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Julian Assange

December 8, 2010

So, Julian Assange.

First: I, personally, have no idea if Assange is guilty or not. That’s for a court to decide. Declaring that he obviously did it is wrong. Declaring that he obviously didn’t do it, and that the charges themselves are necessarily false/trumped-up/spurious, is also wrong.

Second: Regardless of the veracity of the rape charge, it’s monumentally dishonest for Interpol to try and use an unrelated charge as a proxy for what they really want to charge him with.

Third: The amount of vitriol being directed at these two women, and, frankly, women in general, over this case is sickening. I’m having a seriously hard time keeping a level head over this because of the hatred that’s spilling out of unsuspected corners. As so often happens with high-profile rape cases, the misogyny burns. (Uh, if it turns out to be a matter of politically motivated lies, wouldn’t that tend to indicate that it was, in fact, nothing to do with the respective sexes of accuser and accused?) The world is scary, right now.

In conclusion: Everyone should just shut the fuck up and let the case go to trial.

Now, to discussion and refutation of specific things I’ve seen coming up again and again – some from Assange’s opponents, some from his supporters. God, there are a lot of jerks loose on the Internet tonight.

1) Assange comes across as getting a distinct power-trip off this whole business, which is faintly creepy. On the other hand, I guess someone who wasn’t a risk junkie probably wouldn’t be running Wikileaks, so perhaps that’s only to be expected.

2) In running Wikileaks, and putting himself out there as its public face, he has done a spectacularly brave and necessary thing. His bravery does not preclude his being a rapist.

3) I applaud his courage wholeheartedly, and his principles. The free flow of information is one of the great goods of the Internet age, and state censorship is antithetical to democracy. To paraphrase Commissioner Pravin Lal again: “Beware of them who would deny you information, for in their hearts they think themselves your masters.” Assange is a valuable voice against censorship and in favour of knowledge. His principles do not preclude his being a rapist.

4) The people calling for Assange’s imprisonment and/or death over his role in Wikileaks are not people with whom I wish to be associated – various panicked governments, the CIA, Interpol; back when the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs came out, rightists raging about how exposing the inner workings of an illegal war is totally worse than fighting one. In contrast, Assange and his allies are mostly on the same side of the political spectrum as me: anti-censorship, anti-war, anti-imperialist leftists. His left-wing cred does not preclude his being a rapist.

5) There are people claiming that, even if everything happened exactly as the victims say it did, it would still not be sexual assault; that the Swedish government are slapping a criminal name on an innocent activity in order to get at Assange. This is flat-out false. The charges he is accused of are charges of rape. Penetrating a woman who was unable to consent by virtue of being asleep is rape. Continuing to have sex with a woman who has withdrawn consent mid-intercourse is rape. Obtaining consent under false pretences by promising to use a condom and not doing so is rape.  The charges against Assange are real crimes. If he did what he is accused of, that was rape. This is irrelevant to the specific case, but it’s become a huge side-issue in certain bits of the Internet, and it always bears reiterating.

6) All of the mainstream commentary on this is repeating Assange’s lawyers. As Seamus pointed out somewhat acerbically on Facebook, lawyers are paid to cast their client in the best possible light; they’re hardly objective observers of the case. By all means quote them on what they think the legal position is, but an acknowledgement that they are actively affiliated to one side and against the other would be nice.

7) The accusations are generally being treated with extreme scepticism, with these two women’s every action being held up for scrutiny in case they can be somehow construed as evidence that the pair are lying. (Their tweets. Their clothes. Their hair, ffs; what does the fact that they were blonde have to do with anything?) One of Assange’s lawyers called them “trolls” – as in the Swedish monster, not the Internet denizen. Whatever you think of the accusations, the lack of basic decency being shown to the actual people here is horrible.

8) And yet the other party in this fiasco isn’t being held to the same standard of prurient inquiry. Either start treating everything Assange has said and done for the last sixteen months with the same scepticism, or lay off the plaintiffs and leave the damn case to go to court.

9) People are acting like it’s ridiculous that Assange has been a) pursued by the Swedish and British legal systems, b) arrested, and c) refused bail. No, that’s what happens. There’s an accusation open against him; pursuing it to court is what happens. Even if it proves to be totally ridiculous in every way, it can’t be thrown out of court until it gets to court.

10) The two things of which Assange is being accused are being conflated, which is causing much of this monumental pile of fail. There’s the rape case, and the espionage case. The rape case is the one that’s going to court. He has not, as yet, been charged with anything over the espionage. It is widely assumed and quite probably true that the rape charge is here being used as an excuse to get him behind bars, when the reason he is wanted behind bars is because of the espionage. Whether he is found guilty of rape or not, neither verdict will say anything about his moral culpability in the other case. Being a rapist would not suddenly make all his actions with respect to Wikileaks morally suspect. Neither would not-being-a-rapist mean his motives re Wikileaks are necessarily pure. The two cases have been yoked together by this stupid proxy prosecution, but the two charges are not themselves related.

11) If Interpol want him prosecuted for espionage, they should file a fucking espionage charge against him. By using the rape charge as an excuse to get him extradited and (perhaps) imprisoned, they are not only showing themselves to be underhanded and dishonest, but also doing a monumental disservice to the law enforcers of the world who are actually trying to get rapists prosecuted and jailed. This is a high-profile accusation that is nearly universally assumed to be false, and will only solidify the impression in public consciousness that many, or most, rape accusations are untrue. Interpol are reinforcing the idea that rape charges are a device used to entrap innocent men. This is an idea that needs to die.

