Julian Assange’s extradition hearings have been a brazen example of the US government’s corruption. Rather than honoring a real journalist for exposing the war crimes of our military-industrial complex, many government officials instead call for Assange to be punished for heroically informing their constituents of these atrocities. Of course, that’d only come as a surprise to someone naive enough to think most government officials have their constituents’ best interest at heart, rather than the best interest of corporations such as those involved in our military-industrial complex, represented by lobbyists who grease the palms of those same government officials. If anyone was still under that illusion before, I hope this case will be their much-needed wake-up call.
I’m sure many of you reading this are familiar with Julian Assange, but for those that aren’t, I’ll do my best to bring you up to speed. Assange is credited as being the founder of WikiLeaks, which is easily the most prominent news leaks website to have existed so far. Though their website launched on October 4, 2006, they didn’t post their first document until about two months later, in December. They had a few high-profile leaks prior to 2010, but they didn’t become a household name until April 5 of that year, when they released a video they titled Collateral Murder, in which a crew of US Army pilots flying Apache helicopters fire on a group of civilians, including two Reuters journalists, both of whom died as a result. In the week following the video’s release, WikiLeaks became the search term with the most significant growth worldwide during that week, according to Google Insights.
That video, along with a slew of other leaks, was later revealed to have been provided to WikiLeaks by former US Army soldier Chelsea Manning, who at that time was still going by their birth name, Bradley Manning. Manning was arrested for those leaks on May 26, 2010, and was ultimately incarcerated for almost seven years before President Barack Obama commuted their sentence. After leaking Manning’s material, US authorities began investigating WikiLeaks and Assange himself to prosecute them under the Espionage Act of 1917. Despite this, WikiLeaks continued publishing more damning leaks, some of which helped spark what’s known as the Arab Spring. What began to signal a downward shift in WikiLeaks’ momentum was criminal charges levied at Assange after visiting Stockholm, Sweden, in August 2010.
I’ve read two different accounts of the initial incident that ultimately lead to Assange’s extradition hearings, both of which agree on the bulk of events, but with some slightly different details causing each to paint the situation in a very different light. I’ll start with the first account, then follow up with some details from the second account that fill in some questionable gaps.
The story mainly involves Julian Assange, of course, as well as two women: Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilen. Anna Ardin was press secretary at the time of the Religious Social Democrats of Sweden, commonly referred to as “the Brotherhood Movement,” which is an offshoot of the Swedish Social Democratic Party. Ardin organized a conference, held in Stockholm on August 14, 2010, at which Assange was invited to speak. When Assange landed in Stockholm on August 11, Ardin offered him to stay at her apartment while visiting family for a couple of days. Ardin got back home on August 13, and she and Assange had sex that night, both admitting that Assange had worn a condom and that it broke. Assange delivered his speech the next day, and Ardin threw a party at her apartment that night in his honor.
Sofia Wilen had sex with Assange the night of August 16 and again the following morning. He wore a condom the first time, but not the second time. On August 18, Wilen called Ardin and told her she had unprotected sex with Assange, saying she was afraid she might have contracted an STD or become pregnant. On August 20, both women filed criminal charges against Assange: Ardin alleging that he deliberately broke the condom when they had sex and Wilen alleging that he refused to wear a condom the second time they had sex. The first account claims that Swedish authorities questioned Assange, the case was initially closed, then he was told he could leave the country, but that in November 2010, the case was reopened by a special prosecutor who wanted to question him over two counts of sexual molestation, one count of unlawful coercion, and one count of “lesser-degree rape.” Assange denied the allegations and said he was happy to be questioned in Britain.
The first account claims that Assange was being accused of continuing to have sex with the women after they’d withdrawn consent, but the second account gives more details that I feel make way more sense, given the charges. Firstly, Ardin recounts her and Assange’s intercourse as being overly aggressive, which could explain why they hadn’t had sex a single other time, even though he slept in her bed for another week afterward. Secondly, Wilen alleged that Assange began having sex with her the second time while she was half asleep, without a condom on, after he’d reluctantly worn one the first time. Wilen said she’d never had sex without a condom before, and even one of her ex-boyfriend’s told the police that they’d never once in two and a half years had sex without a condom since it was unthinkable for her. Wilen contacted Ardin and Ardin contacted a mutual colleague of her and Assange, the co-ordinator of the Swedish WikiLeaks group at that time, Donald Boström, asking Boström to persuade Assange to take an STD test, but Assange refused to do so, even after being told that Wilen would go to the police if he didn’t. Ardin and Wilen went to the police on August 20, thinking they would merely force Assange to take an STD test, but instead, police told them they couldn’t simply tell him to do that, and the statements had to be given to the prosecutor.
