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The New Statesman must correct its error over Assange and extradition

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"First, let me state that I am as adamantly in favour of Julian Assange being extradited to Sweden as I am opposed to him being extradited to the USA for any WikiLeaks-related offense."

And the Australian government has been infamously unsupportive of the rights of its citizen. But they nonetheless all make crystal clear that Green's statement about the Swedish government lacking the power to decide extradition is factually false.

It is inconceivable that the New Statesman would allow such a flagrant error on this key issue to remain unretracted, particularly since it was offered under the guise of Green's legal expertise. Indeed, when replying to Green on Wednesday, I myself assumed that there must be some reasonable basis to his claim about the lack of authority on the part of the Swedish government over extradition requests, and thus too readily vested his claim with credibility: a mistake I immediately corrected with updates upon learning that his claim was false. The New Statesman has the absolute journalistic obligation to prominently correct this error.

It may be true that there are other independent reasons to argue that Sweden should not offer Assange the assurance against extradition that he seeks. One may contend, for instance, that Sweden should, or even must, wait until it receives an extradition request and its courts rule on its legality before it can make a determination as to whether it will comply. That is an argument Green makes. Professor Klamberg notes there "is nothing in the extradition of criminal offences act that deals with this scenario, but it would depart from established practice."

I happen not to find that objection valid. At the very least, one can imagine all sorts of ways that Sweden, Ecuador and Assange's lawyers could negotiate a resolution that provides Assange with meaningful protections against his fear of extradition to the US while following standard procedure on extraditions. Swedish authorities could, for instance, publicly state that they view espionage charges for the "crime" of reporting on government secrets to be a "political crime" not subject to extradition, but still reserve the right to formally decide upon any extradition request if and when they receive one. In the last four paragraphs of his analysis, this lawyer lays out exactly how such a deal could be reached consistent with Swedish law. If there were any real desire to find a resolution, one could be found. It is Sweden's steadfast refusal even to negotiate these matters that led the Ecuadoreans to be suspicious of their motives and to conclude that asylum was necessary here to protect Assange from political prosecution.

But all of that is a completely separate issue from the glaring error in Green's post about whether it is the Swedish government or its courts that have final decision-making authority. The fact that Green made other arguments in support of his ultimate conclusion does not remotely mitigate his false claim that "any final word on an extradition would (quite properly) be with an independent Swedish court, and not the government giving the purported 'guarantee'." Nor does it relieve the New Statesman of the obligation to prominently correct this error.

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I'm certainly not accusing Green of bad faith -- ie, of knowingly making false claims. It is difficult to discern Swedish extradition law without being a Swedish legal expert or relying on them, which is why it's a good idea for people like Green not to do it, especially in a periodical. But motives aside, what he told his readers under the guise of legal expertise is unquestionably false, and it had serious consequences for how this whole debate has been perceived.

This is why this is so crucial: if Sweden (and/or Britain) would provide some meaningful assurance that Assange would not be extradited to the US to face espionage charges for WikiLeaks' journalism, then the vast majority of asylum supporters (including me) would loudly demand that he immediately travel to Stockholm to confront those allegations; Assange himself has said he would do so. That gives the lie to the ugly slander that those who have expressed support for Ecuador's asylum decision are dismissive of the sex assault claims or do not care about seeing them resolved.

Speaking for myself, I have always said the same thing about those allegations in Sweden from the moment they emerged: they are serious and deserve legal resolution. It is not Assange or his supporters preventing that resolution, but the Swedish and British governments, which are strangely refusing even to negotiate as to how Assange's rights against unjust extradition and political persecution can be safeguarded along with the rights of the complainants to have their allegations addressed. Green's false claim that the Swedish government is unable to act because it has no final authority over extradition has seriously distorted this issue, and it is why it should be promptly and prominently corrected by the New Statesman.

* * * * *

UPDATE: On Twitter today, one of the four legal sources cited here, Mark Klamberg, claimed that I "distorted" his argument by omitting certain claims he made. Independent of the fact that there are three other legal sources I cited for the same point for which I cited Klamberg, I encourage everyone to read the initial post he wrote -- and my reply to him today -- and form your own judgment.

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For the past 10 years, I was a litigator in NYC specializing in First Amendment challenges, civil rights cases, and corporate and securities fraud matters. I am the author of the New York Times Best-Selling book, How Would A Patriot (more...)

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Most valuable clarification and information.... by BFalcon on Saturday, Aug 25, 2012 at 9:03:26 PM
for extradition, then they also admit to liability... by Paul Repstock on Sunday, Aug 26, 2012 at 12:10:56 PM