The Victorians wouldn’t have stood for it

Bernard Porter · Assange and Extradition

In the 19th century it was virtually impossible to extradite anyone from Britain. In the first place there had to be a bilateral extradition treaty with the country concerned. These were very few and far between. All of them specified very precisely what a person could be extradited for. It had to be a serious crime, recognised as such in Britain too; there had to be a formal charge; a prima facie case needed to be established that a prosecution would probably succeed; no one could be extradited for one offence only to be tried for another; and the crime could not be ‘political’. ‘Political’ at that time embraced politically motivated crimes, including those that might have been extraditable if they weren’t committed for political reasons, such as murder, and what today we would call ‘terrorism’.

Lastly, British magistrates were unwilling to extradite to countries whose judicial procedures were felt to fall short of their own. The lack of a jury system was a common complaint. This of course made foreign governments cross, when for example Britain routinely refused to return dangerous political refugees to them; and British governments uncomfortable, especially when, at one point in the 1850s, the ‘refugee question’ looked as though it might spark an Anglo-French war. ‘Ordinary’ Britons, however, were inordinately proud of this; which is why their governments were never able to ‘truckle’, as the expression went, to foreign demands in this field.

Perhaps it’s because I know too much history, but I was totally unprepared for the possibility that Sweden’s current extradition request for Julian Assange might succeed. In the 19th century it would have been thrown out of court. I knew things had changed; but I was under the impression that most of the old safeguards were still in place. Apparently not. At least three of the old requirements for a successful extradition blatantly do not apply in this case, but they don’t need to, thanks to the European Arrest Warrant.

This was introduced (by David Blunkett – who else?) in 2003 to make the extradition of suspected terrorists easier, but – as is so often the case with counter-terrorist measures – is now being exploited to trawl for other fish: 700 people, apparently, were extradited from Britain to elsewhere in Europe in 2009. A foreign prosecutor only has to ask for a suspect to be sent over, and it’s done. There doesn’t even have to be a charge. All the defence can do is try to show that the formal procedures were not followed correctly; which seems to be the main line of argument in Assange’s case. They can also try to argue that the extradition request was unnecessary (given that Assange could have been interrogated in England), unreasonable, politically motivated or malicious (on the part of the ‘radical feminist’ Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny); but there’s no guarantee that these objections will work, even if true.

If Ny is successful in getting Assange over, I wouldn’t like to prejudge how he will do in a Swedish court, but I can understand why he might be nervous, even if he is innocent. The Swedish definition of ‘rape’ is wider than in the UK, where some form or degree of coercion is required. Much of the press comment on the case in Sweden, including by leading politicians, has not been friendly. Several people have said that the root of the problem is that in Britain we don’t take rape seriously. The prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, is one of them – which looks a bit like political interference. And then there are the facts that Sweden doesn’t have a jury system and holds rape trials in secret. Swedish friends of mine fail to see a problem here. But it worries me, brought up to believe in the importance of being judged by one’s peers. It’s a cultural thing. And it certainly would have put a stop to an extradition like this in Victorian times.

For what it’s worth, I don’t believe in any of the conspiracy theories surrounding this case: that it was ‘got up’, for example, by the CIA. I also think it’s highly unlikely that Swedish public opinion would permit Assange’s extradition to the United States, which is apparently another of his fears: given some credence, perhaps, by one of the cables released by WikiLeaks, which revealed that the present ‘moderate’ Swedish government was far more in cahoots with the US than it dared to let on. And no one can yet say whether he is innocent or guilty of the charges he may face in Sweden, either in British or in Swedish terms. What I do know, however, is that his extradition from Britain, in these circumstances, could not have happened 100, 200 or even 10 years ago, when Britain considered itself to be more liberal, and was certainly more sovereign.


  • 11 February 2011 at 11:12am
    Joe Morison says:
    It may be a byproduct of globalization. The power elites in Western countries identify with each other much more than they used to, they share the same interests rather than being in competition.

    I guess that Cameron &co. feel far closer to the ruling politicians and money men in Europe and the States than they do to the great unwashed they disdainfully govern. We saw some of this in the Wikileaks, they are happy to share their feelings with each other as long as we are all kept in the dark.

  • 11 February 2011 at 3:17pm
    Geoff Roberts says:
    Yes, but the Victorians were in favour of flogging, hanging and a few other pleasantries as well. I get the impression that there is ambivalence in attitudes towards Assange and this particular situation. On the one hand, Assange is a good chap because he has let us read some of the secrets of the mighty, but he might be a bad fellow because he may have adopted some questionable sexual practices in Sweden. If he were, say a banker who was suspected of such practices, we might say good riddance and be glad to see him face the music. But Assange is a temporary hero, so we automatically support him.

