The Last Refuge

English: Julian Assange, photo ("sunny co...

What is the difference between Julian Assange and Roman Polanski, two men on the run from accusations that could reasonably be described as rape? Well, there is an obvious one: Polanski is avoiding imprisonment for the sex crime, no two ways about it. There’s no question mark over his guilt.

Assange on the other hand claims the accusations were trumped up to render him into American hands and turn supporters against him. His decision to avoid investigation is not an admission of guilt at all therefore, but necessary to protect himself.

The question is whether we believe him.

I have no trouble believing that the US government is out to get Assange, by fair means or foul. America seems to hardly do anything these days except unlawfully imprison foreign nationals. Certainly they’d like to charge Assange with something, even if all he really did was act contrary to America’s interests. Call me an anti-Imperialist radical but I’d like to live in a world where it’s still legal to act contrary to America’s interests, so I am unequivocally opposed to him being extradited to the US.

But for these charges in Sweden to be such a stratagem would take what could only be described as mind-boggling, breathtaking, evil. It would require them to somehow bribe or blackmail two erstwhile supporters into bringing extremely serious accusations against an innocent man. Or, infiltrate his network with agents provocateur who presumably seduced him before accusing him of rape. That’s nightmare stuff.

The US – or if you prefer, its security services – is capable of immensely evil acts I have no doubt. What I have difficulty believing is that they would be capable of such terrible PR. To use false accusations of rape against a public figure? If the truth ever came out – which seems likely enough, as such a plan would have needed considerable arrangement – it would do more damage to the US than Assange could ever have.

And along with this we have to believe that Assange would be at greater risk of extradition/rendition from Sweden than he was from the UK – or will be from Ecuador. It is easier to think that he doesn’t want to face investigation in Sweden because he did what he’s been accused of in Sweden.

Wikileaks Is Innocent

Some people dismiss the allegations against Julian Assange as trivial. I find that hard to stomach. Making someone do something sexual that they don’t want to do is never trivial. The idea that he is wanted over a breaking condom exists only in the minds of commentators who have waded too deep into rhetoric.

On the other hand, we should be clear that he has not been charged with rape. He has not been charged, in fact, with anything. He was wanted for questioning. There is some confusion about what this is in relation to, but this is partly because Swedish law doesn’t map neatly onto ours, partly because it is not so forthcoming with details of sexual crime allegations.

This has led to confusion and unfortunate speculation, because while on one hand it is pretty clear that the allegations do not amount to rape in Swedish law, on the other it seems that rape in Swedish law is defined exclusively as sexual assault with violence. If rumours are to be believed – and I should emphasise the ‘if’ – the main allegation concerns him continuing to have sex even though he knew a condom had broken. To my mind, yes, that is morally a form of rape. A lesser form perhaps than sex obtained by threats or by drugging someone or taking advantage of their being too drunk to know what they are doing, but unquestionably a case of making someone do something sexual that they didn’t want to do.

Whether it is something you could ever conceivably get a criminal conviction for, that is another question. So it’s true that some circumstances of this investigation look peculiar. But if the Swedish authorities seem to be pursuing him with an unusual level of diligence, one can hope this is because it’s unusual to have such allegations made against someone so in the public eye.

One must hope that.

Because whatever you think of the decisions Wikileaks has made about what to release to the media, it must be remembered that it does nothing illegal itself. If anyone is committing any crime – and again, that is another very big if and another difficult moral question – it is the insiders who leaked the material. Oh, and any American who reads it even after it’s been published – technically that is illegal. So the US Air Force has blocked the website of The Guardian, Columbia students have been warned that discussing the information could damage their careers. It seems to me that if Wikileaks is bringing about this sort of imbecilic institutional reaction, it is definitely doing something right.

Wikileaks is innocent. But I hope that Assange is guilty, or at least under well-founded suspicion. Why? Because the alternative – that sexual crime charges have been falsified against him in order to suppress a threat to US interests – would mean that Western civilisation is on fire and what’s left is not worth pissing on to save.