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In Defence of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks

The pursuit of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange by the US and its allies serves to highlight the hollowness of the self-proclaimed adherence of these states to principles such as “the rule of law” and “democracy”. In their determination to shutdown WikiLeaks and take Assange into custody we see how the ideological underpinnings of liberal capitalism are quickly cast aside when the strategic interests of imperialism are threatened. 

While there has always been a tension between capitalism and democracy this becomes particularly acute during a time of crisis such as the one we currently living through. It is therefore no coincidence that the financial collapse and endless wars of this period have been accompanied by a wholesale assault on democratic rights. The limited space allowed for opposition and dissent under “normal” capitalist conditions has been steadily eroded. Any impediments to the capitalist programme for recovery, of which wars of aggression are a fundamental element, cannot be tolerated. This is the context in which the persecution of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks has to be viewed. 

WikiLeaks is seen by the US and its allies as being disruptive of their strategic objectives. Over the last five years it has subjected their actions to unprecedented public scrutiny – whether this be the release of the “Collateral Murder” footage that shows the killing of Baghdad civilians by a United States Apache attack helicopter; the Afghanistan- Iraq War Logs which exposed widespread abuses and crimes; or the diplomatic cables which revealed not just the real opinions of US officials but also their involvement in corruption and deceit across the world. Such revelations have served to expose the reality of US imperialism and weaken support for its agents and collaborators in other countries. WikiLeaks certainly played a role in adding fuel to the fire of the Arab Spring that saw the overthrow of a number of US allies. Its revelations have also reinforced political movements in South America seeking to steer the continent away from US hegemony. While WikiLeaks is not the main mover in these events nor consciously anti-imperialist it has certainly performed a useful service. The hostility it has provoked from the imperialist powers is a testimony to that. 

Given this context socialists should defend WikiLeaks. We should also take a sceptical view of the legal proceedings that have been initiated against its founder. Sadly, the critical facilities of a large section of the left (including some socialist groups) seem to have been suspended when it comes to Julian Assange. This undoubtedly stems from the allegations of sexual assault that form the basis of the efforts to extradite him from the UK to Sweden (and most certainly onwards to the US). That so many on the left are unable to take a rational let alone socialist view of the claims against Assange illustrates the degree to which the adoption of various forms of identity politics over the last thirty years has completely overridden their judgement. The position of groups and individuals on the left most hostile to Assange is derived not from a socialist perspective but from a version of feminism that at its most extreme ascribes to men a collective guilt for the oppression of women. This leads to the long history of activists and whistleblowers being subjected to malicious allegations being ignored while basic principles of justice, such as the presumption of innocence, are dismissed out of hand. 

An objective examination of the legal proceedings against Julian Assange strongly suggest that he is the victim of a political frame up designed to deliver him into the custody of the US military. Firstly, there is the timing of the sexual assault allegations against Assange - coming in the run up to the release of the US diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks. Secondly, there is the way the allegations have been handled by the Swedish police and prosecutors. They were initially dismissed by a senior prosecutor in Stockholm and only revived after the intervention of a right wing politician who is now acting as a lawyer for the two women who made the accusations. So right from the beginning there has been a clear political motivation to the proceedings against Assange. 

At the time of writing the Swedish authorities have still not lodged formal charges against him. It should also be noted that Assange voluntarily attended an interview with Swedish police and only left the country after he was informed he could do so. It is not true that he has been evading these allegations. He has also offered to be interviewed in London by Swedish prosecutors, an offer that was rejected despite such procedures being used in other cases. In their determination to take Assange into their custody the Swedish authorities have employed methods, such as the issuing of an Interepol Red Notice, that are usually reserved for war criminals and terrorists. The British Government threatened to withdraw diplomatic status form an embassy in which Assange had sought refuge. Is it believable that Sweden and the UK are going to such lengths just to question someone about allegations that may not even get into court? 

Another disingenuous claim by opponents of Assange is that there is no foundation to his fear of being transferred into the custody of the US military. They claim that there is no extradition request from the US relating to Wikileaks. While this is true it is also on public record that the US has been investigating Wikileaks; that a grand jury has convened in Virginia to prepare a case; and that the US government has already issued a sealed indictment against Assanage. Of course the US government isn’t going to show its hand by making an extradition request before it is sure it can take him into custody. If Assange was sent to Sweden, where he would be detained for a period of at least four days, this process would be much easier. It would just be a case of transferring him from one prison to another. Despite its image as a liberal non-aligned state Sweden has a long history of collaboration with US imperialism. The incident of this which most pertinent to the Assange case came in December 2001 when the Swedish government revoked the political refugee status of two Egyptians who were handed to a CIA kidnap squad at Stockholm airport and "rendered" to Egypt, where they were tortured.
It is also dishonest to claim that the decisions on whether to extradite Assange to Sweden and onto the US are solely judicial. This ignores the politicised nature of the legal systems in the UK and Sweden (which has been illustrated already in the rulings in relation to Assange) and also the fact that ultimately decisions on extradition are taken by Governments. The British Government claims it is bound by court decisions but in 2000 it over-ruled a judgement allowing the extraction of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet to Spain. This is despite the fact that his responsibility for the murder and torture of thousands of people was never in doubt. In Sweden, decisions on extradition rest with a Government whose leading members have made their anti-WikiLeaks position very clear The Swedish prime minister has attacked Assange and WikiLeaks publicly and even hired former Bush administration official Karl Rove to advise him on the case. Another key figure is foreign minister Carl Bildt who has well documented ties to Republican Party. With such people making decisions on his case Assange’s fears of being transferred to the US are well founded. 

If Assange were to fall into the custody of the US he would likely be subject to harsh treatment. We need only consider the fate of Private Bradley Manning, who is accused of disclosing classified information to WikiLeaks and has already been imprisoned for over 800 days under the most abusive conditions. If Assange were convicted on sedition charges he could face the death penalty or a lifetime in a military prison. Given these circumstances it is clear that Julian Assange has a real fear of persecution and a firm foundation for seeking asylum. 

To defend WikiLeaks and Julian Assange is not to dismiss the oppression of women. But if we look at the legal proceedings against Assange from socialist perspective it is not unreasonable to conclude that he is the victim of a political frame-up which is wholly related to his activities as the founder of WikiLeaks. Socialists should not allow justifiable anger over sexual violence against women to cloud our judgement or force us to make concessions to the forces of imperialism.


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