Anti-WikiLeaks campaign undermines anti-rape campaigns

Friday, August 24, 2012
Julian Assange speaks from the balcony of the Ecuadorean embassy, August

The personal saga of WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange has been used to overshadow the ground-breaking journalism of WikiLeaks in exposing the secrets of governments and corporations around the world.

Australian diplomatic cables obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald in December revealed, “WikiLeaks is the target of an 'unprecedented' US government criminal investigation”. Despite this, the Australian government continues to argue publicly that it has no knowledge of a US campaign against Assange — the site's editor-in-chief and founder — and even argued it was highly unlikely.

It is unsurprising that the main party incriminated by WikiLeaks' releases — the United States government — is out to make an example of those involved. One of thousands of hacked emails from private spy firm Stratfor released by WikiLeaks in February said the US had a sealed indictment against Assange.

Assange was granted political asylum by Ecuador on August 16 after staying in Ecuador's British embassy since June to avoid extradition to Sweden. He remains in the embassy in a stand-off with British police who have backed down on their threat to raid the embassy.

Assange fears being extradited from Sweden to the US on potential charges of espionage — with the possibility of facing torture and execution. The cruel and unusual treatment of the alleged leaker of the US cables, Bradley Manning — facing 52 years in jail if convicted — is an example of Assange's potential fate.

Swedish authorities want to extradite Assange for questioning over rape allegations. He has not yet been charged with any crime. Swedish authorities have refused Assange's offers to be questioned in Britain. Assange has said he is willing to go to Sweden if there is a guarantee he will not be sent to the US.

Karin Rosander, Director of Communications for the Swedish Prosecution Authority, told BBC Radio 4 on August 21 that the prosecutor had given no reason why Assange could not be questioned in Britain.

Ecuador's decision to grant Assange asylum is based on the fact neither Sweden nor the US could offer any guarantees Assange would not be extradited to the US.

The mainstream media have played their part in poisoning public opinion with a range of attacks on Assange's character, many bordering on the ridiculous. His detractors have labelled him an egotistical “megalomaniac”, a “monstrous narcissist” with bad manners and poor hygiene. The fact that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie did not attend his 40th birthday party was another source of mockery.

Assange's bid for asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy has been treated more like a soap opera than a matter with important implications for journalism and the right of the public to know what their governments do behind closed doors.

However, unlike the gossip about Assange, the rape allegations should not be treated as trivial. Some of Assange's supporters have dismissed the rape allegations as fake or downplayed their seriousness.

One example was British MP George Galloway who said on August 18: “Even taken at its worst, if the allegations made by these two women were true, 100% true, and even if a camera in the room captured them, they don't constitute rape. At least not rape as anyone with any sense can possibly recognise it.”

This kind of statement is deplorable and deeply damaging to the cause of women's rights. The women's rights movement has fought hard to have these matters taken seriously, against a history of cover-ups, victim-blaming and impunity. Trying to excuse such behaviour — no matter who is accused of doing it — plays into this sexism and should be considered unconscionable for progressive people.

The accusations deserve to be taken seriously, but the highly politicised circumstances in which they have been used by the authorities means the possibility of a fair legal process for Assange is unlikely.

The accusations were first made in August 2010, immediately after WikiLeaks released thousands of secret US cables about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which exposed lies and criminal conduct by Western forces. Swedish prosecutors initially dropped the case, until it was reopened after influence from Swedish politicians.

In December 2010, Swedish authorities put out an arrest warrant for Assange — now in Britain — immediately after WikiLeaks began releasing secret cables from US embassies, exposing yet more crimes and lies, this time on a world scale.

Stephanie Convery said at Overland.org.au on August 22: “it is incredibly naive to believe that all the state attention on the Assange case has anything to do with sexual violence”, pointing out that historically “these forces do not care about women and they certainly do not care about victims of sexual assault.”

Convery said the allegations “need not impact on our opposition to extradition, but they too need a political response, for a whole host of reasons. We don’t have the knowledge to pass judgement on the truth of the charges [allegations] but that shouldn’t be an excuse to dismiss the possibility of their legitimacy.”

In an August 23 column in The Guardian titled “We are Women Against Rape and we do not want Julian Assange extradited”, Katrin Axelsson and Lisa Longstaff — members of the British group We are Women Against Rape — wrote: “It seems even clearer now, that the allegations against him are a smokescreen behind which a number of governments are trying to clamp down on WikiLeaks for having audaciously revealed to the public their secret planning of wars and occupations with their attendant rape, murder and destruction.”

Axelsson and Longstaff said: “Justice for an accused rapist does not deny justice for his accusers. But in this case justice is being denied both to accusers and accused.