The second account confirms that police interviewed Assange and set him free afterward; however, he left Sweden in late September and never returned to attend another interview that’d been scheduled with the prosecutor on October 14 out of fear his arrest could ultimately lead to a US extradition, leading the Swedish police to issue an international arrest warrant for him on November 20. Assange turned himself in to the British police on December 8 and attended his first Swedish extradition hearing, being remanded in custody. At the second hearing on December 16, Assange was granted bail by the High Court and released after his supporters paid £240,000 in cash and sureties. A further hearing on February 24, 2011, ruled that Assange should be extradited to Sweden, and it seems like he must’ve appealed that decision a couple of times, since the High Court upheld it on November 2, 2011, and so did the Supreme Court on May 30, 2012.
Still being a native Australian citizen at the time, Assange naturally sought the help of the Australian government, but a letter from Australia’s Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, clarified that his country wouldn’t seek to involve itself in any international exchanges regarding his future, basically leaving Assange to fend for himself. Assange decided to seek Asylum from Ecuador instead, and on June 19, 2012, the Ecuadorian foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, announced that Assange had applied for political asylum, that the Ecuadorian government was considering the request, and that Assange was staying at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The UK Government then sent a letter claiming they had the legal right to raid the embassy, based on one of their laws, but Patiño said that’d violate the Vienna convention. Ecuador officially granted Assange asylum on August 16, with President Rafel Correa saying the next day that Assange could stay at the embassy indefinitely.
Swedish chief prosecutor, Marianne Ny, sent an email to the English Crown Prosecution Service on October 18, 2013, informing them that she intended to lift the detention order and withdraw the European arrest warrant, but the CPS tried to dissuade her from doing so. On February 5, 2016, the United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Assange had been subject to arbitrary detention by the UK and Swedish Governments since December 7, 2010, including his time in prison, on conditional bail and in the Ecuadorian embassy, saying Assange should be allowed to walk free and be given compensation, but the UK government rejected the claim. On May 19, 2017, prosecutor Ny officially revoked Assange’s arrest warrant, adding that they could still resume the investigation if he visited Sweden before August 2020, but Assange announced he’d stay in the embassy anyway since the UK government still wanted him for breaching bail.
Now, this is where things start to get more interesting. Lenín Moreno, formerly Rafael Correa’s Vice President, became President of Ecuador on May 24, 2017. It’s also worth noting that in February 2018, Assange brought two legal actions, arguing that Britain should drop its arrest warrant for him since it had become useless, but in both cases, Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot ruled the arrest warrant should remain in place. Remember her name.
US Vice president Mike Pence visited Moreno on June 27, 2018. We can make an educated guess what they discussed since Moreno started saying he wanted Assange out of the embassy the very next month, and rules seem to have become more strict for Assange not too long afterward, since he filed a lawsuit over them, which an Ecuador judge dismissed in October. Two US House Representatives also practically threatened Moreno to give up Assange on October 16. There’s 0 chance this was a coincidence since the US Justice Department accidentally revealed on November 15 that they’d secretly issued a sealed indictment for Assange, which was later found to have been returned earlier that year on March 6, just two days before the statute of limitations on that charge expired. Moreno’s final straw appears to have been the INA Papers, which he believes Assange had a hand in leaking since they sparked a congressional corruption probe into Moreno after they were released on February 19, 2019.
I’ll give some quick info on Manning since they briefly re-enter the story around this time. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for their part in the leaks, announcing they’d start being referred to as Chelsea Manning the next day, serving that time until President Obama commuted Manning’s sentence and released them on May 17, 2017. The US District Court issued a subpoena for Manning on January 22, 2019, which asked them to appear in court on February 5 – later moved to March 5 – to testify against Assange, but Manning refused to do so, landing them in jail for contempt of court on March 8. Manning was released on May 9 due to the grand jury’s term expiring, but immediately received another subpoena demanding their testimony to a new grand jury on May 16. Manning again refused to testify and was subsequently ordered back to jail that same day, being incarcerated until March 12, 2020, having attempted suicide the day before.
