The Julian Assange saga is a tiresome example of life in the cyber age. He has managed to capture the attention and – more crucially – the support of many in the chatterverse, by parlaying his expertise as a web-dredger into a self-appointed mission as global saviour. Doubtless this serves his ego. It is very doubtful that it serves any other real purpose or has intrinsic value, or in the end does any more than feed the voraciously misinformed appetites of serial America-haters and conspiracy theorists.
According to this vast untutored rabble, Assange is a marked man. The United States is out to get him. People want him dead. He is at significant risk of being snatched from his bed – or, more likely, it seems, someone else’s – and spirited away to be water-boarded.
His WikiLeaks organisation hacks into secure official websites and lifts material which it then dumps on the internet unchecked, unverified, absent validation, and – arguably in some circumstances – criminally. The convenient untruth widely accorded the status of received wisdom is that a clever little chap with no apparent conscience or obvious analytical skills has every right to raid any data base he chooses. To advance any argument for the contrary case is to ally oneself with the Great Satan.
Assange’s star in his little three-ring circus – apart of course from himself – is a British-born US soldier – Bradley Manning – who is facing military justice for dumping highly embarrassing classified data on the WikiLeaks site, to which virtually anyone now has access. Manning knew what he was doing, though Assange didn’t at the time. Manning may be a hero, though disaffected geek seems a closer approximation on the facts.
The entrepreneurial Assange has got a lot of mileage out of Manning’s action, and has spun a tale from it that he is now himself at risk. That’s his spectacular skill: spinning a line and making himself a hero. His groupies love it. Perhaps it gives them vicarious endorsement as soldiers in the army of peace. Or any number of other vacuous collectives. He may have given himself nightmares about how the G-men are going to come and get him, but that’s his lookout; and, objectively, why they would bother doing so is problematical. There is no evidence to suggest anyone else should have nightmares on his account, on that or any other ground.
In fact, the central problem Assange faces is far more prosaic, not to say tedious. He fled an investigation in Sweden that resulted from his other claim to fame, that of being (again self-proclaimed) a world-champion bedroom mazurka performer. Sweden’s laws relating to unwanted sexual advances may be astonishing – no, they’re ridiculous – but that’s where he did the deeds (or didn’t, it seems) and that’s where he must answer for them. It is for that reason the UK High Court ordered his deportation to Sweden when he broke his bail order.
Short of compelling actual evidence that he faces imminent legal action in a criminal case anywhere else – it’s such a shame you can’t charge people with being a bloody nuisance – we must conclude that he invited himself into the Ecuadorian embassy in London to escape extradition to Sweden over alleged sexual offences. In short, to reprise a version of that lovely line from the hilarious movie Life of Brian: he’s not the Messiah; he’s just a naughty boy. Perhaps, though, we should make one script adjustment. Grub is a better description.
The risible scenes we have seen since he threw himself upon the bemused Ecuadorians have ranged from Great Dictator-style theatre – his dramatically staged and assiduously pre-publicised appearance on the balcony of the embassy while a few British Bobbies stood around and looked embarrassed below – to astonishing farce. In pursuit of self-promotion, or possibly because he is delusional, Assange has created an international imbroglio.
(Ecuador’s appalling human rights record would actually be worthy of a WikiLeak or two if sentient, responsible, validation-focused organisations such as Amnesty International had not already revealed that can of worms.)
In Australia, the country of which Assange is a departed resident and in which his fractious mother lives and mouths off on cue, Foreign Minister Bob Carr is besieged by misinformed advocates of direct action seeking his immediate attention to the apparent national duty of acting to “free Assange”. As is so often the case, the fact that in someone else’s country even little Aussie battlers and other “national heroes” are subject to the laws there is a concept apparently beyond the grasp of many Australians, even those who arguably should know better.
On August 31 Austin Mackell, an Australian freelance journalist who had run into trouble with the authorities in (at least temporarily) dysfunctional Egypt, took to the ABC blog site The Drum to argue it was shame Carr had not intervened on Assange’s behalf as he had done for him. Mackell noted that Egypt’s charges against him were dropped only after direct ministerial representations.
But Mackell was in trouble because he had – apparently deliberately, in pursuit of his higher freelance objectives that naturally allowed him to ignore applicable laws and then bleat like billy-o when he was caught – breached the terms of his visa in a country where legal process is currently notional.
Assange is not in that situation. The Swedish authorities require him to answer questions relating to an investigation into allegations of sexual offences. Sweden is a democratic state with a functioning and independent legal system and courts that do not take political direction. Assange has not been charged. If he has a satisfactory answer to the allegations against him, he won’t be charged. Even if he were, a court applying reasonable judicial assessment might well decide to simply fine him, or let him off with a warning and advise him to grow up and get a life.
Neither is Sweden in any way likely to accede to any US request for extradition – which would surely eventuate only if everyone in the Justice Department in Washington suddenly went completely bonkers – since Assange has not committed any offence in Sweden that relates to American legal process against Bradley Manning.
(On the sexual allegations against Assange that have surfaced in the public domain in Sweden, it’s unlikely that he would be required to answer any questions at all anywhere but in that fundamentally femocrat nation, but that’s beside the point.)