Assange: the wrong question

Submitted by Matthew on 26 September, 2012 - 11:26

Paul Field, Mark Osborn, and Andy Forse (Solidarity 254-7) are all, I think, asking the wrong question about the Assange case.

It is not the job of AWL, or the left in general, to be an adviser to Assange. Would he be more at risk of extradition to the USA in Sweden? Maybe. We shouldn’t pretend to be legal experts who can assure him not.

Is he using Sweden’s extradition bid as a way to get more resonance for the demand for assurances against extradition to the USA? Maybe, and if so good luck to him. Has he just panicked? I don’t know.

Our concern is the politics. In political action, rather than amateur legal advice, there are two ways of dealing with the rights of the women who have brought charges against Assange, and the defence of Assange against whatever ploy US government lawyers may devise in order to extradite him (they haven’t found one yet).

Either the Ecuadorean embassy expels him. Or the Swedish government gives assurances that it won’t extradite Assange over WikiLeaks.

If Assange evades US government retribution for Wiki-Leaks that is a blow to US global bullying, an encouragement to others to blow whistles. If the USA gets him, then that is a frightener for future whistle-blowers.

CIA renditions, Guantanamo, Homeland Security — shouldn’t that convince us to demand the Swedish government gives assurances?

If the Ecuadorean embassy does not expel Assange, and so he evades the Swedish courts, that has no broader political implications of diminishing women’s rights, or saying that men should get away with rape, or that rape charges should be taken lightly.

No such implications will flow from the idea that you can escape the courts by... opting for indefinite house-arrest in the Ecuadorean embassy.

Is Assange scared because he thinks that US agencies pumped up the charges, or put pressure on the women, or on Swedish prosecutors, or on Swedish courts? Maybe.

We can (and should) uphold the women’s right to have their charges heard; we should reject attitudes like those of Naomi Wolf, or Alan Woods of Socialist Appeal, who claim somehow to know that the charges are CIA concoctions.

But we would be foolish to assume that such US intervention is impossible. And we should equally reject attitudes like that of the International Socialist Group (Scotland), which tells us it knows, without need for trial or hearing a defence plea, that Assange is guilty of rape.

If Assange were a figure in the left or the labour movement, then “Assange should go to Sweden” might have political meaning — something like: “Our movement shouldn’t be tarnished by these unresolved charges — we demand Assange clear himself in court, even if that means risk of extradition to the USA; and if he doesn’t, dissociate from him”.

Assange is admired by some people around the left or on the left. But he has never claimed to be in the left or in the labour movement. We defend him against retribution by the USA not because he is one of us, but because he has blown the whistle on US misdeeds.

Socialist Worker, The Socialist, the Labour Left, Counterfire, and even major sections of George Galloway’s own Respect group, have all stressed (with differences of detail and tone) that the rape charges against Assange should not be dismissed.

There’s something of a left consensus on that, and rightly so. There should also be a loud left consensus to demand the Swedish government give assurances.

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