If Julian Assange had been accused of sex crimes after attending, say, the CIA Christmas party, it would be understandable if suspicion arose as to a possible frame-up. However, the allegations against the prominent WikiLeaks founder have been made by two Swedish women who – as Assange told the reporters John F. Burns and Ravi Somaiya of The New York Times in October – were once among his “fans”.
Still, many people believe what they want to believe – that’s what conspiracy theories are all about.
So it came as no surprise when Annie Guest reported on the ABC’s PM last Friday that protesters at a rally in Brisbane “all seemed in agreement of a conspiracy behind Assange’s charges”. The demonstrators came equipped with a sign quoting John Pilger – perhaps Australia’s best known conspiracy theorist.
Judge Howard Riddle, who heard Sweden’s case for extradition in London last week, came to a different conclusion. He said the case was “not about WikiLeaks”. The judge added that “it is an allegation in another European country of serious sexual offences alleged to have occurred on three separate occasions and involving two separate victims”.
That’s the point. Australians travelling overseas are advised to act in accordance with local laws. It may be that Sweden’s laws on sexual assault are unreasonable.
And it may be that some judges in Britain are too reluctant to grant bail due to concerns about an accused absconding. In time these matters will be resolved in the European judicial systems.
Meanwhile, Assange is entitled to receive assistance from Australia’s diplomatic representatives – which is occurring.
So, what’s the problem?
If Assange were just another Australian backpacker travelling in Sweden, his case would have raised scant attention in the media, and it is impossible to imagine that any protests would have been organised in his support. But Assange is in the news because WikiLeaks has taken on the United States over its military role in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and is in the process of making public hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables.
Then there is Assange’s obsession with self-promotion. For example, this month The New York Times Style Magazine published a large colour portrait of the WikiLeaks founder, fashionably unshaven, along with a sympathetic profile. Assange has become something of a hero to self-hating Westerners who believe their governments are at best corrupt and at worst murderous.
Needless to say, there are no stylistic portraits of 23-year-old Bradley Manning, who is in US military detention facing the prospect of half a century in prison for providing the US cables to Assange and his supporters. Profiles of Manning suggest he is a troubled and confused young man who has been used by WikiLeaks in its campaign against the US.
In an article in The Australian last Wednesday Assange presented himself as the person who invented the idea of using “internet technologies in new ways to report the truth”. In doing so he resorted to a cliche, accusing the Gillard government of “trying to shoot the messenger because it doesn’t want the truth revealed”.
Assange went on to assert that “not a single person, as far as anyone is aware, has been harmed” by revelations by WikiLeaks. This is a heroic and self-serving assumption which trusts that autocratic nations will not act against their citizens who have been named as supporters of the West by WikiLeaks.
As L. Gordon Crovitz pointed out in last Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, WikiLeaks is not really about the free flow of information leading to the truth but, rather, an attack on the information technologies of Western governments which will severely constrict their ability to operate. This is evident in Assange’s essays titled Conspiracy as Government and State and Terrorist Conspiracies – both of which are available on the internet.
The profiles of Assange by Raffi Khatchadourian in The New Yorker in June, by Burns and Somaiya in The New York Times in October and by Stuart Rintoul and Sean Parnell in last Saturday’s Weekend Australian tell a common tale. The WikiLeaks founder, who was born in 1971, is very much a product of the hippie-intelligentsia that inhabited the likes of Byron Bay and Magnetic Island, where Assange spent time in his youth.
Assange’s mother, Christine, railed against authority – including the authority of democratically elected governments. This is the familiar hippie scenario where government
is the enemy – except when it is providing taxpayer-funded education, health and welfare services. Assange was brought up to oppose authority. This he has done for much of his life – except now when he
is attempting to rely on the authority of British law to prevent his extradition to Sweden.
Julia Gillard and Barack Obama have acted correctly in upholding the right of democratic governments to conduct confidential discussions with their appointed diplomats and to make some decisions in secret at a time when there are external and internal threats to national security.
President Obama has described the dumping of documents as “deplorable” and the Prime Minister has depicted the act of acquiring the material as illegal.
For her part, Gillard has been the recipient of predictable criticism from the Greens (Adam Bandt, Bob Brown), the independent MP Andrew Wilkie and sections of the Labor Left. Last week a collective of academics and civil libertarians – including the American intellectual Noam Chomsky – fired off an angry protest to Gillard telling her to speak up for “democratic principles and the rule of law”.
Strange – since the rule of law entails that judicial proceedings should proceed independent of the executive arm of government. This suggests the Assange fan club believes that there should be one law for the WikiLeaks founder and another one for everyone else.