Thursday, 23 August 2012

The Descent into Farce.

The BBC had Newsnight stage a debate over the Assange situation, which began with Gavin Esler asking "Is the case of Julian Assange turning into farce?" The answer is emphatic: yes! This was before Galloway's talk of 'bad sexual etiquette' were brought up and the whole discussion was framed over the question of whether the allegations are legitimate. It was written-off from the outset that there is anything political about these events. Even though the charges were originally dropped after the case was thrown out by prosecutors, only for the allegations to be reinstated after a political intervention from Claes Borgström. It has been quite a sight to see the stampede of the commentariat to condemn Julian Assange and support the ongoing attempts to extradite him to Sweden. David Allen Green led the way that The New Statesman with a clear list of reasons why we should hand over Julian Assange to the Swedes. The Guardian churned out an editorial claiming that the allegations are 'apolitical' and neither Sweden nor the UK would deport someone to be tortured.
Even the radical journos have copped out on this case, Owen Jones was blunt that the Ecuadorian government are wrong to view the rape allegations against Assange as "laughable". No one else would be given this protection, Assange is a rape suspect who skipped bail (he actually hasn't been charged) and he must be extradited as we wouldn't privilege others in this way. Of course, Jones had plenty of ink to pen trite about the lamentable attempts to brand the women who made the allegations as "liars" and as the willing participants of a CIA honeytrap. He even feels the necessity to indulge in the discussion over the definition of rape "Rape is having sex with someone without their consent. And Assange is clearly accused of rape." Someone really should point out that the legitimacy of the allegations isn't really up to debate in Britain. It's strictly a matter for the courtroom. The real debate ought to be whether or not Assange should be extradited to a country that has in the past handed over 'terror suspects' to the CIA.
As John Pilger has noted wisely "In December 2001, the Swedish government abruptly revoked the political refugee status of two Egyptians, Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed el-Zari, who were handed to a CIA kidnap squad at Stockholm airport" only for the two men to be flown to Egypt to be tortured in Mubarak's dungeon. And yet it has become commonplace for liberal journalists to claim that the Swedish government is much more trustworthy than the British government on matters of 'rendition'. In the debate on Newsnight Joan Smith completely dismissed talk of kidnapping and torture, the risk that Assange may be detained in the US as Bradley Manning has been, because it's "nonsensical" to imply that the allegations are false. The only discussion we've been having has been limited to the definition of rape, the legitimacy of the allegations and so on. Any suggestion that the founder of WikiLeaks may be extradited to Sweden only to be handed over to the US can be dismissed as a 'conspiracy theory'.
We shouldn't forget the clause of 'temporary surrender' in the extradition treaty between Sweden and the US. It could be argued, as Richard Seymour has, that this maes it much easier for Assange to be extradited from Sweden to the US than the press are letting on. This may even apply for a suspect to be transferred into American custody while the normal conditions and standards are suspended. It also seems significant that the European Court of Human Rights could not prevent the torture of the asylum seeker Ahmed Agiza. This was a transfer that took place from Sweden into US custody that violated a range of international treaties. Furthermore, as Seymour observes, "Law might be the terrain in which this battle is fought out, the language of its prosecution, but this will be a process of interpretation in which the immense resources of the United States will be brought to bear." The amassed power of the American hegemon translates into legal as well as military, political, economic and diplomatic strength that can be exerted at will.
Meanwhile, Laurie Penny made the case that to properly support the cause of WikiLeaks then one should support the extradition of Assange. There is some truth in what Penny claimed when she wrote that it is in the interests of the United States "to ensure that Assange’s army of supporters cannot defend Wikileaks without also being seen to defend his sexual conduct, whatever the truth of the case." Soon all room for subtlety was lost. She went on to note the various deplorable instances of WikiLeaks supporters describing the allegations of rape and sexual assault as "made up", "bad sexual etiquette" etc. It's a matter of consistency for her. Because WikiLeaks stands for a commitment to justice, transparency and accountability it should see to it that Julian Assange is tried for rape. In a more nuanced moment Penny acknowledges "It is not only possible to defend both women’s rights and freedom of speech. It is morally inconsistent to defend one without the other." Yet it is out of the question that it is possible to do so and not sell Assange down the river.
This is truly a moment where it's clear that the herd instinct is alive and well in the independent minds of British journalism. There's always been plenty of ink for penning cretinous claims and moralistic pablum. So we find WikiLeaks is not excluded from the vitriol of the intelligentsia, especially as it is in the interest of the US government to detain whistleblowers as it has imprisoned Bradley Manning. But just as there has always been the obedient herd of intellectuals there is a small pocket of dissent. There is good reason to support the founder of WikiLeaks, for its continued efforts to undermine the status quo by a relentless commitment to radical transparency as well as human rights and civil liberties. This isn't to say that the allegations are illegimate, or should be ignored, in fact, these allegations are extremely serious. But it is vital that we do not abandon whistleblowers - who are innocent until proven guilty - to the talons of rapacious power.

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