Amer­ica's net is clos­ing on As­sange

The Pak Banker - - Editorial - Linda Heard

For some, Ju­lian As­sange, the al­abaster­skinned, white-haired Wik­ileaks founder, is a rock star. Italy's Rolling Stone mag­a­zine has named him 'Rock Star of the Year' and placed his im­age on its cover. His grow­ing host of high­pro­file ad­mir­ers and fi­nan­cial sup­port­ers is be­gin­ning to sound like a Who's Who. They in­clude Im­ran Khan's for­mer wife Jemima, filmmaker Ken­neth Loach, in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist John Pil­ger, the Nicaraguan­born ac­tivist Bianca Jag­ger, the Pak­istani-born Bri­tish writer/cam­paigner Tariq Ali - and Vaughan Smith, a for­mer Cap­tain in the Gre­nadier Guards who owns London's Front­line Club - a "camp­fire" for "for­eign jour­nal­ists to sit around and tell sto­ries."

Last week As­sange was granted con­di­tional bail un­til his ex­tra­di­tion hear­ing in Fe­bru­ary. He was taken from soli­tary con­fine­ment in a Vic­to­rian London prison to a lux­u­ri­ous re­treat, a ten-room coun­try manor house sur­rounded by 600 acres of farm­land, be­long­ing to Vaughan. But Mr. As­sange, who is wanted in Swe­den to an­swer ques­tions con­cern­ing rape al­le­ga­tions and has been charged with ab­so­lutely noth­ing, is a wor­ried man.

His prob­lem is that fol­low­ing his pub­li­ca­tion of sen­si­tive US diplo­matic ca­bles that have em­bar­rassed not only Washington but just about ev­ery cap­i­tal in the world, he gen­uine- ly fears for his life and the lives of his whis­tle-blow­ing col­leagues. But be­fore you're tempted to write him off as para­noid, re­mem­ber that a num­ber of US politi­cians and me­dia peo­ple have lit­er­ally been bay­ing for his blood. In­deed, sev­eral want him la­beled a ter­ror­ist to be hunted-down and as­sas­si­nated.

I doubt that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion would get its hands that dirty, but those calls could in­spire all sorts of haters and lu­natics to elim­i­nate a man the Amer­i­can es­tab­lish­ment views as a grave en­emy. Such vin­dic­tive blood­lust spew­ing out of the mouths of Amer­i­can politi­cians and sen­a­tors is not only rep­re­hen­si­ble it also negates their abil­ity to be law­mak­ers. When it comes to the al­le­ga­tions of rape, As­sange has protested his in­no­cence. And, in­deed, on the face of it, there is some­thing fishy about the Swedish ar­rest war­rant when the file had been closed for lack of ev­i­dence and then re-opened by a dif­fer­ent pros­e­cu­tor at the in­sti­ga­tion of a Swedish politician. It seems strange that Swe­den would pur­sue this mat­ter with such vigor when Swe­den cat­e­go­rizes rape in three tiers depend­ing on grav­ity. In the case of As­sange, the charges have been down­graded to the most mi­nor cat­e­gory, which, even were he to be tried and con­victed, would not usu­ally merit jail time. An­other mys­te­ri­ous as­pect to the mat­ter was Bri­tain's Crown Pros­e­cu­tion ob­jec­tion to bail, which As­sange's lawyers ini­tially be­lieved was at Swe­den's be­hest. In fact, the Swedish au­thor­i­ties later an­nounced that they were in­dif­fer­ent as to whether As­sange re­ceived bail or not when the Bri­tish pros­e­cu­tor in­volved said he didn't know who was push­ing for de­nial of bail ei­ther.

This con­fu­sion ap­pears to lend cred­i­bil­ity to As­sange's as­ser­tion that the Swedish ar­rest war­rant is po­lit­i­cally-mo­ti­vated. He be­lieves it is a mere de­lay­ing tac­tic. He says the whole thing has been cooked-up so as to give the US At­tor­ney-Gen­eral time to come up with an ap­pli­ca­ble US law prior to lodg­ing an ex­tra­di­tion request of his own. That isn't as out­landish as it might sound when the Swedish govern­ment co­op­er­ated with the CIA in se­cret to al­low ren­di­tion flights car­ry­ing ab­ducted de­tainees to op­er­ate via its air­ports and airspace.

Amer­ica may be vil­i­fy­ing Mr. As­sange, but pros­e­cu­tors have been scratch­ing their heads to find a charge that would stick in a coun­try whose First Amend­ment pro­tects free­dom of speech. He's not a "traitor" as some Fox News an­chors have been sug­gest­ing be­cause he's Aus­tralian, not Amer­i­can. And so, they are try­ing their best to get him on charges of es­pi­onage. But as As­sange didn't per­son­ally down­load Amer­ica's se­crets, for that, they would re­quire ev­i­dence that he had con­spired to do so. That's eas­ier said than done...or is it? A re­port in the In­de­pen­dent news­pa­per sug­gests that US au­thor­i­ties have been try­ing to lure Bradley Man­ning - the young army pri- vate in their cus­tody thought be di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for the leaks - with a plea bar­gain in re­turn for his court tes­ti­mony that As­sange co­erced or en­ticed him to down­load the ma­te­rial for on­ward trans­mis­sion to Wik­ileaks. If faced with the pos­si­bil­ity of life in prison, Man­ning may be tempted to say what­ever they want him to. If he does, the US pros­e­cu­tor will be em­pow­ered to build a rea­son­able case for As­sange's ex­tra­di­tion from ei­ther the UK or Swe­den. In­deed, there is a strong pos­si­bil­ity that Man­ning has al­ready bowed to pres­sure as, ac­cord­ing to the In­de­pen­dent, a grand jury has al­ready been se­cretly em­pan­elled in the US, await­ing As­sange's ar­rival on Amer­i­can soil.

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