    • 11 February 2011 at 7:23pm
      Joe Morison says: @ Geoff Roberts
      But suppose he was a banker and evidence emerged he was innocent? We should hold onto 'until proven guilty' with all our might, it's a wonderful principle that in many democratic countries is not taken very seriously.

  • 11 February 2011 at 8:39pm
    Kairo says:
    There are no secret trails in Sweden. At some rape trails evidence are heard in private, legal arguments and judgment are, of course, public (what’s wrong with you!).

    The main idea behind European Arrest Warrant is that if, for example, a Dutch person rapes a woman in London he should not be able to hide from British law in The Netherlands.
    Most people, though sympathisers of the BNP and Bernard Porter obviously feel differently, realise that such a system is necessary in Europe today.

    • 12 February 2011 at 3:02am
      cigar says: @ Kairo
      Would you take the trouble to read Porter's original post before letting out some infantile, lighthearted, half cooked apology for another example of the EU's dictatorial tendencies?

      "The main idea behind European Arrest Warrant is that if, for example, a Dutch person rapes a woman in London he should not be able to hide from British law in The Netherlands."

      Indeed that's what extraditions are for! The difference with EAW's is that they are the product of an unelected EU technocrat's mind, insensitive to the needs of common citizens because there's no worry about getting the boot for pushing bad policy. Here are plenty of examples of EAW being abused by the rather backward legal systems of many Continental EU members.

      But, since no really wealthy, well connected individuals are involved, Barroso and his ilk don't give a damn. Like Carolingian courtiers, they churn out decrees, but have them rubber stampeded by toothless bodies, to give a dictatorship the aura of a well oiled democracy.

      The difference being that the colleague's merits are those of a - formerly - pampered bourgeoisie*, while the feudal lords earned their power by risking their life in the battlefield, and so could always look more regal than sleazy bureaucrats such as the haiku hack leading the Council, van Rompuy.

      * The late Tony Judt sums it up with some really beautiful prose here:

    • 12 February 2011 at 8:23pm
      Kairo says: @ cigar
      Bernard Porter’s only argument for the superiority of British courts is it that they are British. That impresses no one but you and your fellow BNP supporters.

      The rule of law is as strong in Britain as in Germany, Belgium, Sweden, The Netherlands etc.
      Sadly, this seems hard to accept for some in the UK. It is the same psychological process that makes some believe the English national football team is destined to win the world cup every time. How can they not win, they are from England?

      If Britain suspect someone for a crime and that person hides in an other EU-country it is not up to the courts or government of that country to decide whether British courts are safe or not.

      Have there have been criticism in cases where the EAW was used? Of course, and many times that criticism was most valid.
      But, and you might find this hard to believe, even the British legal system gets criticized sometimes.

    • 12 February 2011 at 10:19pm
      cigar says: @ Kairo
      First, don't try smears and the guilt by association trick on me. I am not a member of the BNP - In fact I am not even British. You insult everyone's intelligence here by behaving like an troll in some worthless tabloid.

      And again I have to ask you to take the trouble to go through the document on the first link I gave, because the problems with the EAW are really serious. They are not about the kind of mistakes that happen with everything involving human judgment and lack of information - they go to the heart of what is expected from a judicial process in a country with any serious respect for human rights. The UK's legal system has its problems, but it is certainly better than the sclerotic ones of Italy, Greece or most of Eastern Europe. And it is from there that many EAW's come, put out by careless judges taking advantage of the minimal requirements set by the EU to issue one.

      The link, a Swedish memorandum submitted to the Commons, goes into more detail:

      "3.2.2 The rules regarding the availability of legal aid for individuals subject to an EAW are unclear and vary from state to state. Legal aid to support legal representation (in both the requesting state and the executing state) is often limited. Given the serious impact extradition can have on an individual's personal and family life and the likely problems individuals will face in following the proceedings in another language and culture, it is essential they should have representation and that if necessary this should be paid for by legal aid. This is all the more so given the abolition of the requirement on issuing states to show a prima facie case when issuing an EAW."

      That is, under an EAW a person barely suspected of a crime can be dragged to another EU country, and face a court whose legal system *and* language he or she doesn't understand, and it will be up to fate to decide whether he or she is provided with a translator, let alone a decent lawyer.

      Do you get that? If you don't, then perhaps you could take the trouble to imagine being in the place of such a person. If not, then Part 6 of the memorandum can save you the trouble of using your imagination by presenting several cases of lives destroyed by EAW's coupled with the backward legal systems of supposedly advanced countries such as France.

    • 12 February 2011 at 10:24pm
      cigar says: @ cigar
      Correction: the memorandum was submitted by Fair Trials International.

