Julian Assange's Rape Case Has Nothing to Do With Free Speech

The latest Wikileaks farce came to a head this weekend, with Julian Assange thundering from a balcony at the London Ecuadorian embassy that Obama must end the "witch hunt," against Wikileaks. That Assange is holed up in the embassy after seeking asylum in Ecuador to avoid two-year-old Swedish rape and sexual molestation accusations, not a U.S. government investigation, proved no obstacle: His supporters are now seized by one of their periodic spasms of delusional op-ed writing, blogging and tweeting in the hopes of throwing up a screen of bullshit thick enough to hide the fact that this is a very straightforward case of a dude allegedly being a sex creep—not a shadowy conspiracy against a free speech champion.

The charge is being led this time by the filmmakers Michael Moore and Oliver Stone. They argue in a Times op-ed today that Assange's Ecuadorian asylum bid is an important struggle for "global free speech" instead of a struggle by Julian Assange to not go to jail for rape. Moore has thankfully backed off of his most offensive argument, that what Assange is accused of is not really rape, as he claimed to the BBC back in December of 2010 after donating $20,000 to Assange's bail fund. (In fact one of Assange's two accusers claims Assange forcibly held her down while having sex with her; the other claims she woke to find him having sex with her without a condom.)

Moore and Stone concede that the allegations should be "thoroughly investigated"; but then argue that the attempt to extradite Assange to Sweden in order to investigate them is a secret ploy to send him to the U.S. to face trial for Wikileaks' classified diplomatic cable release. "Taken together, the British and Swedish governments' actions suggest to us that their real agenda is to get Mr. Assange to Sweden," they write.

But every one of their points in support of a dark Swedish-U.S.-U.K. conspiracy is false, having been debunked in earlier posts by New Statesman writer and lawyer David Allen Green, and the British lawyer Anya Palmer. The facts show that there is nothing more to the case than Swedish prosecutors trying to get Assange to face justice.

First: Moore and Stone toss out the old chestnut that "Sweden has not formally charged Mr. Assange with any crime." Assange hasn't even been charged, so why are the Swedes pursuing him so aggressively? It must be because the CIA has secreted Swedish lawmakers' families to black sites and won't release them until they get Assange.

But the argument that Assange "hasn't even been charged," is based on a meaningless technicality: Assange has not been formally charged because in Swedish criminal cases nobody is charged until very late in an investigation, unlike in the U.S. and Britain where charges are filed early on. Assange high-tailed it out of Sweden before the investigation reached the point of a formal charge—which is why they want him back.

The UK Supreme Court made this point in turning down Assange's request to appeal his extradition, per Anya Palmer:

"Although it is clear a decision has not been taken to charge him, that is because, under Swedish procedure, that decision is taken at a late stage with the trial following quickly thereafter. In England and Wales, a decision to charge is taken at a very early stage; there can be no doubt that if what Mr Assange had done had been done in England and Wales, he would have been charged and thus criminal proceedings would have been commenced.

Assange has effectively been charged, then, in the sense we think of it in the U.S and Britain.

Moore and Stone then go on to suggest that Sweden should just interview Assange in London.

Swedish authorities have traveled to other countries to conduct interrogations when needed, and the WikiLeaks founder has made clear his willingness to be questioned in London. Moreover, the Ecuadorean government made a direct offer to Sweden to allow Mr. Assange to be interviewed within Ecuador's embassy. In both instances, Sweden refused.

But Assange isn't wanted simply for an interview—he's wanted for a criminal prosecution. The Swedish prosecutor told the UK Supreme Court that she plans on filing an indictment against Assange directly after the interview, unless he says anything "which [undermines] my present view." After the likely event of charges being filed, Swedish law dictates that a trial must happen within two weeks. As Palmer writes, "It is difficult to see how this could happen if the final interview takes place in the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge."

Moore and Stone also ask why Sweden doesn't guarantee Assange won't be extradited to the U.S. Even if they did this, it would be meaningless, as David Allen Green points out:

By asking for this 'guarantee', Assange is asking the impossible, as he probably knows. Under international law, all extradition requests have to be dealt with on their merits and in accordance with the applicable law.

Finally, Moore and Stone's entire argument rests on the false premise that it's easier to extradite Assange from Sweden than from Britain "because of treaty and other considerations."

This is an easy claim to make since few people will bother to read boring treaties to see it's true. (Even the Times' opinion section editors, apparently.) But it wouldn't be easier to extradite Assange from Sweden to the U.S.: it would be harder. Treaty law says the U.S. would need permission from both the UK and Sweden if Assange were to be extradited from Sweden to the U.S., as opposed to simply the British permission they'd need when he's in England, according to David Allen Green.

And anyway, why would they need to send Assange to Sweden first, when the UK has shown it's more than willing to send criminals to the U.S?

"In reality, the best opportunity for the United States for Assange to be extradited is whilst he is in the United Kingdom," writes Green.

Julian Assange's sex crimes case has nothing to do with free speech, or Wikileaks. Swedish prosecutors are not handling this case differently because it's Julian Assange. In fact slavish supporters like Michael Moore and Oliver Stone are the ones holding Assange to a different standard, one where it's OK to bend and break international law to aid an accused rapist's flight from justice, as long as he embarrassed the U.S. government once.

[Image via Getty]