International Policy Digest

PBS NewsHour
World News /02 Jun 2012
06.02.12

Off to Sweden? Assange and his Anti-Politics

Confused, perhaps a tad neurotic, unhinged and overall an unstable mix, Julian Assange now faces a ratcheted assault on his badge as ‘freedom fighter.’ His loss in the British Supreme Court has imperiled him, though he does, unusually, have a fortnight to appeal that decision to extradite him to Sweden. In a sense, the last individuals to make much sense about Assange and WikiLeaks as an outfit have been journalists. Leave journalism to a journalist at your own peril.

No, laughs off Claire Harvey of the Sunday Telegraph, the man is far from a scribbler, being a mere ‘privileged and spoilt polemicist.’ He believes in a lightened load of suffering, martyrdom lite. And the Australian government, Harvey mocks, has been deemed inadequate in the face of defending him against the efforts of ‘the Great Satan America.’

Here, the issue of sex gets in the way of a broader evaluation of his spoiling work. While it is impossible to say at this point how feasible any of the claims are till they are tested by the rigours of a court proceeding, the fusion of Assange the muckraker and Assange the molester has taken place all too neatly.

Don’t forget the non-charges about non-consensual, unprotected sex, urges Harvey. (That old problem: in this legal circus, he has yet to be formally charged.) But minimize the importance of his role in the dissemination of secret information while arguing that some of that information was dangerous to informants. He is a prat in need of a good ticking off.

It is hard to forget the fact that this trial on extradition has assumed various colourings over the last two years, a cacophony of sounds ranging from legal process to the very practice of diplomacy. The deficiencies in the post-September 11 extradition process that makes the country seeking extradition a power above the power extraditing the suspect have been laid bare. Prosecuting authorities should hardly be deemed ‘judicial,’ but have been recognised as such.

Those who have scoured the entire case so far suggest that a tussle was taking place in Sweden over the proceedings, allowing politics to enter the fray. John Pilger, speaking in Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter, smells interference. “The case would not have got this far had it not been for the intervention of Claes Borgstrom, a politician who saw an opportunity when the Stockholm prosecutor threw out almost all the police allegations.” Borgstrom was going to make hay during an election campaign and was hardly keen to entertain the stuttering process behind the claims.

There is no need to ponder such exotic appellations as ‘global conspiracy’ or notions that states are all intent on getting the beleaguered Australian. They are. Or at the very least the idea of WikiLeaks and the nuisance whistleblower who traverses the divide of secrecy. Secrecy is mother’s milk to statecraft, and Assange has been all too ready to let it sour.

Diplomatic cables obtained by The Age show the extent of US-Australian intelligence exchanges on the subject of charging Assange. The US Department of Justice investigation in Assange’s antics has Canberra’s ear, with a “broad range of possible charges under consideration, including espionage and conspiracy.”

Their interest lies in the nexus between Assange and Bradley Manning, the latter who is now paying a high price for spilling the beans to the WikiLeaks figure. The cables similarly show a distinct lack of interest on the part of Canberra in providing assistance to Assange. Australian Attorney-General Nicola Roxon claims to have made representations on Assange’s behalf to US Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich, US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and US Deputy Attorney-General James Cole. Evidence of such a busy schedule is nowhere to be found, nor been confirmed. Like David Hicks before, Assange is anointed as a legal exception, a figure best washed away into the sewer of another state’s legal system.

Any complex on martyrdom is bound to be hard to sustain, but that is far from the point. Finding just solutions has little to do with finding decent human beings. Assange created a system, along with his colleagues, that has effectively undermined the theatrical feature of state politics, penetrating the veil of scrupulous, habitual secrecy. The noble, or ignoble lie has no truck in relationships where key unsifted documents might be disclosed to the public at any one point.

Assange might be short on his ideas of sex, the weedy nerd gone wrong in the bedroom, but that will be for the court to decide, should it ever get to Sweden. Even prominent human rights advocate Geoffrey Robertson has suggested Assange do so. The point is that Assange has dabbled in the worst form of politics, loathed by practitioners of it: anti-politics. A world without secrets and a political plain without mendacity, remain inconceivable. He must, therefore, pay the price.