    • 12 February 2011 at 11:22pm
      Kairo says: @ cigar
      My main point is that Bernard Porter wants British courts to have superiority over Swedish because they are British. That is an argument worthy of the BNP.

      Some British newspapers first reported that it was a crime in Sweden to have sex without a condom and Bernard Porter actually believes that rape trails in Sweden are held in secret. His position on whether there are monsters in the Baltic Sea we still don’t know.
      The willingness to believe such stories, even among intellectuals like Porter, requires a kind of nationalism and chauvinism unheard of in most European countries.

      So you prefer a Europe where it’s possible to commit a crime in one country and then hide in another. You see no problems with that position?

      As forAssange and lawyers. He has three of them and Bjorn Hurtig is seen as of the best in the Sweden.

    • 13 February 2011 at 6:44pm
      cigar says: @ Kairo
      "That is an argument worthy of the BNP."
      "His position on whether there are monsters in the Baltic Sea we still don’t know."

      Smear tactics, once again. Would you like it if I called you a cog in the EU's propaganda machine?

      "So you prefer a Europe where it’s possible to commit a crime in one country and then hide in another. You see no problems with that position?"

      At no point does Porter push for striking out all extradition treaties the UK has signed with other nations. The question he's addressing is a foreign court's fairness towards the accused, compared to Britain's. It is sad to say it, but the problem with Sweden's case against Assange and with the EAW's, is the same British judges face when dealing with extradition requests from nations such as Algeria. A state whose prosecutors have questionable ethical standards, such as Marianne Ny, who is on record calling for all men to be locked up; or who facilitated the "rendition" of terror suspects to countries where they would be tortured, is not a state that cares much about fair trials. And don't forget the many flaws of the case against ThePirateBay, in which the judge's association with the movie and music business was pushed aside by the state. But this is typical of a mentally challenged, money grubbing right, such as that leading the Swedish government. So I hope one of these days Stockholm experiences the same revolts against intolerance and corruption that we have just seen in Cairo, my dear Kairo.

      "[...]requires a kind of nationalism and chauvinism unheard of in most European countries."

      Really? And what about Sarkozy and Berlusconi's (and many Italians') attitudes and policies towards the Roma, or the rants of disgraced central banker Sarrazyn and the loon Geert Wilders' against Muslims? Farther East, we have Slovakia making life difficult for its Hungarian minorities by outlawing the teaching of their language, and discrimination against Russian minorities in the Baltics. And who can forget the Jobbit goons in Hungary, with their overt anti-Semitism? Not even Scandinavia societies can claim to be inclusive and tolerant any longer: Muslims no longer feel at home in Denmark, and for that great accomplishment its former PM Rasumssen, another right-wing retard, gets the top job at NATO, which is very close to the EU. Latin Americans immigrants have been the target of discrimination and racist attacks in Spain and Italy for a long time. Austria's notorious right-wing is also making life increasingly difficult for African immigrants, even legal residents. Considering this all, it is difficult not to conclude that the EU is one big cauldron of hate. If an increasingly xenophobic Switzerland were to join the EU, for all the ECHR's protests against its anti-Muslim policies, it would be just one more member of a club of proud bigots. Something is truly rotten, and not only in Denmark...

    • 14 February 2011 at 8:39pm
      Thank you for your answer.
      Now comparing you to a BNP member seems even cheaper.

      I wanted to express my genuine disappointment with the nationalism and chauvinism, even among progressive intellectuals, I see in British media.
      This is even more disappointing since the British debate is (relatively) free from the racism and hatred towards Islam and Muslims you find in for example Holland, Belgium and Scandinavia.

    • 15 February 2011 at 1:34am
      cigar says: @ Kairo
      So everyone concerned with defending the sovereignty of his country is
      necessarily a chauvinist? If only it were so! Perhaps, by holding UN SC
      (and maybe even GA) meetings in large theaters, replacing diplomats with
      seasoned demagogues, and allowing the kind of behavior often seen in FIFA
      World Cup matches, such an important issue would receive the attention it
      deserves from a public accustomed to instant gratification.

      The truth is that, post-1789, increasing transnational power translates into less power for the people - in our increasingly globalized age, less sovereignty means less democracy. You seem to think that good intentions can justify that loss. But there was plenty of that behind American imperialist interventions past and present. Its latest cosmpolitan incarnation has been "liberal interventionism".

      And Assange's let us see through that, revealing the corruption and cynical nature of transnational elites, the moral rot hiding behind their newspeak, a melange of MBA hot air and the therapeutic language of social workers. They talk about transparency, but they - and their billionaire sponsors - do not hesitate to hide their money in tax shelters also favored by the illegal drug and arms trade.