“The judicial process has been corrupted. On the one hand, the names of the women have been circulated on the internet; they have been trashed, accused of setting a 'honey trap', and seen their allegations dismissed as 'not real rape'. On the other hand, Assange is dealt with by much of the media as if he were guilty, though he has not even been charged.

“It is not for us to decide whether or not the allegations are true and whether what happened amounts to rape or sexual violence — we don't have all the facts and what has been said so far has not been tested. But we do know that rape victims' right to anonymity and defendants' right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty are both crucial to a just judicial process.”

The writers concluded: “Whether or not Assange is guilty of sexual violence, we do not believe that is why he is being pursued. Once again women's fury and frustration at the prevalence of rape and other violence, is being used by politicians to advance their own purposes ...

“That the US has not presented a demand for his extradition at this stage is no guarantee that they won't do so once he is in Sweden, and that he will not be tortured as Bradley Manning and many others, women and men, have. Women Against Rape cannot ignore this threat.”

Axelsson and Longstaff pointed to Britain's gross hypocrisy: “In 1998, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was arrested in London after an extradition request from Spain. His responsibility for the murder and disappearance of at least 3000 people, and the torture of 30,000 people, including the rape and sexual abuse of more than 3000 women often with the use of dogs, was never in doubt.”

Despite this, “the British government reneged on its obligation to Spain's criminal justice system and Pinochet was allowed to return to Chile. Assange has not even been charged; yet the determination to have him extradited is much greater than ever it was with Pinochet.”

The struggle over Assange is not about the allegations of rape. These are a separate matter from the attacks on WikiLeaks. These have included a financial blockade orchestrated against the site by major financial institutions, the persecution of alleged whistleblower Bradley Manning and the documented evidence that US authorities have drawn-up secret charges with which to pursue Assange.

Using the allegations as a cover for the attacks on WikiLeaks is the exact opposite of treating sexual assault seriously.

From GLW issue 935

Comments

Support for Assange is not betraying feminism.

I am personally sick of being told as a feminist that I am betraying other women or negating abuse against them because I support Assange's case for asylum, for god sakes some of us are actually capable of nuanced thought. I have never heard any women, feminist or otherwise, say that he shouldn't face the allegations against him and although I personally find it strange that the women involved continued to have contact with him after the encounters took place, that doesn't mean that rape/s didn't occur but is something for the court to determine. However, we know from the 4corners report that Assange was questioned about the allegations prior to leaving Sweden and was released and free to go. Media reports in the Independent have since stipulated that the US had informal talks with Sweden about extradition in 2010, so he is right to be concerned. This whole issue can be solved quite easily if Sweden gives reassurances that Assange will not be extradited to the US upon return or they question him at the Ecuadorian embassy but of course they won't and that is why I will continue to support him until such time as reassurances are given.

Assange should face his accusers.

This is not about wikileaks or the USA, this is about Assange's refusal to face his accusers.

Accusations are Lies and only the powerful are allowed to lie.

The accusations are lies and that is why there is so much controversies surrounding Assange's harassment. Assange has all the facts but his accusers have difficult time holding on to the straws to prove their case. Here in America there is freedom of speech but who gets to enjoy the liberty depends who you are with. If Assange was working for the Washington Post he could go to the White House to question the top brass. But Assange is neither a US citizen nor is part of a big and powerful media and that is why he is persecuted. The powerful are only afraid of the next powerful and therefore Julian Assange is nothing more than an annoying disposable entity. My views are extremely liberal and that is why I am not liked by many. An extreme conservative may be living in fear because of my presence but since they are brain washed in believing that a liberal can cause damage and harm they therefore do not want to smoke the peace pipe with me.

what part of rape = sex without consent don't you get?

A united response will only be possible when our male comrades unambiguously reject rape culture. Like many feminists who were outraged over the attacks on Wiki leaks and the persecution of Bradly Manning I am equally astounded and deeply disappointed at how many men supposedly from the progressive side of politics have become rape apologists.

The acts described are rape.

That is not to say that a) Assange committed them, or b) what is widely reference is even what the women allege.

But what IS described is rape: not surprise sex, not poor sexual etiquette, not misbehavior. RAPE.

Like many feminists my frustration with some comrades is GROWING as they clumsily and offensively defend the acts themselves in their efforts to "defend" Assange (cult of personality much) or Wiki leaks. In doing so they alienate a great many of us and fragment an already marginal left voice. And that pisses me off. YOUR misogyny is NOT my fault. Our righteous anger at the defense of acts of rape is created by the relentless defense of the acts themselves. (again whether or not JA actually committed these acts). This capitulation of some in the left to right wing rape apology is playing right into the hands of US imperialism. It is this which has served to effectively silence the truths that have come out of Wiki leaks. Shame on those who have fallen for it. Shame on you for being rape apologist: and shame on you for effectively ensuring the alienation of the feminist voice. Can you not understand how impossible it is to stand with you when you defend Assange over the raped bodies of ALL women. How disgusting that condemnation of American war crimes have become secondary to the defense of a perverse male privilege of access to women's bodies against their will.

