by Adam Ford
Okay, beyond the provocative title, I’m as much in the dark as you are on this one. But I would like to start the article by listing the only things I hold to be self-evident in regards to the Julian Assange story.
One: WikiLeaks is a great thing, providing us with documentary proof of government collusion against the interests of the general public, in favour of the super-rich. Two: we cannot be sure that Julian Assange did not sexually assault either or both of the women at the centre of the allegations against him, because we were not there. Three: the criminal action against Assange is politically motivated, whether he assaulted the women or not. Four: WikiLeaks must be defended from those in positions of power who wish to shut it down and intimidate would-be whistleblowers.
The first statement should be non-controversial amongst likely readers of this article, even though we may not have been surprised by many of the revelations. For those of us with a radical perspective on the relationship between the capitalist class, the state, and the working class, it can’t have been a shock to learn – as we did this week from WikiLeaks – that US ambassador April Glaspie gave then ally Saddam Hussein to understand that the US would stand aside if Iraq attacked Kuwait in 1990. As we already knew, Iraq did attack Kuwait, the first Gulf War began, and Hussein’s grip on Iraq’s oil resources was loosened. Neither should we be stunned thatBritish police forces have been training Bangladeshi death squads since the days of Tony Blair and Robin Cook’s ‘ethical foreign policy’ in the late 1990s. Still, if the international working class ever brings the Bushes and Blairs of this world to trial, we now have lots of evidence to back up a prosecution case. The service that WikiLeaks provides is therefore invaluable, and John Pilger is clearly correct, it does represent a “landmark in journalism”.
Statement two should be very obvious. As with any rape or sexual assault case, the only people who can be certain of the truth are those who were present. No matter how much we don’t want the founder and public face of WikiLeaks to have committed sexual assault, we don’t know either way. And yet many on what might be called ‘the left’ say they are certain that Assange is innocent, that he’s been framed, and is in fact the victim of a smear campaign. Pilger, Ken Loach and Michael Moore all stood bail for Assange, as they had every right to do, but the internet has also been abuzz with proclamations of Assange’s definite purity, and therefore the horrible corollary in all rape cases – the guilt of the accusers. If Pilger, Loach, Moore and thousands of people on the internet were in those rooms on the nights in question, then it must have got very crowded. When one in four surveyed women report being a victim of rape or attempted rape, it follows that some ‘good guys’ rape too. Such is the uncomfortable reality of life in a patriarchal society. As Laurie Penny put it, “If global justice movements had to rely solely on people of impeccable character to further their cause, we would probably still be trying to end slavery.”
Having said all that, it might seem strange to argue that the case against Assange is definitely political in nature. After all, it could be argued that if such accusations have been made, then the accused person has a case to answer. I would agree with that. But extradition for rape is very rare in ‘normal circumstances’. Even more importantly than this, rape statistics show that it is extremely unusual for prosecutors to take such an active interest in a case. Research indicates that an overwhelming majority of rapes are never even reported to police, but when they are, two-thirds are dropped by the cops before a single court date, and only around 5% of reported rapes end in a conviction. We need a new way of dealing with rapes and sexual assaults, but that is a big topic in of itself, and beyond the scope of this article.
In the Assange case, with the extradition hearing less than a week away at the time of going to press, it is understood that he is yet to be questioned by Swedish prosecutors, despite his claims that he offered to meet them during his bail period, and even checked with them before he left Sweden in September. The Swedish prosecutors initially dropped the case, and it was only resurrected when a politician picked it up as part of his re-election campaign. There are many other apparent irregularities and inconsistencies. For example, the day after a magistrate initially denied bail to the as yet uncharged Julian Assange, he granted it to a businessman charged with conspiracy to murder his wife. Considering the type of enemies that Assange has made through his work, it seems highly likely that US officials have pressured their Swedish and British ‘war on terror’ allies to make more of the Assange allegations than they otherwise would have. If that is true, then mud has undoubtedly stuck, whether Assange is actually guilty or not. A Google search shows that 38,400,000 web pages refer to rape, while nearly a quarter (7,900,000) also mention Assange.
On to statement four, and of course communists should stand for free speech – that is, the freedom to say or write anything without fear of what the state will do in response. It is essential that we defend whistleblowing on the pernicious role of corporations and governments in our society. We must do whatever we can to act in solidarity with those under threat from the imperialist war machine that is the US government. While Assange is facing court dates in connection with the sexual assault allegations, his lawyer Mark Stephens has claimed that a secret grand jury is being set up in Alexandria, Virginia, near to the Pentagon. Stephens told al-Jazeera that:
“[T]he Swedes, we understand, have said that if he comes to Sweden, they will defer their interest in him to the Americans. Now that shows some level of collusion and embarrassment, so it does seem to me what we have here is nothing more than holding charges…so ultimately they can get their mitts on him.”
Assange could therefore even face terrorism charges, like Zacarias Moussaoui, an Al Qaeda member who was prosecuted a few years ago in the Virginia East District. Such charges against Assange would be the most direct American attack on freedom of speech since the McCarthy era. He could face imprisonment or indefinite detention, like Private Bradley Manning – who passed the ‘Collateral Murder’ tapes to WikiLeaks – is currently enduring.
As the ruling classes of all nations try to impose the burden of the economic crisis on the rest of us, even ‘liberals’ within the political elites can no longer tolerate any open dissent. The supposed commitment of Western politicians to freedom and democracy is increasingly being exposed for the sham that it always was. We now live in a world where governments can commit terrorist acts on a daily basis, but if journalists tell us about it then they are the ones labelled terrorists. The same label will soon be applied to working class people standing up for their living conditions. It is perfectly possible – indeed under the circumstances it is necessary – to value Julian Assange’s work with WikiLeaks, and keep an open mind on what he did in private.