      And so WikiLeaks has proven that people power *can* use globalization (whose engine is largely technological progress) to curtail the power of this new aristocracy, that likes to clothe itself with the ideals of the Enlightenment, but whose actions have led to inequalities of power and wealth in not a few cases worse than those of the Middle Ages.*

      * Their mindset (and its contradictions) is best described - so far - in a very good but somewhat apologetic article that appeared in The Atlantic Monthly:

  • 12 February 2011 at 1:00am
    philip proust says:
    'For what it’s worth, I don’t believe in any of the conspiracy theories surrounding this case: that it was ‘got up’, for example, by the CIA. I also think it’s highly unlikely that Swedish public opinion would permit Assange’s extradition to the United States, which is apparently another of his fears: given some credence, perhaps, by one of the cables released by WikiLeaks, which revealed that the present ‘moderate’ Swedish government was far more in cahoots with the US than it dared to let on.'

    My view is that Bernard Porter's belief is not 'worth' very much. The rest of the article is balanced and takes an interesting historical view, but it would not be public opinion in Sweden that decides whether Assange gets extradited to the US. The matter would be decided through Sweden's judicial system and its government, which is acknowledged to be much more supine to US interests than the popular image of Sweden would suggest.

    For those who ever doubted it, Wikileaks has demonstrated that the naive view of international relations can no longer be seriously entertained. There really are hidden agendas in some cases and given how much Obama would have to gain by using Assange as a sacrificial lamb - as a sop to the trigger-happy moron right in the US - in the lead-up to his re-election campaign, it is likely that Sweden could expect some attractive favours if it plays along with a US request.

    Of course, we cannot know at this stage whether there is or will be an anti-Assange conspiracy, but if we are forced to speculate, the safer bet would be to put one's money on a right-appeasing move rather than the opposite. The arrangement that seems to have resulted in the release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber is a striking and relevant example of the reality of behind-the-scenes dealing that appears to be have been neatly covered up with political reassurances and a judicial facade. I would not like to be in Julian Assange's shoes.

  • 13 February 2011 at 10:44pm
    chrisryland says:
    Regardless of the merits of one one legal framework over another, Prime Minister Reinfeldt’s comments to the Swedish Parliament this week regarding the Assange extradition hearing were extremely ill-advised. To defend the bona fides of the Swedish legal system in general terms is one thing, but then to comment on the specific details of an ongoing legal case, including making value judgements about the seriousness or otherwise of the charges, especially when there are no charges as yet, is quite another. How could this do other than prejudice any subsequent trial, no matter whether it were in Sweden or the UK?

    Julian Assange, despite his frequent protestations regarding the disparity between the financial resources of the Swedish and British Governments to fund a top prosecuting barrister and his own ‘meagre’ resources, has a highly motivated legal team of Geoffrey Robertson QC, Mark Stephens and Jennifer Robinson. They are a hugely powerful trio of civil rights lawyers (just look at their CVs on the internet), very well able to muster powerful legal arguments, peppered by the occasional and very cutting sound bite.

    At the very least, Reinfeldt’s clumsy intervention just serves to demonstrate an unhealthy connection between the Swedish Government and judicial processes. This can only feed the imaginations of those who seek to find deeper political motivations in the prosecution of Assange.

    Let me make one prediction. The Assange extradition case will run and run. Whichever sides wins in court on February 24th, the other side will inevitably appeal and as we know, complex extradition processes can drag on over many months. For example, the case of Garry McKinnon, whose extradition has been sought by the US has already gone on for over five years. And even if the Swedish judicial system is ultimately successful in extraditing Assange, the media circus will just transfer its location.

    Let me be absolutely clear that no one can condone rape no matter what the circumstanes, but the process started by Marienne Ny will increasingly put Sweden under a worldwide and highly critical scrutiny that it will find extremely uncomfortable to endure. The facts of the case will almost be forgotten as international public opinion polarises between libertarians and conservative authoritarianism. It pains those of us who are international friends of many Swedish people to hear their country described, in a recent Assange defence sound bite, as “The Saudi Arabia of radical feminism”. But this is just the beginning. Sweden should be prepared for a very rough ride in the increasingly internet driven world wide media.

  • 14 February 2011 at 3:29am
    Swedish gentleman says:
    I just hope that, if the Assange case achieves just one thing, it is that the scales fall from the eyes of the British public about Sweden.
    Really, it's about bloody time.
    It is not a liberal paradise. This infantile international image is incredibly out of date, and was based on a 15-year-long free approach to sex and pornography in the 196s, though the state could be oppressive in other ways even then. Believe me, though, there are no sex shops, prostitutes or free love seminars in today's Stockholm.

