Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks and simultaneously the most hated and most loved man on the planet, has entered his second week of residency at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, awaiting an answer to his surprise bid for asylum from the South American government.
Assange’s fans may be thinking right now that Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa was all bluster when in an earlier interview with Assange, he intimated that he was a big supporter of WikiLeaks and that he didn’t get intimidated by neighborhood bullies like the U.S. when it comes to protecting his country’s sovereignty and independence. He’s now taking a long time to decide whether to let Assange in or leave him to the mercy of the London bobbies who will arrest the 41-year-old Australian the minute he walks out that door.
“We are analyzing the case with full responsibility and, as we have said a thousand times, we have no deadline to make a decision,” Correa said to reporters on Saturday.
“That decision will be absolutely sovereign and … (show) respect for human rights,” he added.
Correa has a lot to think about: Assange is wanted by the Swedes who wish to question him about charges of rape and sexual assault leveled by two women who admitted they had consensual sex with him in 2010. It’s a complicated case involving broken condoms, midnight sex, and spurned advances, with at least one of the women being accused by Assange’s supporters of serving as a “honey trap” for U.S. authorities to ensnare the elusive hacker-turned-human rights/information activist.
There is no arrest warrant for Assange (one had been issued in 2010 and then withdrawn by Sweden’s chief prosecutor), there’s just an extradition warrant to bring Assange back to Sweden for “questioning” in the ongoing investigation reopened by another Swedish prosecutor. Assange, who denies the charges against him, believes this is a ploy to get him back to Sweden where he will be rerouted to the U.S. to face more serious accusations in the Bradley Manning leak trial, which is now playing out in a court martial at Fort Meade in Maryland.
The U.S. denies it has such intentions, and so do the Swedes, but the U.S. Attorney’s office has been investigating WikiLeaks for two years and Assange has indeed figured into Manning’s trial, in that the Army private is accused of illegally handing over 700,000 stolen classified and secret government documents to WikiLeaks in 2009. There might be an attempt to make Assange culpable in Manning’s alleged crime (for which Manning faces the rest of his life in a military prison) by accusing him of either coercing or helping Manning to download the secured documents in the first place.
Bottom line: Assange is trying to stay one step ahead of the Brits, the Swedes, and the American government, and Correa is the key to his freedom.
Meanwhile, in the Manning trial last week the military judge finally ordered the government to turn over key documents that may bolster one line of Manning’s defense : that his alleged massive leak of documents did little to harm national security or “aid the enemy” as Army prosecutors contend. Manning’s lawyer says the documents include “assessments” by government agencies of the leak damage that allegedly find the harm to be minimal. That is why the government has been stonewalling discovery, the Bradley Manning Support Network charges.
“Any ruling in favor of the truth is a victory for Bradley Manning,” the group said, “because the government’s strategy of abuse, obfuscation and outright deception simply won’t stand the light of day.”
Why should conservatives care about any of this? For ten years the government has thrown up flimsy rationales for keeping the public in the dark about its post-9/11 national-security polices, its wars, its surveillance of Americans and foreigners. It has spied on and intimidated Muslims in the U.S., as well as peace activists, with seeming impunity. It has ignored the checks and balances set up by the separation of powers, while Congress has generally abdicated its authority to engage in proper oversight. Congress instead has allowed the Pentagon and executive branch to flout the Constitution and run the show — and our economy — into the ground, in part by their expansionist military policies and endless wars.
Manning and Assange lifted the rock and exposed all the teeming grotesqueries underneath — not just what our government was doing in our names, but the corruption of world governments and our role in it. It was always up to us to decide what to do with that new knowledge. In some parts of the world it fueled revolution, in others led to tighter controls of information (not to mention the major credit card companies doing Washington’s bidding by rendering WikiLeaks inoperable last year).
Sweden’s extradition fight seems overzealous and fishy — prosecutors refuse to conduct their questioning of Assange in London, for example. The U.S. won’t confirm or deny it has been building a grand jury case against him. For all we know, he could end up in a military prison awaiting trial if the U.S. chooses to hold him under the new detention powers of the National Defense Authorization Act. U.S. officials have suggested (as recently as this week) that he could be tried here, and others have called for his assassination. That both men — one a journalist, both of them whistleblowers — might be sacrificed for the “crime” of allowing us the transparency we deserved from the beginning should raise some serious alarms.
There are those who hate Assange for what he stands for. Others see personality and social defects of a self-serving, narcissistic nature. But WikiLeaks, and the movement it represents, is more than one man, and the arrest and martyrdom of one man could have a chilling effect on what has been a long-due realignment of power. Correa ought to do the right thing and shelter Assange while this thing plays out in the most judicious and most transparent way possible.