Truth, according to Mark Twain is stranger than fiction, because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t. I think he’s right when it comes to the growing sordid spectacle enveloping the once internet hero, now turned international fugitive Julian Assange. But, I think it’s the fiction which has the world transfixed-especially the mobs who gather outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, screaming “Free Julian” along with other epithets about a British lead conspiracy to lock the man up without a fair trial. Reminiscent of the crowds gathered around Madame Thérèse Defarge the fictional character in the book A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, the supporters of Assange protest his innocence under the broad umbrella of free speech, suggesting a world wide conspiracy by those in power to dupe us all about the real state of world affairs, because Julian revealed all through Wikileaks Yet, they seem to be overlooking some very important salient points in the matter. Firstly, the real world of politics and diplomacy is a world fraught with tensions, mistrust, dangerous liaisons, and often acute misunderstandings of the intentions of ‘the other’. That’s why we have agencies and organizations like MI5, MI6, CIA, and KGB and so on. No-one trusts anyone. Why? Well its called human nature-but its human nature institutionalized, through a myriad of processes over millennia, and requires more than few lines on a blog to unravel. But as a starting point try a history of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell, or study a history of the Classical World or a history of the Popes, the Reformation, even the many examples from the variety of Civil Wars; or better still read the complete works of William Shakespeare!-all will give a glimpse into the complexity of the human character and help understand why diplomacy survives on hushed conversations, backroom deals and many other kinds of dealings, which for those with a weak moral appetite would find very distasteful. Yet, it is why many of us are able to enjoy our hard won freedom, even though it’s a kind of bandied about ideal style of democracy, with limitations. For anyone to claim such dealings are corrupt, as the mother of Julian Assange did on a recent BBC World News interview, via Australia, is profoundly naïve. Equally naïve, are the protests outside the Ecuadorian embassy. I have never supported Wikileaks. I thought the act of releasing stolen, private documents belonging to those charged with being the keepers of their nations’ business and secrets, the men and women who engage in the high stakes political and diplomatic dramas of the day was a dangerous and naïve act. Many lives from the political and diplomatic services, along with armed forces personnel were put at risk, along with the professional lives of many civil servants. But, this is only my opinion and many readers will disagree with me.
Having released the cables, Wikileaks attempted to use them as leverage against governments to be more open and transparent (how naïve is that!) by saying they had more and would release them at their will and pleasure. Mistake number one. Never take on a power greater than yourself (read your Machiavelli). Enter Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, hero to many who were promoting a kind of proletariat glasnost, without really understanding what the stakes were and what was up for grabs-the integrity of the Diplomatic Corps and wider circles of global politics and diplomatic relationships. Many countries, including the Australia, the United States, Great Britain along with Saudi Arabia (the latter in particular, as it confirmed what we already thought about its double standards and good times-party driven elite) were horrified at their private political and diplomatic dealings becoming breakfast reading for the literati and motivation fodder for the various protest groups around the world. Not since Watergate’s hunt for deep throat has an all out investigation been launched to find the source of these leaks. It had to be an inside job-and rightly so; one poor devil, a US serviceman, Bradley Manning admitted being the source for many of the leaks. What motivated such an act of betrayal? Who knows? There’ll continue to be speculation as the case goes to trial, but claiming diminished responsibility for being a serviceman and Gay seems lame to me, and an insult to the thousands of loyal Gay service men and women throughout the US and in other countries.
Mr. Assange claimed that he had done nothing illegal in setting up his Website and releasing the Wikileak cables as they have come to be known. And he is right. However, from an ethical point of view as far as I’m concerned- he is wrong. He acted out of his own mis-guided, politically driven self-interest (not the public good-most of us were quite content to leave the politicians and diplomats to get on with their jobs). However, shortly after we settled down to watch how the Wikileaks affair would play out an unexpected call from the past came for Mr. Assange – a kind of wikikarma happened! In a twist of irony his claim to protection under the law came back to haunt him as he found himself at the center of sexual assault allegations in Sweden. It now seems that two of his trysts and himself have had very different recall of events which took place mid August 2010 while Mr. Assange was on a private visit to Sweden to speak at a gathering of the Social Democrats Brotherhood Movement. Mr. Assange and his host (whom he had not met before) had sex in her apartment. The basis of the legal argument in Sweden is the consensual nature of that encounter. Moreover, at the same convention he met another woman and they too had sex, and matters of a consensual nature surround that liaison too. There doesn’t seem to be any causal link between the sexual encounters in Sweden, and the leaking of confidential cables and documents by Wikileaks as far as I can see-yet the voices of the protestors and supporters of Mr. Assange claim there is a link and that link is a conspiracy by the United Kingdom, Sweden and the United States of America to use the practice of rendition and whisk the Wikileaks founder to the US or perhaps Guantanamo Bay, hold a Military trial and execute him. It’s almost too good for a John Grisham Plot isn’t (perhaps it’ll become one?) Once the sexual assault allegations were made in Sweden, the authorities attempted to get Mr. Assange to return-he wouldn’t. Perhaps with good cause, as in his mind he felt there was a conspiracy against him too, he was completing his own kind of psychological Sudoku as events unravelled. Mistake number two. Don’t muddy the waters and claim a conspiracy when the heat’s on. Conspiracies are generally overrated. Most of them are so logically driven and full of possibilities they would only fit into a work of fiction. Some of the more obscene ones are that the US was responsible for 9/11; there was a plot to kill JFK (thank you Oliver Stone for your distortions on this tragic event); that aliens are here on earth and attempting to govern us (oh oh-so that’s what Mitt Romney’s all about?)
