If you’ve read or watched the news today, other than the usual chatter about the various facets of the Presidential race, the one story you won’t have been able to escape is the almost spy novel-like drama surrounding Julian Assange and the Ecuadorian embassy. In the end, Ecuador turned out to really not enjoy being bullied and threatened, even in that inimitable, jolly-good sort of inoffensive manner in which the Brits did so, and ultimately offered Assange asylum. The high-handed and imperious tone taken by the British government, along with the serious violations of international diplomatic convention they both committed and implied they were willing to commit, got me to thinking.
I have no idea whether Julian Assange is guilty of the charges of sexual assault and rape that have been leveled against him. It’s not my intention to try to dig up what feels like the bones of those arguments (because they are now almost two years old, despite the issue not having been actually resolved yet), and certainly not my intention to draw charges of complicity with rape culture or making excuses for yet another entitled-ish white man. It’s undeniable, though, that the evidence has been steadily amassing that several governments really, REALLY want to get their hands on Assange, for reasons having nothing at all to do with any sexual crimes Assange may have committed in Sweden. Several in our own government have said, flat-out, they want to apprehend/prosecute him for his work with WikiLeaks.
Today’s Ecuador/Britain dust-up over Assange and the larger issues of diplomacy and sovereignty was a clear demonstration of the lengths to which the Brits at least are willing to go to apprehend Assange — and it’s far outside what they would ordinarily do or have done in similar cases where the only charges against a person are sexual in nature. Rape is a serious thing, no question…but charges of rape are not typically something that functions on the level of geopolitics, unless it’s something like the systemic rape of a whole population by invading armies or occupying forces. Criminal charges against one person for rape, though? You just don’t see a country as old and civilized as Britain – one of the founders of modern diplomacy and national dialogue – threatening to, without warning or precedent, summarily void the ambassadorial privileges of another sovereign nation that has long had an embassy on British soil. Hell, with Assad in Syria desperately and despicably turning his guns recently on his own people indiscriminately, Britain’s reaction was merely to formally expel the top Syrian diplomat (a measured, proportional response). They didn’t threaten to summarily alter the relationship between the countries in a hostile manner.
Yet when the subject turns to one lone man wanted for questioning in two separate rape/sexual assault cases (and not even in Britain!)…all bets are suddenly off, and the representatives of the empire on which the sun shall never set are suddenly behaving like tin-pot third world dictators of yore. That made me revisit the charges against Assange already in place. Again, and for the record, I have no idea if the charges Assange stands accused of by the Swedish women are accurate. If they are, he should be punished according to Swedish law. But I couldn’t help thinking that if I really wanted to ruin a political actor like Assange, not just on a personal level, but to sideline him, destroy his credibility and make all aspects of his continued work, from fundraising to press interviews to acquiring new sources and being seen as a credible, trustworthy outlet, I would do EXACTLY what has been done to Julian Assange. You don’t attack a man like Assange by calling him a terrorist or a criminal for his work with Wikileaks – that just increases his cachet and makes the alternate story his supporters tell – that Assange is a fearless whistleblower/truth-teller – all the easier to tell and easier to swallow. Instead, you destroy him on a personal level: make him seem sleazy, untrustworthy, dirty – above all, base. A pervert. A rapist. Perhaps even more than charges of Dahmer-type serial murder/cannibalism, these are the types of charges that will well and truly ruin the ability of a man like Julian Assange to do what he’s been doing for the past several years.
And it’s worked, in large part: WikiLeaks continues to operate, but Assange has spent the better part of the last two years in hiding, fighting an opaque and somewhat dull, private fight against legal maneuverings, instead of continuing with the ascendancy into changing the way we think about and maybe even practice journalism in the twenty first century. His star is tarnished by clouds of doubt, even in the minds of people who have and would otherwise support him. Uncertainty has been created. And if Assange did all this to himself by actually having committed the crimes he stands accused of, then he deserves every bit of the fall from grace as well as the actual criminal punishment. But, for the governments of Britain and the United States and other countries who desperately would like to shut WikiLeaks up, it’s awfully convenient that just raising this issue and these charges has had the effect it already has had on Assange.
Britain’s behavior today shows just how far at least one of these governments is willing to go outside the bounds of what would normally be expected in such a case, because this is NOT a normal case. This is Julian Assange, founder and principal of WikiLeaks. If one of the world’s oldest and most civilized governments was ready, on literally a moment’s notice, to summarily void their diplomatic ties with an entire country in pursuit of Julian Assange, is it really so unlikely that one or more interested actors might fabricate or embellish charges of a sexual nature against him?