    Sweden does some things well: it's organised, gives the bottom half of society plenty of help; Swedes have a nice sense of design. There is much less delinquency, and it's cleaner. But there are negative things to, and they are associated with Sweden's strengths. And that is not surprising: weaknesses are are usually also strengths. So the trade off for the wealth and equality and organisation is this.
    The state is much more powerful than the individual and it is also a deeply bossy country, you might say authoritarian, and there is no separation of the powers as you might see in the UK. Justice is indeed highly political, carried out with one eye at what he politicians want, with the purpose of social engineering. "Justice protects the state from the individual, not the individual from the state". It's as far from Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence as you could imagine. "State feminism" is the government's current ideological project, and consequently it is in sex crimes that the most abuses against correct legal process take place. Don't take my word for it. Many of the most senior legal minds in Sweden agree, including the professor of jurisprudence at Uppsala. (for those who can read Swedish, here. Kairo, old chap, you seem like a Swede)

  • 14 February 2011 at 5:00am
    Swedish gentleman says:
    The 100 page police dossier, with interviews, which Assange's lawyers have had a chance to examine, is much discussed on Swedish blogs, shows what a travesty the case is.

    1) Girl B never signed her interrogation form, supposedly because she was so shocked that Assange was being arrested for rape. She only wanted him tested for HIV, that's why she went to the police. Therefore her story has no legal validity. Yet it is her story of being "penetrated" while asleep (actually only *half asleep* according to her texts to other friends) that forms the basis of the EAW, as woman A's allegations are not serious enough. (They are not rape but minor rape, a crime known only in Swedish law. And only rape is extraditable)
    2) There are no DNA traces on the condom Miss A brought to the police whose alleged deliberate tearing forms the basis of her rape claim
    3) The evening after being violated, Miss A held a crayfish party for JA in which they were reported to be close, joking with one another and on very familiar equal terms. (Miss A was highly educated, a political activist but also women's officer at Uppsala university.) At one point, a witness overhears Miss A taking an empty seat next to JA and saying: "I felt dumped by you last night when you got out of bed to work on your computer."
    4) Every day for five days, witness JW, a Swedish journalist and wikileaks associate, asked Miss A whether she wanted Assange to stay with him, JW. She replied: No, it's fine. He can stay for as long as he likes. As long as he I know will be staying. JA also had access to another colleague Donald's empty flat, and Miss A knew this
    5) There were 13 witnesses, including some of Miss A's female friends at the crayfish party. Of these 13, only 3 were recorded – all of them men, all of them on Assange’s side. Yet all the disobliging comments against Assange, from both Miss A, Miss B, and their female friends, all appeared in were so called summaries rather than word for word dialogues written out. These summaries mean that interpretation by the policeman have been played a part on the presentation of the case. And they are not recommended because it is precisely how a woman makes her allegation, in every detail, that is important when determining her credibility
    6) Leaked emails from the Swedish police computer show that Police MG ordered one of his subordinates to insert a new text into Miss B's testimony. AT first the subordinate IK refused, but went along with it. We do not know the content of this illegally inserted text. But was it used to ramp up the allegation?
    7 Miss A only changed her mind about JA when she heard that he had slept with Miss B. Famously she wrote a blog on how to get revenge against a man in seven steeps on her blog, which was later deleted
    8) Days after her violation was supposed to have taken place, Miss A boasted to journalist Donald that "I have get the coolest, sexiest man in the world into my bed and I am so proud of it"
    9) Bjorn Hurtig, the girls' lawyer, sass he has seen texts where the girls talk of revenge and of going to the newspapers to get a lot of money. I can't confirm any more about this. (I think this came out in the trial; most of the information in this post though has appeared only in Swedish. )
    10) Per Ole Traskman, professor of criminal justice at Lund university, told a journalist on Swedish radio on Friday that Assange could not be convicted on the evidence shown so far in the report. Swedish journalism is deeply rubbish: nearly always sides with the authorities. The journalist did not like this and quickly moved on to the next subject.
    11) Swedish rape cases are held in camera where the testimony and much of the judgment will be given long confidentiality stamps. As someone said, some of the judges, the “namndeman”, are politically appointed.
    12 If Assange is extradited to Sweden the likelihood is overwhelming according to people I spoke to that Assange could be kept in complete isolation cell in a remand prison for up to six months before he is even charged, let alone gone to trial. (Remand prison is Hakte in Swedish) There is no bail in Sweden. This system has been heavily criticised by the Council of Europe committee against torture. No TV, newspapers, no visits, no contact with family or friends, or even other prisoners. The president of the international prison chaplain’s association told me two weeks ago the system was, psychologically speaking (because materially it’s okay as you’d expect – this is Sweden) one of the harshest in Europe. Prisoners told the CoE report that the isolation was used to break prisoners so they wouldn’t present a competent defence at the trial.

