America's net is closing on Assange

December 26, 2010 - 0:0

For some, Julian Assange, the alabaster-skinned, white-haired Wikileaks founder, is a rock star.

Italy's Rolling Stone magazine has named him 'Rock Star of the Year' and placed his image on its cover. His growing host of high-profile admirers and financial supporters is beginning to sound like a Who's Who. They include Imran Khan's former wife Jemima, filmmaker Kenneth Loach, investigative journalist John Pilger, the Nicaraguan-born activist Bianca Jagger, the Pakistani-born British writer/campaigner Tariq Ali -- and Vaughan Smith, a former Captain in the Grenadier Guards who owns London's Frontline Club -- a “campfire” for “foreign journalists to sit around and tell stories.”
Last week Assange was granted conditional bail until his extradition hearing in February. He was taken from solitary confinement in a Victorian London prison to a luxurious retreat, a ten-room country manor house surrounded by 600 acres of farmland, belonging to Vaughan. But Mr. Assange, who is wanted in Sweden to answer questions concerning rape allegations and has been charged with absolutely nothing, is a worried man.
His problem is that following his publication of sensitive U.S. diplomatic cables that have embarrassed not only Washington but just about every capital in the world, he genuinely fears for his life and the lives of his whistle-blowing colleagues. But before you're tempted to write him off as paranoid, remember that a number of U.S. politicians and media people have literally been baying for his blood. Indeed, several want him labeled a terrorist to be hunted-down and assassinated.
I doubt that the Obama administration would get its hands that dirty, but those calls could inspire all sorts of haters and lunatics to eliminate a man the American establishment views as a grave enemy. Such vindictive bloodlust spewing out of the mouths of American politicians and senators is not only reprehensible it also negates their ability to be lawmakers.
When it comes to the allegations of rape, Assange has protested his innocence. And, indeed, on the face of it, there is something fishy about the Swedish arrest warrant when the file had been closed for lack of evidence and then re-opened by a different prosecutor at the instigation of a Swedish politician. It seems strange that Sweden would pursue this matter with such vigor when Sweden categorizes rape in three tiers depending on gravity. In the case of Assange, the charges have been downgraded to the most minor category, which, even were he to be tried and convicted, would not usually merit jail time.
Another mysterious aspect to the matter was Britain's Crown Prosecution objection to bail, which Assange's lawyers initially believed was at Sweden's behest. In fact, the Swedish authorities later announced that they were indifferent as to whether Assange received bail or not when the British prosecutor involved said he didn't know who was pushing for denial of bail either.
This confusion appears to lend credibility to Assange's assertion that the Swedish arrest warrant is politically-motivated. He believes it is a mere delaying tactic. He says the whole thing has been cooked-up so as to give the U.S. Attorney-General time to come up with an applicable U.S. law prior to lodging an extradition request of his own. That isn't as outlandish as it might sound when the Swedish government cooperated with the CIA in secret to allow rendition flights carrying abducted detainees to operate via its airports and airspace.
America may be vilifying Mr. Assange, but prosecutors have been scratching their heads to find a charge that would stick in a country whose First Amendment protects freedom of speech. He's not a “traitor” as some Fox News anchors have been suggesting because he's Australian, not American. And so, they are trying their best to get him on charges of espionage. But as Assange didn't personally download America's secrets, for that, they would require evidence that he had conspired to do so. That's easier said than done...or is it?
A report in the Independent newspaper suggests that U.S. authorities have been trying to lure Bradley Manning -- the young army private in their custody thought be directly responsible for the leaks -- with a plea bargain in return for his court testimony that Assange coerced or enticed him to download the material for onward transmission to Wikileaks.
If faced with the possibility of life in prison, Manning may be tempted to say whatever they want him to. If he does, the U.S. prosecutor will be empowered to build a reasonable case for Assange's extradition from either the UK or Sweden. Indeed, there is a strong possibility that Manning has already bowed to pressure as, according to the Independent, a grand jury has already been secretly empanelled in the U.S., awaiting Assange's arrival on American soil.
Ever since the so-called 'War on Terror' days, Britain's extradition treaty with the U.S. has been simplified and made more expeditious, to the extent that it has become almost routine without any need for the U.S. to provide hard evidence. I should mention, too, that this treaty is a one-way street as the U.S. is under no obligation to reciprocate.
In recent weeks, Washington has remained silent on the topic but in the last few days, the U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden has referred to Assange as a “high-tech terrorist” and says efforts are underway to charge him and pursue his extradition. Biden's use of language illustrates that Assange has already been tried and convicted in his eyes, which does not bode well for Assange were he to end up before a U.S. judge and jury. It's very unlikely that he can receive a fair trial across the pond as any jury pool will already have been tainted by press reports and will have an inherent nationalistic bias. Moreover, it's doubtful whether his personal safety can be guaranteed in a country where senators are demanding his assassination.
As Uncle Sam tightens his net around Mr. Assange, his future may lie in the hands of the British judicial system, which has long enjoyed a worldwide reputation for being fair and independent. On appeal, Mr. Assange was allowed bail, which is a good sign, but whether a British judge will be prepared to deny a Swedish or American extradition request on the grounds that such may be politically-motivated or that the defendant's chances of a fair trial are dim, is yet to be seen.
Whatever discomfort Mr. Assange's organization has caused the great and the powerful, he's no terrorist, he's no traitor, and he's no spy. Julian Assange is nothing more than a journalist, a disseminator of information, who stumbled upon a scoop to die for. Hopefully, if there's any justice left in our U.S.-manipulated world, he won't have to.
(Source: Arab News)