwy formatting)
    There is also the possibility of temporary surrender, where a defendant serving a sentence can be extradited temporarily to another country to be charged there. But I believe that would still be covered by "Speciality" which means the UK would have to agree to it. (A clause specifically designed to stop extraditions to one country with the purpose of then extraditing to a third).
    It's hard to see Sweden getting outraged by the US possibly taking precedence if the US charges are in anyway serious.
    (which brings up the point that while the US would like to punish Assange, it's not really clear how they could. They have made preparations to extradite him, but can't actually work out a charge, AFAIK. I suspect they're not that keen to actually go through with it because the risk of embarrassment is too large).
     

  10. daneel says:

    Funny how Pinochet got treated a whole lot nicer by the British government, given what he was accused of (including having women raped by dogs, apparently).
    This is now just a stupid diplomatic impasse, to my mind largely caused by Sweden's boneheaded unwillingness to be flexible, which has helped nobody, least of all the two women involved in this case. Assange absolutely deserves to be put on trial for the rape allegations. Sweden have made that impossible.

  11. JP says:

    Worth pointing out that UK and SWE are prohibited from extraditing where death penalty may be used (and they -would- need a guarantee re: that) because of the European Convention on Human Rights, specifically article 2 (right to life). Article 3 (prohibition of torture / inhumane and cruel treatment) is also a strict bar – and the UN have already made a finding that the way Manning was treated was indeed 'cruel and inhumane (on phone so hard to link, but look up Guardian article of 12 March 2012 'UN torture chief rules'). Of course, the ECtHR has also declare SuperMax prisons to be article 3 compliant recently (in the case of Abu Hamza) so I can't see him avoiding them in the long run!

  12. RevStu says:

    "It's hard to see Sweden getting outraged by the US possibly taking precedence if the US charges are in anyway serious."

    Sweden? Maybe, maybe not. The two women alleging rape, though, I'm fairly sure would have something to say about it. Which is exactly the point I made – Assange would be unequivocally the hero/martyr in such an instance, because the whole thing would then be about Wikileaks, with the rape allegations taken out of the equation.

    "They have made preparations to extradite him, but can't actually work out a charge, AFAIK"

    The charge would be espionage.

  13. MojoJojo says:

    Sweden? Maybe, maybe not. The two women alleging rape, though, I'm fairly sure would have something to say about it. Which is exactly the point I made –
    Exact? What about this line –
    The US wants to put Assange in jail, but not enough that it would court international condemnation and infuriate Sweden by trampling all over its legal system to do it.
    The one I actually commented on?
    I agree with the general point that a rape allegation is possibly far better for the US than any attempt at an extradition and trial. A charge of espionage has big political risks – briefly mentioned in this article http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2010/11/is_julian_assange_guilty_of_es.html – it's what I was referring to before when I was talking about a risk of embarrassment. It's been suggested they could try charging him with "theft of government property" as an alternative. From a foreign policy point of view smearing his character is probably the best they can get without risking a domestic scandal.
    However, that's not the point you've made in the article. For example –

    The only way that Assange could be put inescapably behind the eight-ball would be if Sweden gave a binding commitment not to extradite him to the US on the espionage charges. That would leave him with no legitimate grounds whatsoever to resist his removal to Sweden.
    Sweden have already given assurance that they will not extradite Assange unless the UK agrees to it, under exactly the same process and conditions they would have to go through if they were just extraditing Assange from the UK (except Sweden have to agree to it too).  The EAW Framework Decision that they signed in 2002 and came into force into 2004.

    So do you think Assange has any "legitimate grounds whatsoever to resist his removal to Sweden." ?

  14. RevStu says:

    “What about this line? The one I actually commented on?”

    What, the one I already answered? My view, unambiguously expressed in the piece, is that Sweden would be very angry. However, given your contesting of that point I merely accepted that I’m not on personal terms with the Swedish government so it’s possible I’m wrong about that. What surely IS true is that bypassing the rape case would seriously upset the alleged victims, and the entire feminist world, by making Assange a martyr, which is the point of the feature and why it’s entitled “How to make a martyr”. It’s not THAT hard to follow, is it?

    “Sweden have already given assurance that they will not extradite Assange unless the UK agrees to it”

    An assurance which I imagine provides Assange with no degree of comfort whatsoever, given that the UK’s attitude to any US extradition request is to ask “How far exactly would you like us to bend over?” So yes, I do think he has legitimate grounds to resist extradition to Sweden, something else I stated pretty clearly in the article.

  15. MojoJojo says:

    Sorry, you're not making any sense now. It's quite simple – the ability of the US to extradite Assange is lessened if he is extradited to Sweden. In Sweden, the US would need the UK and Sweden to agree, while if he's in the UK, they'd just need the UKs agreement.
    Facing up to the rape allegations does not make him any more vulnerable to extradition, from a legal perspective. Yet you say in the article that if Sweden guaranteed he would not be extradited to the US – something Assange does not have in the UK, and is probably impossible for any country that has an extradition treaty with the US, Assange would have no reason to refuse extradition.
    What is his justification?

    I'm still quite enjoying the idea that the reason the US isn't extraditing Assange isn't anything to do with the difficulty of extraditing him or the difficulties of charging him and the massive embarrassment and risk involved to the administration, but because they US government doesn't want to hurt Sweden's feelings. Sweden

  16. RevStu says:

    "It's quite simple – the ability of the US to extradite Assange is lessened if he is extradited to Sweden."

    Well, no it isn't, because he's currently, for all practical purposes, in Ecuador.

  17. Ozymandias says:

    I have nothing valuable to contribute to this highly interesting debate,  but I feel compelled to point out the following pic:  http://boingboing.net/img/Fmf4Y.jpg

    Apologies for blatantly lowering the tone.  (I've been eating candles all day and it's affected my judgement…)



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