Now, onto the arrest that landed Assange back in British custody. UK authorities were allowed to enter the Ecuadorian embassy to arrest Assange on April 11, 2019, almost certainly in connection with an IMF loan, aside from US pressure and a personal vendetta on Moreno’s part. The judge quickly found Assange guilty the same day of breaching Britain’s Bail Act of 1976, and authorities immediately rearrested him for a US extradition request, the indictment for which was officially unsealed the same day as well, the charge being Conspiracy to Commit Computer Intrusion, alleging that Assange conspired with Manning to attempt to crack a government computer password. Sweden also reopened Assange’s rape case following his arrest. On May 1, 2019, Assange was sentenced to 50 weeks at HM Prison Belmarsh for breaching bail, with the judge saying he’d only have to do half of that with good behavior.
US Extradition Hearings
Assange’s first US extradition hearing was held the very next day, on May 2. On May 23, the US government indicted Assange for 17 new charges related to the Espionage Act, being: Conspiracy To Obtain and Disclose National Defense Information, seven counts of Obtaining National Defense Information, and nine counts of Disclosure of National Defense Information, bringing his total number of charges to 18. At least two US news outlets acknowledged that Assange’s publication of the leaks was virtually indistinguishable from what other journalists have done across the world, including the US of course, and it’s noteworthy that this is the first time the US Justice Department’s used the Espionage Act to charge a third party with publishing classified information, not just the government leaker for providing it. Despite this clear violation of journalistic freedom, the UK’s then Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, signed the US extradition order on June 12.
Now for a real shocker. Emma Arbuthnot – the same judge who, after Assange’s Swedish arrest warrant was dropped, ruled twice that his British arrest warrant should remain in place – initially presided over Assange’s extradition hearings but stepped down sometime in late 2019 after his lawyer argued that Arbuthnot had a glaring conflict of interest and should recuse herself since her husband, James Arbuthnot, was personally impacted by WikiLeaks and is heavily connected to groups that have a vested interest in Assange’s extradition. Vanessa Baraitser was then appointed as the new presiding judge, but Arbuthnot remained the supervising legal figure “responsible for… supporting and guiding” Baraitser. Baraitser announced on September 3 that she wouldn’t allow Assange to be released after his prison term for breaching bail ended on September 22 since she believed he would abscond again. One more critical update from 2019: Sweden dropped Assange’s rape investigation again on November 19, since the evidence by then had weakened too much.
Allow me to clarify: Assange completed his prison term for breaching bail on September 22, and the rape investigation for which bail had been granted in the first place was dropped on November 19, so since then, Assange has solely been incarcerated for a US extradition request, the indictment for which has 18 charges, 17 of those being for obtaining and publishing classified information – acts which are standard practice for journalists. Assange’s final charge of Conspiracy to Commit Computer Intrusion for allegedly conspiring with Manning to crack a government computer password not only didn’t happen, but also: 1) it couldn’t have happened, since Manning only gave Assange a portion of the password hash and it literally would’ve been impossible for him to crack the password without the rest, and 2) it didn’t need to happen, since Manning had already sent Assange all of the leaks besides the State Department cables, which Manning already had full access to without the password. For the cherry on top: extradition for political offenses is illegal due to a US-UK treaty.
Judge Vanessa Baraitser announced at Assange’s latest hearing on October 1, 2020, that she’d issue his extradition decision on January 4, 2021, at 10 AM GMT. She has a 96% extradition rate. Make no mistake: Assange will be extradited – far from the first illegal action in this case – and he could potentially be given life in prison for exposing US war crimes – journalism if it exists at all. Considering this, some have called on President Donald Trump to pardon Assange. A reporter asked if Trump would pardon Assange at a conference, and he said he’d “look into it,” after which Assange’s fiancee, Stella Moris, posted a tweet asking Trump to pardon him as well. Unfortunately, Trump has yet to issue a pardon for Assange but has recently pardoned four war criminals, among others.
Assange’s indictment is an attack on freedom of the press. If he’s convicted, the US Justice Department will have the green light to incarcerate any journalist they feel steps too far out of line. If you see a journalist, political pundit, or politician who claims to understand this case – especially one that claims to be a “progressive,” or any form of socialist, communist, or anarchist – and they aren’t explicitly calling for Assange’s freedom: they’re a grifter. There’s no way around this. A journalist is being indicted for journalism. There’s no nuance to this situation. US Intelligence may not have gone through with plans to murder Assange, but his conviction could easily murder investigative journalism itself.
Originally published at http://www.wspus.org/2020/12/freeassange/.