Julian Assange Wikileaks Embassy Standoff: 5 Myths That Have Helped Make Assange a Hero
Julian Assange planned to make his first public appearance Sunday since he took refuge inside Ecuador's embassy in London two months ago, seeking to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning over sexual misconduct. The public statements come at the two month anniversary of his arrival at the Ecudorian embassy.
The Wikileaks founder claims to be a persecuted dissident. The reality of the situation, though, is very different.
Here are 5 myths about Assange, Ecuador, and Wikileaks that you didn't know.
Myth 1. Assange could be extradited to the United States
Assange has not been charged with any crime by the U.S., and the U.S. ambassador to Australia (Assange's homeland) has already stated that the U.S. has no plans to charge him, while the Swedish foreign minister has also confirmed that Assange will not be extradited. The First Amendment provides very broad protections for free speech, which includes military secrets. Since the infamous Pentagon Papers case, the Supreme Court has established that, with very narrow exceptions, the media has freedom to reprint leaked secrets. This does not protect those who do the leaking itself, which is why the government can bring down the house on Bradley Manning but not on Assange.
Assange is still wanted for questioning by Sweden, and for violating British bail law, against the will of supporters who helped pay for his bail. By evading questioning, he has broken Swedish law as well.
Myth 2. The Swedish sexual assault charges against Assange are frivolous
Two Swedish women reported that Assange assaulted them during August of 2010, when they were hosting him on a trip to Sweden. One of the women described Assange pulling her clothes off against her will and pining her down. The second woman told police that she woke up to find Assange having sex with her. Both women claim that Assange removed his condom, even though its use was a condition for having sex.
Assange’s lawyer and many of his supporters have claimed that this was a CIA conspiracy. Assange’s supporters often argue this because the women did not report the crime immediately and did not kick Assange out of the house. Unfortunately, this relies on a fundamental misunderstanding of rape and sexual assault.
Victims of rape sometimes experience self-doubt, and often fear stigma and shame. Many people, both men and women, are confused by the line between aggressive sex and sexual assault, and even those who understand the lines may hesitate. This is why most rapes are not reported at all. Statistics show that the number of victims seriously affected by trauma far outnumber cases where false accusations are made. These women were Wikileaks supporters, invited Assange to their homes, and at one point wanted to have sex with him, on their terms. They probably predicted that they would be publically vilified by Assange’s supporters.
The fact that this crime was reported at all beats the odds. In light of these facts, it is pure misogyny to criticize Assange’s victims for the delay.
There are other reasons to discredit conspiracy theories about the charges. The incident in question occurred in August of 2010, before Wikileak’s major cable dump. At the time, most Americans had never heard of Wikileaks and Wikileaks could not have been a serious priority for the CIA.
Assange would have you believe that the CIA managed to convince two of his former supporters, as well as the fairly liberal Swedish government, to turn on him without leaving a shred of evidence behind. Unfortunately, there is a long history of the media and the American public giving celebrity rapists the benefit of the doubt. Kate Harding, a journalist for Salon, effectively documented how the smears against Assange’s accusers began as soon as the story broke. Major media figures, such as Keith Olberman, were claiming Assange was set up even before the basic facts of the case were in. Sadly, rumors are still flying about the supposed CIA connection of one of Assange’s accusers. However, no credible media source has verified this “connection.”
It was first claimed by Israel Shamir, a Wikileaks member infamous for Holocaust denial and other anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Shamir claims that one of Assange’s accusers once worked with anti-Castro groups that are also supported by the CIA.
Myth 3. The UK is seriously considering storming the Ecuadorian embassy
Rumors spread recently that British police may attempt to arrest Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy, which Ecuador claims is a “threat to its sovereignty.” Although embassies are generally considered the territory of the nation that runs them, it has been legal for Britain to make arrests inside foreign embassies since 1987. The law was passed in response to multiple incidents in which foreign embassies were used to murder British citizens. However, the UK has since clarified that while it has the legal right to arrest Assange inside the embassy, it doesn’t plan to do so. A raid on the embassy would have huge political costs and would be completely unnecessary, assuming Assange doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life in the building. The UK is searching outgoing packages, and law enforcement officers were told: “You could prod it, and if it says ‘Ouch’ in an Australian accent, you can stop it going further.”
Myth 4. Wikileaks and Ecuador are just motivated by "transparency"
The current Ecuadorian government has a long history of confrontational anti-Americanism, but a pretty weak commitment to free speech. Ironically, Ecuador once ousted an American ambassador because Wikileaks revealed that she had forwarded reports of presidential corruption to Washington.
Assange himself has questionable free speech credentials. In 2006, he wrote that “Our primary targets are those highly oppressive regimes in China, Russia, and Central Eurasia, but we also expect to be of assistance to those in the West who wish to reveal illegal or immoral behavior in their own governments and corporations.”
However, he now works for Russia Today, a TV channel run by the largest “highly oppressive regime in Central Eurasia.” The channel was designed to spin events in Russia’s favor, and has become infamous for pushing “birther” and “truther” conspiracy theories. In Assange’s very first show, he gave a favorable interview to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and one of the world’s worst terrorists.
Myth 5. Wikileaks never endangered innocent lives
There have been multiple instances in which Wikileaks has been dangerously reckless. After being criticized for releasing the social security numbers of U.S. soldiers, Assange told the New Yorker that this was acceptable “collateral damage, and acknowledged that despite Wikileaks’ “harm-minimization policy” there may be “blood on our hands.”
Other leaks were far more dangerous; they included technical details of a device designed to disarm roadside explosives (IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan. An even more disturbing leak included the names of Afghan informants who gave U.S. or Afghan forces information about the Taliban, and a Taliban spokesman acknowledged that it had used these cables to hunt people down.
Assange has been called out by more genuine, liberal, pro-transparency groups such as Amnesty International, the Open Society Institute, and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. Assange’s response was to demand that the groups criticizing him help him remove names from documents (even this was after they had been posted online in unredacted form!) and accuse the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission of being a U.S. government stooge. In reality, the AIHRC is a well-respected NGO that has made far more important contributions to transparency than Wikileaks has. The AIHRC can boast of exposing the torture of Afghan detainees and forcing positive change. Yet it is Assange who enjoys celebrity status, while those who fought for more meaningful transparency remain unsung. And a few more of them would be alive today, if it were not for WikiLeaks.