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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 8/23/12

The bizarre, unhealthy, blinding media contempt for Julian Assange

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"This extradition order does not necessarily mean, of course, that he will be extradited, still less that he will be charged, tried, or convicted. Assange may win an appeal of the extradition order, or Sweden may decide either not to continue or to interview him while he remains in England. However, unless some such external event intervenes, Assange will be shortly extradited to Sweden to be questioned about an allegation of rape, two allegations of sexual molestation, and an allegation of unlawful coercion."

Back when it suited Green, he emphasized that Assange has not been charged with any crime, that there is far from any certainty that he would be, and that extradition to Sweden is merely for him "to be questioned" on these allegations: exactly the "myths" and "zombie facts" which he now purports to bust. Moreover, Swedish law professor Marten Schultz, who strongly supports Assange's extradition to Sweden, has said the same [my emphasis]:

"The UK supreme court's decision means only that Assange will be transferred to Sweden for interrogation. It does not mean that he will be tried, or even charged. It is entirely possible that he will be transferred to Sweden, questioned, and released if the Swedish authorities find that there are insufficient grounds for prosecution. It is impossible -- as it should be -- to predict how the case will unfold."

Clearly, as Green himself used to acknowledge, Assange at this point is wanted for questioning in this case, and has not been charged. Once he's questioned, he might be charged, or the case might be dropped. That is what has made the Swedes' steadfast refusal to question him in England so mystifying, of such concern to Assange, and is the real reason that the investigation has thus far been obstructed. Indeed, Swedish legal expert Ove Bring has made clear, in the context of discussing Assange, that "under Swedish law it is possible to interrogate people abroad," but that Sweden is refusing to do so simply for reasons of "prestige" (he added: "If he goes to Sweden, is interrogated, then I expect the case would be dropped, as the evidence is not enough to charge him with a crime").

Then there's the very strange argument Green makes about why extradition to the US would be more easily accomplished if he's in Britain rather than Sweden. I've previously set out the reasons and supporting evidence showing the reverse is true and won't repeat those here, but let's look at what Green says to support his claim:

"One can add that there is no evidence whatsoever that the United Kingdom would not swiftly comply with any extradition request from the United States; quite the reverse. Ask Gary McKinnon, or Richard O'Dwyer, or the NatWest Three."

The US has been seeking McKinnon's extradition from Britain for a full seven years and counting; O'Dwyer also remains in England and is the subject of a popular campaign to block his shipment to the U.S.; the NatWest Three were able to resist extradition to the US for four full years. These cases disprove, rather than prove, that an extradition demand from the US would be "swiftly complied with" in Britain. In contrast to the secretive Swedish judicial system, there is substantial public debate along with transparent (and protracted) judicial proceedings in Britain over extradition.

It is true, as Green notes, that the Swedish government cannot provide an iron-clad "guarantee" that Assange would not be extradited to the US. That's because it is Swedish courts, and not the government, that make the ultimate decision on extradition. But both the British and Swedish governments play an important role in any extradition proceeding: they take influential positions on whether extradition is legally warranted. Under Britain's extradition treaty, it must consent to the subsequent extradition of any individual it extradites (meaning its consent would be needed for Sweden to send Assange to the U.S.), while in Sweden, the government must formally opine on whether extradition should take place (some Swedes have made the case that the government's position would be dispositive).

At the very least, there is ample room for negotiation. Both the British and Swedish governments could -- and should -- take the position that to prosecute Assange under espionage statutes for acts of journalism would be political crimes that are not subject to their extradition treaties with the U.S. or are otherwise not cognizable extradition offenses. Rather than explore any of those possible grounds for agreement, both governments have simply refused to negotiate either with Assange's lawyers or the Ecuadorean government over any proposals to safeguard his rights. That refusal on the part of those governments -- and not any desire to obstruct the investigation or evade facing those allegations -- is what led the Ecuadoreans to conclude that asylum was necessary to protect Assange from political persecution.

The complainants in Sweden have the absolute right to have their serious allegations against Assange investigated and legally resolved. But Assange has the equally compelling right under international law and treaties to be free of political persecution: which is exactly what prosecuting him (and perhaps imprisoning him for life) in the US for WikiLeaks' disclosures would be.

It is vital that both sets of rights be safeguarded, not just one. The only just solution is one that protects both. Assange's lawyers and the Ecuadorians have repeatedly pursued arrangements to vindicate all substantial rights at stake so that he can travel to Sweden -- today -- to face those allegations while being protected against unjust extradition to the US. It is the refusal of the British and Swedish authorities even to consider any such proposals that have brought this situation to the unfortunate standstill it is in.

It is incredibly telling that media attacks on Assange do not even pay lip service to, let alone evince any actual interest in, the profound threats to press freedom that would come if he were extradited to and tried in the United States. In lieu of being informed about any of this, readers and viewers are bombarded with disturbing, and often quite disturbed, rants driven by unrestrained personal contempt. That contempt not only drowns out every important value at stake in this case, but also any regard for the basic facts.

* * *

UPDATE: Numerous people objected that I too readily conceded the point that Swedish courts, rather than the Swedish government, are the ultimate decision-makers on extradition requests, and the Swedish government therefore cannot provide Assange with a guarantee that he will not be extradited to the U.S. This article by a lawyer -- who fervently believes that Assange should be extradited to Sweden -- makes the case very compellingly that the Swedish government most certainly can provide such a guarantee if it chose to [my emphasis]:

"Extradition procedures are typically of a mixed nature, where courts and governments share the final decision -- it is not unknown for governments to reject an extradition request in spite of court verdict allowing it. . . .

"Article 12 [of Sweden's extradition law] adds that the government may put conditions on its decision to accept an extradition request. The deciding body is thus the government, with an input by the Prosecutor general and a veto right given to the Supreme Court in case where the requested person doesn't accept to be extradited."

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[Subscribe to Glenn Greenwald] Glenn Greenwald is a journalist,former constitutional lawyer, and author of four New York Times bestselling books on politics and law. His most recent book, "No Place to Hide," is about the U.S. surveillance state and his experiences reporting on the Snowden documents around the world. His forthcoming book, to be published in April, 2021, is about Brazilian history and current politics, with a focus on his experience in reporting a series of expose's in 2019 and 2020 which exposed high-level corruption by powerful officials in the government of President Jair Bolsonaro, which subsequently attempted to prosecute him for that reporting.

Foreign Policy magazine named Greenwald one of the top 100 Global Thinkers for 2013. He was the debut winner, along with "Democracy Now's" Amy Goodman, of the Park Center I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism in 2008, and also received the 2010 Online Journalism Award for his investigative work breaking the story of the abusive (more...)

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