Thursday 11 April 2019

Thinking and Chewing Gum

Let's be quite clear about Julian Assange: he's a pretty awful character. Few but the most blinkered would disagree with Judge Michael Snow's description of him in court this afternoon as "a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interest". And there are the politics too. Despite his status as a cause célèbre/poster boy for a section of the left, his views are anything but. Look how Assange has reciprocated their solidarity by hobnobbing with Nigel Farage and supporting Donald Trump. Not the kind of person the left would normally locate on their side of the barricades.

But ah, Wikileaks. Undoubtedly Assange and his associates did the world a favour by publishing secret documents and diplomatic cables, including graphic evidence of war crimes by the United States army in Iraq - earning him the undying enmity of the foreign policy establishments in the US and the West. So yes, it is a disgrace that the US are attempting to extradite him on spurious counts, and doubly so as the British government are likely to hand him over for something that isn't a crime in the UK. Assange is repugnant, but if solidarity actions depended on a personality test then our movement would never have got anywhere in the first place.

However, and it is truly depressing that this has to be said, just because the US are gunning for Assange that doesn't mean other things can be washed away. And by "other things", I am of course referring to certain rape and sexual assault charges that saw him wind up in Ecuador's embassy in the first place. At the time, sections of the left bent themselves over backward apologising for him. Let us remember we live in a world where sexual assault and rape goes under-reported, and conviction rates are pitifully low. When a woman comes forward to make allegations she faces the unpleasant prospect of having her sex life picked over in open court, as well as harassment from members of the public. Remember the Ched Evans case? Utterly disgusting. And such behaviour isn't confined to celebrity cases either. The minimum anyone making a serious allegation of this nature can expect is to be taken seriously and an investigation take place. A position I'm sure all people would agree with. But not in Assange's case.

Because Wikileaks had publicly embarrassed the US military, the rape and sexual assault allegations made by two Swedish women could only be false. Bits of the left transformed themselves into amateur sleuths as they raked over the statements, arguing that Swedish law had a very particular definition of rape that wouldn't stand up elsewhere, that the women were already "in the sex game" (© George Galloway), that it was a CIA "honey trap", or simply it was a straight up lie. And they say the left doesn't have a sexism problem.

These charges haven't gone away, by the way. In Swedish law charges are time limited, and in Assange's case they would be due to expire in August next year. They were temporarily parked while he was indisposed, but according to reports one of the alleged survivors has asked for the case to be reopened - which is in the gift of the prosecutor. And if they agree the extradition request can be renewed. Therefore anyone going round saying the charges have been dropped are full of it. And even if the Swedish prosecutor had the fact remains Assange skipped bail. Now, it is rare for someone to get banged up by an English court for this like Assange has, but in a case where there was a very public flouting of judicial authority an extended stay in HM hostelry was inevitable.

It is then fairly simple. Assange's extradition to the US should be opposed - that much is obvious. But it is equally self-evident there is an outstanding case to answer, and so his extradition to Sweden shouldn't be. Are Assange's supporters capable of thinking and chewing gum at the same time?


Darrell Kavanagh said...


Though it's easy enough to separate the two issues logically, as you have here, practically it is not so easy.

Today, within minutes, it seemed, of being arrested for jumping bail on the Swedish allegations, he was also arrested pending extradition to the US, which on the face of it, confirms everything Assange has claimed for the past 7 years about the real reason he sought asylum in the first place.

This, combined with the judge's entirely gratuitous comments on Assange's character which you quote, does not bode well for an extradition hearing which considers anything except the criminal interests of imperialism.

Then there is another problem: if, somehow, Assange avoids being extradited to the US by the UK, but is then returned to Sweden to face the allegations of rape/sexual assault (as far as I am aware, there are not yet "charges" - maybe a pedantic point, but we do well to be accurate on these things), it is now obvious (as he always said) that he will face another extradition attempt by the US.