On the 20th August 2010, the Swedish Public Prosecutor issued a warrant for Mr. Assange’s arrest, but within 24 hours it was withdrawn-there were some disagreements in the office of the Swedish Public Prosecutor, such is the nature of that role and office. Mr. Assange was questioned by police in Stockholm and denied the charges. He later left the country, and disappeared for a short time, but after Interpol issued an arrest warrant, because the Swedish Public Prosecutor’s office reopened the case, Mr. Assange gave himself up to Police in London. There followed a number of bail and extradition hearings all the way to the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court-all of which were not in favor of Mr. Assange. He had exhausted legal avenues and was order to be extradited to Sweden to face the sexual misconduct allegations against him. Perhaps the matter could have been cleared up at this point? After all Sweden, like the United Kingdom has an independent judiciary. Not so according to Mr. Assange’s now worldwide group of supporters including well known celebrities Michael Moore, Ken Loach, Jemima Khan and Bianca Jagger. They claim a person is innocent until proven guilty and everyone has a right to the truth. I try to avoid my big wide yawn at this point because whose truth are we are talking about here? It seems the truth of jurisprudence isn’t enough anymore. Furthermore, one cannot stay in a suspended state of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ for eternity, as Jemima Khan would like to see. There has to be resolution for all parties- Mr. Assange, the women who made the allegations, and the Swedish legal system. At least I thought so, until the extraordinary announcement that Mr. Assange would seek political asylum in Ecuador claiming political persecution. Ecuador!? I’ve been to Ecuador. I traveled extensively throughout the country in 2001, and stayed in Cuenca for a month. It’s a beautiful, poor developing country in the Americas. It’s had its own troubled past with regional powers, including the US. It’s hardly a bedrock of open government and democracy –the kind Wikileaks and its founder claim the West isn’t! It’s brutal in its response to opposition and repressive when it comes to free speech. So apart from a lack of an extradition treaty with Sweden, it’s only going to provide Mr. Assange with a vestige of freedom initially (assuming he gets out of the UK), but later he will have to pay a price for this move. This is mistake number three. You never get something for nothing anywhere-especailly in the world of international diplomacy and politics. In making its announcement to grant him asylum the Ecuadorian government said:
“The government of Ecuador believes that these arguments lend support to the fears of Julian Assange, and it believes that he may become a victim of political persecution, as a result of his dedicated defense of freedom of expression and freedom of press as well as his repudiation of the abuses of power in certain countries, and that these facts suggest that Mr. Assange could at any moment find himself in a situation likely to endanger life, safety or personal integrity” So, the plot widens (there’s definitely a novel and movie here!).
As it now stands Mr. Assange is a prisoner of his own dialectic in the confines of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He is a fugitive from both the British and Swedish justice systems. What began as the releasing of illegally obtained private diplomatic and political documents in 2010 has now turned into an internationalized political and diplomatic drama involving six countries on five different continents. The Organization of American States has called a meeting of foreign ministers for August 24 to discuss the fall out from Ecuador’s decision to grant asylum to the WikiLeaks founder. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction-who could have written a more engaging real-life political and diplomatic thriller than the players in this drama-the possibilities for its conclusion are endless and are way beyond the parameters of the fictionalized events of any author’s pen.
Isn’t transparency a desirable ideal? Checks and balances are healthy for power, even those that aren’t institutionalized – like vigilante journalists. Aside from the ethical argument, the world is already heading towards increased transparency anyway given technological advancements so we may as well learn to deal with it.
Given the complex world of international diplomacy and power politics you describe, is it that ridiculous to suggest the possibility of the arrest warrant being issued under political pressure? And given the diplomatic might of the US, its not insane to ask whether they are able to influence Swedish politics. Surely we’ve seen stranger things in real life geopolitics. Of course who really knows, but your derisive interpretation doesn’t allow for some very realistic possibilities.
Most governments I can think of have engaged in human rights abuses, so when we talk of free countries we talk of a spectrum – and Ecuador may be worse on that spectrum than some countries. And perhaps an anti-imperial sentiment is also at play here. But none of this takes away from the argument of why Assange should be granted asylum. And as a side-note, the OAS only became involved when the UK threatened to send police inside the embassy, breaching the principle of a country’s embassy being its own territory.
I’m of the view that too much transparency isn’t helpful for a stable social and political community, and thus isn’t a desirable ideal; however checks and balances however falllible (which we have in the West and they seem to work well) are desirable ideals. I also think enforced or usurped transparency of the kind your refer to isn’t helpful. I don’t see any threat of an arrest warrant from the US being enacted in Sweden as Sweden has it’s own independent judiciary. Moreover, the Europeans as you know from history don’t take kindly to US interference in their own affairs, so I don’t agree with your perception of US diplomatic muscle. Derisive or not it’s the illogicality of this farce which fascinates me, hence the very limited possiblities in the real world. I think it’s necessary to step back from the asylum issue and have the allegations of sexual misconduct resolved first and foremost. Thanks for your comments on my opinions.