Tainted

I sincerely understand why anyone would feel that defending Assange is defending rape (and I have had personal experience with rape and the memories became fresher than I would have liked thinking through this). Likewise, I simply see that the 'rape apologists' (albeit clumsily) are simply trying to point out that the same is true for Assange and that he is forever tainted at the very least by all of this, even if he were to be exonerated. It seems to be a lose-lose situation. Did you see the ABC 4 Corners programme, 'Sex, Lies and Julian Assange' ... it has some objective unfolding of information that I found extremely interesting, and does not cast negative aspersions on the women involved (perhaps that is just me) or certainly not like the newspaper headlines that Assange woke up to in Sweden, whereupon he learnt of the allegations. It would be interesting to know who 'leaked' this information, given that it is quite illegal for the police to to do so, though some have suggested there should be an investigation and charges laid.

Ecuador asylum: second-best option for the US?

If we assume (reasonably) that the US' preferred option would be to rendition Assange to some military prison, how does the current situation rate?

They don't have Assange, but neither is he free. His character is under the shadow of the allegations in Sweden. If Sweden or the US gave a guarantee that he would not be extradited or renditioned to the US, then he could go to Sweden and face the legal case there. Even if Sweden simply questioned him in the Ecuadorean embassy, or via video linkup, they could resolve it.

I think they must have judged that they could not get a conviction, were Assange to be questioned or tried. Which is not to say Assange is or isn't innocent; rape is hard to prove in courts in any case; but that's not the point. If Sweden questioned him, and it came out that he couldn't be found guilty, then the smear against his name would no longer be hanging over him.

So as an ally of US foreign policy, I'm pretty sure that's why Sweden refuses to question him in the UK or Ecuador. They don't want this resolved, they want to hold the rape allegations over him. I doubt that their intentions have anything to do with getting justice for the two women.

As long as there is no guarantee against rendition, Assange has no choice but to avoid extradition at all costs. So he's taking the only course of action he reasonably can; but it's also the second-best outcome for the US and the enemies of wikileaks. The losers are the truth, the rights of whistleblowers that wikileaks upholds, and also (yet again) the rights of women to have accusations of rape taken seriously.

It's sad that old lefties (who should know better) like Humphrey McQueen, and George Galloway feel they have to ignore and attack the rights of rape victims, to defend Assange. There's no need. It's not our place to find him innocent or guilty. We just have to stand against the hypocrisy of Sweden and the US and defend Assange against the revenge the empire is seeking to extract on him and wikileaks.

Assange

You shouldn't be equivocating over the vital and imperative necessity of defending Julian Assange from the attempt by imperialism to silence him and his organisation, Wikileaks. Giving credence as you do to what is an obvious attempt at a stitch-up job on Assange by the international bourgeois authorities, through circulation in the media and elsewhere of unsubstantiated allegations of sexual violence against Assange, weakens the possibility of building a united response by the international left to this concerted attack by the enemy class on our democratic rights. If I, or anyone else, was to allege that the Duke of Edinburgh was a serial pederast, how much credence would such allegations have? If the Swedish or British authorities seriously believe that Julian Assange is guilty of sexual violence, then they should charge him under the relevant statute(s). Otherwise, they should back off.

- Graham Milner

get the facts right re: Assange

"Swedish authorities want to extradite Assange for questioning over rape allegations. He has not yet been charged with any crime."

Under Swedish law he can't be charged until he is in police custody.

If Assange was so afraid of being extradited to the U.S. from Sweden, why did he apply for permanent residence there in 2010?

Get the facts right re Assange

I always understood that swedish justice very well had the opportunity to question Assange by other means of which he offered plenty… He is wanted for questioning, nothing more, nothing less. And I doubt that one has to be in swedish custody to be charged if evidence is strong enough to charge someone. But anybody reading the original documents (published by Rixstep.com if I remember right) can easely see that there is no evidence against Assange whatsoever but plenty of evidence against a case on him. That Assange applied for permanent residence in Sweden or the US is completely new to me. Can you substanciate these empty claims?

Assange spin-cycle

The followers of Assange's cult of personality perform epic gymnastics to avoid the obvious question.

It's easier for the USA to extradite from it's closes ally, Britain. Sweden is not even part of NATO.

Assange is a coward and doesn't want the unpleasant facts of whatever happened in Sweden to come out.