11a) On which point, the fact that one of the accusers is a vocal feminist who was once her university’s sexual equality officer does not mean any of the following: that she hates men; that she considers all men rapists; that she is lying. I’m looking at you, Daily Mail.

12) Why have Interpol not filed an espionage charge? Could it possibly be that there isn’t actually a case against Assange with respect to the Wikileaks incidents?

13) For the anti-Wikileaks side: it is worth bearing in mind that imprisoning Julian Assange will not kill Wikileaks. There are other people involved.

14) For the pro-Wikileaks side: it is worth bearing in mind that a lack of money may well kill Wikileaks, given that it survives on donations. Visa and Mastercard have blocked donations to Wikileaks through their systems on ‘ethical grounds’. For comparison, it’s still possible to donate to the KKK through either card provider.

15) If this goes all the way through court, and if Assange is convicted, the verdict will be treated as if it were political regardless of how solid the court’s findings are. A politically-motivated conviction on flimsy evidence is pretty much empty. It changes nothing – either way. It would be wrong to accept a transparently politically charged verdict as necessarily just; but it would also be wrong to assume that the use of the case for political ends permits us to discount the accusations entirely. It’s too easy to envision people going “Oh, but the show trial was politically motivated therefore he didn’t actually commit the rape” – when in fact an empty verdict would leave things exactly as they now stand: we still wouldn’t actually know if he was guilty or not.

*

I am sick of hearing about Julian Assange. It’s also rather convenient that the saga of his arrest has now taken over the front pages, relegating the meat of the US embassy cables – and the larger issues of Wikileaks’ existence and various countries’ attempts at censorship – to second place. There’s a more important dialogue to be had here: over the behaviour of Interpol (they don’t usually red-flag people for rape. Who leaned on them?), over the spasms of antidemocratic rage from the US and British right, over whether Wikileaks should exist, what it should be doing, how it’s going to survive the next few weeks with no domain name and no donations, what that could mean.

Let this case be tried in court, not on the goddamn front page.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2010 1:57 am

    One more thing that really needs to die is the rumour that it’s not rape he’s accused of, but “sex by surprise”, which is first of all false – Sweden doesn’t have a crime called “sex by surprise”, which is good because it’s fairly obviously a tasteless rape joke. Secondly, regardless of what the Swedish legal system describes the crimes as, if he’s guilty of what’s alleged then the acts that he committed are still, by definition, non-consensual and morally repugnant. Likewise, the fact that he might face a €700 fine instead of jail time doesn’t make the allegations any less serious (though like you say, it raises a lot of questions about why Interpol is issuing international warrants for a crime with such a small fine).

  2. Diana B. Hurlburt permalink
    December 8, 2010 8:07 pm

    I have nothing better to add but “this”. This exactly, this one thousand times over. All of this.

  3. Alice permalink
    December 9, 2010 12:47 am

    Thank you SO MUCH. Honestly, it makes me livid that the rape charges are being used in service of whatever an individual wants to say about the Wikileaks issue. Think he’s a danger to the world? Well, you know he’s a rapist, too – lock him up quick! Think that the governments and multinational businesses are being assholes about getting caught in their own screw-ups? Well, he’s obviously innocent!

    Sadly, I understand all too well *why* this is happening, but it’s dismaying nonetheless.

  4. December 9, 2010 4:20 pm

    Well said.

  5. March 14, 2011 7:04 am

    Great article. I totally agree about how important it is not to trivialize the charges and demean these women.
    I have been supporting WL for a long time and when i first watched JA speak (before war logs) I was captivated by his passion and intellect. His ideologies are sound and WL is revolutionary. For that reason it is hard for me to separate WL as an organization from Julian …He is the founder and without his bravery and perhaps even intellectual charisma – they may not have achieved what they have.
    I agree with everything you say except regarding the imbalanced press – I think you were implying that these women are being more dissected as people than him… I have found several articles written about these women to discredit them (the most offensive described SW as ‘slightly mentally unstable and stupid’ but ‘goodlooking’ etc), but these articles were in strange places on the internet, not in the general media – such as at Rixstep news (who are staunch supporters of WLs and Flashback.org).
    I don’t know where you live but here in Melbourne – whenever I read a paper he is painted either as a womanizing arrogant jerk or his charges are described without any of his defense statements.
    Two massive newspapers have had their relationships with him go sour, subsequently writing tell-all books about him (and making even more money from WL saga!) . Bill Keller’s article in The New york Times was the most blatant character assassination I have seen thus far. All of the negative press tend to portray him in a misogynistic, narcissistic and autocratic light. Perhaps (ironically?), these are often character traits of the very elites and dictators he is fighting. You would think, if anyone understands how power corrupts – he does. Like you said – his intellect, charisma and admirable ideologies do not preclude him being a rapist. These women’s allegations should be and are being taken very seriously – unfortunately not probably for the right reasons. He is innocent until proven guilty…. with this trial by media, I don’t think we will ever be sure of the truth regardless of the outcome in court. Names are forever tainted, reputations ruined… It would be for me personally, very disheartening to find he is a misogynist or a rapist. Although no one is perfect, if the descriptions of his actions and callous words are accurate he is much more than a harmless rogue. This understanding of him is hard to sit with when it’s such an extreme hypocrisy within someone who seems so passionate about human rights. At the same time if these women are lying, or their case has been exploited by others for political purposes, it will do a huge disservice to genuine victims of rape. It seems this story is not going to have a happy ending either way –
    and the ‘truth’ is very difficult to find….

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