I'm not saying that this is easy: serious allegations have been made against him in Sweden, and his accusers (and Assange himself) should have their day in court.But it is impossible to disentangle this from the political and journalistic free speech issue unless it could take place in a country without an extradition treaty with the US - France has been mentioned.

I realise that this idea is most likely fantasy, not least because it is overwhelmingly likely that he will be extradited to the US from the UK (in which case, he will never have to face the Swedish allegations, which is a problem in itself).

But my point remains: it is not possible to formally, legalistically, separate the two issues in a bourgeois legal system which upholds individual rights at the same time as, in the final analysis, it represents the naked class interests of capitalism, in a case when the two become entwined. In this sense, this case is a indication of the kind of tensions to come, as we attempt a socialist transformation while (essentially, in my opinion) retaining an independent judiciary.

SimonB said...

Now you’ve done it. Any mention of Assange brings out the bots and fanboys in their drives. And I mean boys.

Mathew Blatchford said...

You really are working very hard to justify criminal (or at least extraordinarily biassed and dishonest) conduct by the British judiciary and government on the basis of unproven allegations against the victim of that conduct, even though you supposedly oppose that government and question the agenda of its judiciary.

It's almost as if you had a hidden agenda on this issue.

fanboy1 said...

Just no.

Anonymous said...


The MSM are keen to smear Assange, and seem to have influenced you – but alternative sources of information are available. Here's an example:

Martin said...

Darrell has said it far better than I could. But, if he were extradited (although I believe European Arrest Warrants aren't technically extradition) to Sweden, what is to ensure he is not then extradited to the USA? In a nutshell, that was the issue he faced before seeking asylum. It seems 7 years of misery have changed nothing.

I have a feeling that we like our martyrs to be strong and silent, morally upstanding individuals who go to the scaffold bravely and are executed without too much fuss. We can then mourn them and write long indignant articles about their nobility and the perfidy of those who killed them. Assange doesn't fit that image at all. He's embarrassed the left, outraged the right, and seems morally ambiguous with an unsympathetic nature. But, it is easy to take the side of those we like, the deserving dissidents. just as we want the poor to be photogenic, humble, and warm before we help them. Perhaps Assange's biggest mistake is not to be likeable.

Anonymous said...

Are we capable of thinking and chewing gum at the same time, thats as likely as you researching your story before printing it, so you tell me you sanctimonious Arse

Phil said...

Perhaps you can enlighten us with your "facts"?

Anonymous said...

Read the Craig Murray article flagged above, it's full of "facts" which you seem intent on ignoring.
A couple of other points, why is it the charges in Sweden were not pursued while he was in Sweden?, he was interviewed there and there was deemed no charge to answer and yet when the Americans become involved Sweden suddenly decides that it wishes to extridite a man on charges considered so light that such an extradition has never been considered before.
He has never been charged with rape or even accused of it, despite the fact that you equate the case of Ched evans in the article.
Read the Craig Murray article and see exactly what the charges levelled at Assange are and you will find that there is not only no charge of rape but after his interview in Sweden all charges were dropped and he was allowed to leave the country freely.

Now Tim despite the fact that I am arguing with you I do have respect for you and read your blog regularly, I tend to agree with a great deal of what you write although I can't agree with your idea that the Tory party is dying (they will be back, the hope is that it will be a Tory party more in the Macmillan mode than the Boris mode)however this article is not only wrong I suspect it is deliberately disingenuous and the terms you have couched it in suggest that you think anyone who doesn't agree with you is incapable of critical thinking.

Thus my regrettably angry response

Anonymous said...

Jonathon Cook on the "rape" charges

CaliRose said...

Phil - ok I know this was a very long time ago that I got into a discussion with you about Assange - I think it was on FB and not in this comment section - but it’s still bothering me (not obsessively lol) - the thing is I actually love your blog and agree with you on most things so your animosity towards Julian Assange and willingness to believe the “he’s a disgusting, narcissistic, rapist” line was a little bit jarring to me. I read this today and would invite you to read it and maybe think again about what has been going on here.....