Monday, 20 August 2012

Dancing to the beat of St Julian

There I was, reclining on a sun lounger, gazing into the blue yonder – and all the time, St Julian was 'emerging' from the Ecuadorean embassy in London to address the world, for all as though he were a global messiah.

‘Aw, come on,’ he said to the US: ‘Don’t play rough’. Well, that seems to be the basic tenet of it.

Now I’m about as far as can be from being a fan of US foreign policy, but this seems a disingenuous, since Jules is the one who started playing rough.

If you can’t stand the heat ...

So it seemed about time to have my own fourpenneth.

Let’s start by saying that, in my opinion, Assange should not be extradited to the US by anyone – quite simply because they cannot be trusted to give him a fair trail.

He should, however, go/be taken to Sweden to face the entirely different charges he faces there, under a judicial system that has a pretty damned good record.

It is idiocy to pretend that Sweden is somehow more likely to send him on to the States that Britain.

Yes, the Swedes have had their own little dirty involvement with rendition – but then so has the UK, and that doesn’t seem to be exercising Assange's disciples in quite the same way.

In fact, given Britain’s habit of asking ‘how high’ when Washington tells us to jump – including on matters of extradition – you could be forgiven for thinking that he’d actually be safer in Scandinavia.

The idea being floated by some conspiracy theorists (which is probably an injustice to the word ‘theory’) is that the Swedish investigators could come and have a chat with their man in London.

The mountain coming to Mohammed, one might say.

Why? Why change normal practice just because it’s St Julian?

As noted, he’s probably safer (from extradition to the US) in Sweden anyway.

Besides, according the the court documents, he is not wanted just for 'preliminary' talks, but for arrest, as the investigation in Sweden is apparently at that stage.

And he has had, in the UK, three opportunities to challenge the extradition decision in the courts – which is hardly indicative of it having been a rushed, legally dodgy matter.

On another note, it is really rather amusing to watch some on the left wetting their knickers over Assange.

Let’s be quite clear about this, he is not an anti-capitalist: he is a free-market capitalist who believes that the market will work best if there is no secrecy.

That’s the official ideology, at any rate.

Yet here we are, with some having decided suddenly that Sweden – praised in the past for so many of its social policies and liberal, inclusive approach – is in cahoots with The Great Satan.

You couldn't make it up. Well, actually ...

Anyway, let’s have a quick look at the whole anti-secrecy thing itself.

I'm not 100% convinced by it. There are arguments for and against.

There are claims that Wikileaks’ leaks have caused deaths – these are mostly about armed forces on duty – or increased the danger to those on duty.

Since, in theory at least, the armed forces of a country act on behalf of its citizenry, shouldn't we know what they're doing in our name, including when that means killing innocent people?

One of the arguments used in favour of the leaks is that they were a factor in the Arab Spring.

In Tunisia, for instance, a leaked document revealed that the president’s daughter and her husband had their ice cream flown in to the country from St Tropez.

One can imagine how galling that must have been for a country suffering high unemployment and poverty.

But if Wikileaks did have a meaningful impact as a trigger for the Arab Spring, then it is partly responsible for deaths there – and just because most people in the West would welcome the revolutions that have swept the Arab world doesn’t this make this less the case.

I didn’t get absorbed in the leaks at the time, although I do remember one in particular: the revelation that a member of the US diplomatic staff in Paris had cabled back to Washington calling for an economic war on Europe because our governments wouldn’t let genetically modified crops loose on the continent.

It was revealing because it showed the arrogant petulance of at least some in the US establishment – and because it revealed just how much the US is run by and for the corporatist elite.

Although we pretty much knew that anyway.

Similarly, the stories about Prince Andrew were embarrassing to some, but were hardly a massive revelation.

There has been a sense too, of a massive amount of data being flung out in an entirely indiscriminate fashion, with no sense of concern about content. Of information for information's own sake.

So let’s just say that the leaks themselves have brought some good results and some bad ones.

That doesn’t mean that Assange and his cohorts are wonderful, though, or that their motives are pure.

Sometimes, even good things come from flawed intentions, while the opposite can also be true.

But there is a certain irony in Assange's disciples citing Bradley Manning to illustrate why their hero should not be sent to Sweden (which is unlikely to send him to the US anyway).

Manning is a troubled young man who was bullied extensively during his army training – to the extent that, apparently, the army was going to discharge him before that training had finished, before it decided it couldn’t do without his geek skills.

So the US army needs to take some responsibility for putting someone like that into a position where he could access so many documents.

But Assange and his colleagues decided that Manning could be exploited – and they did so, with no obvious indication of concern for the consequences.

It seems that Manning – and others whose names we don’t know – are simply collateral damage in Assange’s little war, and there is no indication he gives a toss about them or accepts any responsibility for what has happened to them.

Then there’s the little matter of Ecuador.

According to World Report Chapter, 2012:

“Corruption, inefficiency, and political influence have plagued the Ecuadorian judiciary for many years. In a referendum held in 2011, President Rafael Correa obtained a popular mandate for constitutional reforms that could significantly increase government powers to constrain media and influence the appointment and dismissal of judges.

“Ecuador's laws restrict freedom of expression, and government officials, including Correa, use these laws against his critics. Those involved in protests marred by violence may be prosecuted on inflated and inappropriate ‘terrorism’ charges.

“Impunity for police abuses is widespread and perpetrators of murders often attributed to a ‘settling of accounts’ between criminal gangs are rarely prosecuted and convicted.”

Yet Assange is terrified of going to Sweden? Really?

And the faithful praise Ecuador for it’s belief in human rights?

Assange’s choice doesn’t suggest that he has much interest in human rights, including, somewhat ironically, freedom of speech.

Personally, I think that Julian Assange himself is a narcissistic sociopath with a messiah complex.

Indeed, how many people have leapt to his ‘message’ – even (as noted above) without apparently understanding what it is really about?

How many seem to have decided that an allegation of rape should not be treated seriously? It's that collateral damage thing again.

And honestly, do we really need thousands more conspiracy nuts?

That’s something else that can be laid at the door of St Julian of Assange as his cult-of-the-personality crusade seems in danger of dragging on interminably, and we watch as something horribly like a new sort of secular religion is born.

• For a detailed report on the myths in the Assange case, see this piece by lawyer David Allen Green at the New Statesman.

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