  • 14 February 2011 at 5:23am
    Swedish gentleman says:
    Finally, you may think is just about Assange, or he is a one off case. It is not. In fact, Swedish justice is on trial.
    Three years ago the justice chancellor, the most powerful legal official in the land, published a report called "Wrongly convicted". The justice chancellor is a kind of ombudsman, tasked to look after the rights of the individual in the Swedish system. He began the report by saying that "many cases he had looked into were characterised by poor construction" and more and more prison chaplains and defence lawyers had told him their clients were innocent and sitting in jail. However, he was marginalised for the rest of his tenure after attacks by a number of Swedish judges and feminist journalists.
    The departing head of the supreme court Johan Munck told a gathering of jurists last April that Swedish courts convicted on an 80% probability which meant, he said, that there could be many innocent people in Swedish jails.

    Finally, I can recommend a book by Therese Juel, who looked into cases of men falsely convicted of rape.
    Men spend years in jail on a woman's say so; some even had alibis for being somewhere else. It's like Kafka

    And now Assange....Everything he says about it being Saudi Arabia of insane feminism is true

    Assange has every reason to fear Swedish justice. It is not only harsh - though it is that too - but can be staggeringly arbitrary. He may be claiming his leaks contributed to revolution in Egypt. But I hope his case will lead to a revolution in your perceptions of Sweden.

    • 15 February 2011 at 7:19am
      philip proust says: @ Swedish gentleman
      You have made a number of interesting and informative points, Swedish gentleman.

      The twelve 'highlights' from the police dossier are all significant.

      You are right that the Anglo-Celtic world has an idealised image of Sweden that is generally not supported by the actual workings of the Swedish system of justice and government.

      The only gap in your argument is that a high percentage of rape prosecutions result in not guilty verdicts; or so we have been led to believe.

    • 15 February 2011 at 12:49pm
      Joe Morison says: @ Swedish gentleman
      Thanks for that, SG, it's good to hear about all this from someone who understands the Swedish legal system.

      Respect to Kairo for admitting the BNP jibe was cheap. Now, will (s)he please apologize for saying that it's chauvinist for Brits to admire many aspects of our legal system not found in many other European countries: the genuine independence of the judiciary; the presumption of innocence (i served on a jury and it was made very clear to us that our job was not to establish the innocence of the accused, but to decide if the prosecution had proved beyond reasonable doubt their guilt); and, that the verdict is decided by 12 ordinary members of the public whose deliberations must remain secret. We have fought for this over hundreds of years, it's not perfect but our reasons for supporting it over most other systems are rational not prejudiced.

    • 15 February 2011 at 1:32pm
      Joe Morison says: @ philip proust
      You're right, Philip, to say that the failure of so many rape prosecutions is horrible. But rape is often very hard to prove, if the woman went willingly with the man to a private place there will be no witnesses, and there is unlikely to be any physical evidence that the sex was non-consensual. Rape is one of the worst crimes, but so is convicting an innocent man of it - they don't have a very nice time in prison and for the rest of their lives it will hang over them.

      All British lawyers are taught the Blackstone ratio: "Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer". I hate the thought of rapists going free, but better that than innocent men being convicted.

  • 15 February 2011 at 9:46pm
    alex says:
    I would have expected Porter's commentary to have been based on a) a knowledgeable analysis of the Swedish system; and b) an understanding of the rationale behind the mechanisms of the European Arrest Warrant. Lack of this makes his boast that he 'knows too much history' a vain one. If he knew something of the corsi and ricorsi of human affairs, he would have been less than (by his own admission) 'totally unprepared' for the fact that things have moved on since Victorian times, an assumption which I suspect few continental Europeans would have made. I am therefore sympathetic to Kairo's criticisms, acerbic as they were.
    I also appreciated Swedish Gentleman's glosses.
    I don't understand Porter's reasoning behind not responding to anonymous comments (who cares who wrote them?) or his expectation that his audience should have consulted his previous articles.

    • 15 February 2011 at 11:43pm
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ alex
      I agree with all of this, though I also thought Cigar & Chris Ryland were worth reading.

      There is some sort of weird thing going on with the posters on this blog where they say things like they don't respond to anonymous comments or, as Glen Newey recently wrote, "I don’t usually reply to posts that appear in response to my blogs" as if these are reasonable, sensible, thought-out explanations of something. Well, they aren't.

  • 16 February 2011 at 8:49am
    alex says:
    Thanks AJP. I agree that Cigar's and Ryland's contributions added to the debate too. In fact all the commenters before us managed to take the issues a lot further than the original article.
    All of which reinforces your point that the 'I don't usually reply' line is weird. There's lots of articles I don't comment on either. But what is this idea that replying to commentary is somehow beneath them? why do they write if they're not interested in discussing ideas? i could understand if they're simply busy people, but it's more than that; an unbecoming posture of hauteur.

