Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder being protected by the Ecuadorian embassy in London, appeared on a low balcony last Sunday to make a speech. He seemed to be almost mocking the British police, who could not touch him.
Among other things, he talked about the case of Bradley Manning, the US soldier accused of leaking state secrets to him. “If Bradley Manning did as he is accused, he is a hero, an example to all of us and one of the world’s foremost political prisoners,” Assange said. He is right about that.
Bradley, 24, has now spent more than 800 days behind bars without trial in military prison. For much of the time he has been in solitary confinement for 23 to 24 hours a day and denied clothes and blankets at night.
“You can hear Bradley coming from a long way away because of the chains,” David House, a friend who visits him, has said. “His feet have chains on them, they go to a leather belt around his waist,” he adds. “His hands go into them and he has no free movement of his hands.”
There are 22 charges against Bradley, including “aiding the enemy”. This is what the US state wants to do to people who cross it—people like Julian Assange whose Wikileaks website exposed US war crimes.
The case of Assange himself, however, is far more problematic than that of Manning. He has been granted asylum by Ecuador to avoid being extradited to Sweden for arrest and questioning over accusations by two women of rape and sexual assault. He said he feared extradition to the US.
Assange and some of his supporters have refused to take the rape allegations seriously. His own lawyers have endorsed conspiracy theories calling the women a “honeytrap”. Ecuadorian foreign minister Ricardo Patino even disgustingly called the accusations “hilarious”.
But the British authorities are hardly in a position to give lectures. Just this week it was revealed that the Metropolitan police’s rape unit, Sapphire, has seen the number of cases reported to it drop as victims have lost confidence in it.
If this was solely about rape, the police would likely be ignoring it. Instead we have seen Tory foreign secretary William Hague threaten to ignore international law and storm the embassy.
He said Britain could use an obscure law to revoke its diplomatic status and raid it. For their side, there is clearly something more in play. That something is Wikileaks.
Assange and his organisation have repeatedly pulled the US tiger by the tail. From the Afghanistan “Collateral Murder” video to the war logs and the cables, they have angered the imperial superpower.
We know that Assange faces a secret “sealed indictment” in the US, and a grand jury has been convened against Wikileaks. The indictment was revealed in leaks from US intelligence firm Stratfor. Many witnesses called to the grand jury have blown the whistle in the media.
Extraditions from Britain are possible, but difficult, as shown by the case of alleged computer hacker Gary McKinnon. Sweden has a far more compliant record.
It would be a huge victory for the US to have Julian Assange in a cell next to Bradley Manning. That cannot be allowed to happen.
The rape accusations should never be trivialised or brushed aside. But if the Swedish authorities were serious about investigating them, they would guarantee that Assange would not be extradited to the US. That could clear the way for him to face his accusers.