The report in yesterday”s Herald that Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic Party chairwoman of the US Senate select committee on intelligence, has called for Assange to be prosecuted for harming US national security, does not change his immediate situation.
Assange is wanted in Sweden for questioning about possible rape or sexual misconduct. This has been the situation for close to two years.
Imagine if a right-wing male activist was wanted in Sweden for questioning for similar alleged offences against women. He would have no supporters among the left in general or feminists in particular. Why should this be any different for Assange?
Assange believes the US might successfully apply for extradition if he is in Sweden.
But as the Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, pointed out on Lateline last month, “there”s some legal advice that it would be easier” for the US to extradite Assange from Britain than from Sweden. In any event, it is not clear if the US authorities will seek extradition in this case.
Assange told Radio National Breakfast“s Fran Kelly on June 22 that the Australian government has engaged in “an effective declaration of abandonment” with respect to his case. This comment was made from within the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he is claiming asylum.
Assange is particularly critical of the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon. But what is she supposed to do? Australia cannot interfere when one democratic nation (Sweden) is attempting to extradite an Australian citizen from another democratic nation (Britain).
This was the situation even before Assange skipped bail in London. In a soft interview on Radio National”s Late Night Livewith Phillip Adams before he sought asylum, Assange claimed he had “been detained, without charge, for over 530 days now, under house arrest”. Not so. The bail requirements merely stated that he spend nights at a designated location.
Assange”s problems came about following his decision to address a leftist faction of Sweden”s Social Democratic Party and his alleged sexual encounters with two women associated with the organisation. This is no CIA plot – except, of course, to the conspiracy theorists in our midst. Sweden”s sexual conduct laws may be tough. But they are the laws of a democratic nation and they apply to everyone who lives in, or visits, Sweden.
For the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and her ministers to have acted any way other than they have in this case would have meant Assange had more rights than other Australian citizens in a similar situation.
The hypocrisy does not end here. Assange supporters believe he may end up in the US, where following a trial and a conviction, he could receive a long term of imprisonment. Yet the WikiLeaks founder has shown scant concern for the people named in secret documents that he has released, and that threaten the security of men and women who have supported the US.
In WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange”s War on Secrecy, the journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding quoted the WikiLeaks founder as making the following comment about pro-American Afghans who might be identified as a result of WikiLeaks”s information dumps and could be targeted by the Taliban: “Well, they”re informants. So if they get killed, they”ve got it coming to them. They deserve it.”
In his profile of Assange in The New Yorker on June 7, 2010, Raffi Khatchadourian reported that when it was suggested that WikiLeaks”s dumps might endanger the lives of American forces on the battlefield, Assange conceded he and his associates might get “blood on our hands”.
So Assange and his supporters suggest Australians should be very concerned he might be imprisoned in the US for a long term. However, he and his mates either dismiss or rationalise the fact that his activities might have led to the deaths of others.
The Assange saga has gone on too long already. He would be well advised to leave the Ecuadorean embassy and go to Sweden for questioning. There may well be no charges of sexual misconduct. Alternatively, if charged and convicted, he may serve a brief term of imprisonment.
Following either eventuality, Assange would be free to return to Australia or reside in any country that would accept him.
If, in time, Feinstein”s recommendations are taken up by US authorities, there might be an attempt at extradition. In which case, Assange would be subjected to the law of the nation in which he is residing. He is not entitled to special treatment.
Gerard Henderson is the executive director of The Sydney Institute.