    • 16 February 2011 at 10:40am
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ alex
      A lot further. No disrespect to Bernard Porter - God knows he's more knowledgeable on this than I am - but it's too bad the Assange "rape" is so often presented by people who don't understand Swedish, European & British justice.

      I admit I'm irritated by the pomposity of claiming to have a policy about not replying to comments. And of course you're right: they brought the subject up, not us. If the writer won't subsequently talk about it he or she is saying either "there's no more to be said" or "there's nothing to discuss with the likes of you", and neither of those is acceptable. All the more reason to value those writers - Roy Mayall, Jon Day, Jason Kennedy, Thomas Jones, Daniel Soar and others - who are interested enough to discuss their own posts.

    • 16 February 2011 at 11:16am
      Bernard Porter says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      I'm sorry, but I'm beginning to get cross. I never said I don't reply to comments, only to pseudonymous ones. Can't you read? My reasons are given in the comment below (which predates AJP Crown's last one). I could add another reason: that pseudonymous comments are generally sillier. They can afford to be.

    • 16 February 2011 at 12:21pm
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ Bernard Porter
      There's no need to get cross, I just lumped you together with Glen Newey - honourable company - who wrote in his most recent post “I don’t usually reply to posts that appear in response to my blogs”. You probably wouldn't have been confused if you'd read my first comment, where I said it.

      There is a straightforward and well-accepted reason for using a pseudonym on the internet: people may not want clients or employers to google their name and the first thing that comes up is their political persuasion and that they read and comment on the LRB's blog. I would expect someone who has written about the control of information to be aware of the issue of privacy on the internet, rather than saying anonymous writers write "silly" comments.

    • 17 February 2011 at 1:04pm
      pinhut says: @ Bernard Porter
      "that pseudonymous comments are generally sillier. They can afford to be."

      I don't really agree with this position. I use a pseudonym here, when commenting on posts I didn't write, my own name when commenting on those I did. Some people are aware of the fact I am one and the same. For myself, the 'pinhut' pseudonym is valuable, inasmuch as people who frequent the LRB blog have seen it appear across numerous posts and have had the chance to grasp my position on various issues. I'm no more likely to write something rash than under my given name.

      It seems more that Bernard Porter is likening a pseudonym to anonymity, and they are not necessarily equivalent, particularly on a site that has a regular group of commenters who are aware of one another via whatever labels they've chosen. I would certainly agree, as a blogger, that anonymous comments to my site are almost always not just silly, but usually defamatory, but that is not *because* they are anonymous, that is *why* they are anonymous.

      Anyway, whoever cigar is, he/she has a very sympathetic take to my own on the issues. And I'll just as keenly follow their subsequent contributions as if they were using their given name or something plausible (Bernard Porter's post doesn't address the possibility of a pseudonym such as "Peter Wilson" or even, heaven forbid, "Bernard Porter")

      And now, to the Chinese Lantern festival. Bye.

    • 17 February 2011 at 3:38pm
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ pinhut
      So-called "Bernard Porter" is the blogging name of King Carl Gustaf of Sweden.

    • 17 February 2011 at 4:21pm
      Bernard Porter says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      A joke, I take it. Or is there a serious point to it? That I’m writing on behalf of Sweden? But I do agree – and with ‘pinhut’ - that using a pseudonym that looks like a real name - an alias that pretends not to be one - would be even more duplicitous. In my case, if I were using ‘Bernard Porter’ as a pseudonym I should expect the real ‘Bernard Porter’ to object strongly.

      'Pinhut' may not have read my comment of the 16th, 10.03 (below), where I give my major objections against pseudonymity, except (I agree) in certain circumstances.

      I’ve more or less given up all hope that this correspondence will return to the important question it started off with. That, as I’ve admitted before, was my fault, by provoking the ‘pseudos’ (sorry, but I can’t think of a better noun); though it was generous of AJP Crown to absolve me of this by saying (16 Feb, 12.21) that it was I who was provoked. I also give him credit for blogging under his own name. I assume.

      It’s a shame, however, that so many of these serious debates – I’ve noticed it in other cases - so easily degenerate into exchanges about blogging conducted by a group of people who seem to do little else. (I’ve just looked up ‘AJP Crown’ on Google!) That’s where much of the ‘silliness’ arises.

    • 17 February 2011 at 6:50pm
      alex says: @ Bernard Porter
      'people who seem to do little else'. That's exactly the kind of superficial conclusion you draw about a person from a quick Google. I would be delighted to publish under my full name but unfortunately people judge you in the narrow-minded ill-informed way you've just judged AJP Crown.
      For the record, I have published monographs, edited volumes and reviews which have been judged outstanding by reviewers. I have also just stood for (and obtained) promotion in an academic post. Would I have been promoted if the committee had in its wisdom drawn a superficial conclusion like yours, from the fact that I also comment on blogs?
      You wonder why the debate has 'degenerated' from the main topic. On the contrary, it 'generated' from a mediocre article into some more relevant points about the Assange extradition. Then, it sprouted into an instructive exchange about how debate might be conducted on a blog. All of this seems beneficial, in the sense that people can learn a lot from it. What's your problem with that? That you weren't in control?

    • 17 February 2011 at 7:12pm
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ Bernard Porter
      is there a serious point to it?

      I'm really temped to say it's because King Carl Gustaf has a reputation as Scandinavia's thickest monarch.

      I’ve given up all hope that this correspondence will return to the important question it started off with. That, as I’ve admitted before, was my fault

      It's not your fault. It's because no one is posting any comments about it.

      I also give him credit for blogging under his own name. I assume.

      He? I (and probably you, if you investigate) know many people who use pseudonyms on the internet. They aren't any more likely to be "silly" or "pseudos" (this means "poseurs", by the way) than anyone else on the internet. All you're saying is that if I call myself, as Pinhut wrote, "Peter Wilson", you'll engage in a discussion, but if I simply call myself "Peter" or "hairymonster" you won't. We're trying to show you the arbitrary nuttiness of that.

      so easily degenerate...‘pseudos’ (sorry, but I can’t think of a better noun)... ‘silliness’...can't you read? , etc

      Yes, we've been quite rude to you and you've been "provoked" into yet more rudeness. Making snide comments to people you'll never meet gives some satisfaction, but it doesn't last. More important, it avoids the possibility of a real discussion. Thomas Jones lets off steam with laconic one-liners; that's the way to do it, if you have to, but don't get provoked.

    • 17 February 2011 at 7:27pm
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ alex
      Thank you, alex, for your defence of me. Your own good standing is always pretty obvious from the quality of your writing.

    • 17 February 2011 at 8:01pm
      Bernard Porter says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      This is my last ever blog comment. I've found the whole experience deeply depressing, confirming the wisdom of my initial reluctance to engage in this kind of thing, though for reasons I didn't realise then. I'm sure you'll have more to say, Alex and AJP, but I won't be reading them here; and I imagine few other people will be bothering to return to this (now rather old) post. I should very much like to debate the matter again with either or both of you, but not in this public way. If you would like to send me your email addresses we could do so. Mine is

    • 18 February 2011 at 12:22am
      pinhut says: @ Bernard Porter
      On 'silliness'.

      Bernard, you are complaining of the discussion degenerating, while you blithely insult and dismiss other people. It is like somebody complaining about a lack of basic civility while continually effing and blinding.

  • 16 February 2011 at 10:03am
    Bernard Porter says:
    Here I go again, breaking the principle of a lifetime, and responding to another pseudonymous comment! On that question, my objection to ‘aliases’ is mostly on grounds of openness and honesty. If you sign with your real name, you can be held responsible for what you have written. You may therefore be deterred from writing some of the rubbish that often passes for blog comment. Also, others can see where you ‘come from’. This should help prevent their mistaking your meaning or motives. If for example ‘Kairo’ had read my previous ‘Swedish’ blogs for the LRB - it would have taken just two clicks - he could not possibly have misinterpreted my agenda in the grotesque way he did. If I knew where he comes from I might be able to understand his points better. There are arguments for anonymity in certain circumstances - I would say in rape cases, for example (which is not to say that they should not be heard in open court otherwise) - but not routinely. I have never ever cowered behind this device in my own writing. But perhaps I’m being old-fashioned.

    Otherwise, and on the main issue: can I just repeat what I have already written twice, but ‘Alex’ seems not to have grasped - that my piece was mainly designed to show why those brought up in an Anglo-American legal culture might be nervous - rightly or wrongly - of being tried under a system which must seem so alien to them. ‘Alex’ is right: I don’t yet know enough about the Swedish legal system, though I’m currently reading up on it (Laura Carlson’s Fundamentals of Swedish Law). (Incidentally, I’ve found very few Swedes who can tell me much about it either.) But that’s beside the point. The two countries have very different basic systems. The lack of a jury system in Sweden is one that is bound to appear very worrying to us. Juries, however imperfect, are so central to our sense of freedom and democracy. The Swedes I’ve spoken to don’t seem to understand this. Of course their system has other virtues, and I know of many ways in which Swedish laws are, in my opinion, far superior to ours. But the process is what I imagine Assange and his lawyers are nervous of. Since writing my piece I have discovered other worrying differences: from Carlson’s book; and also from some of longer and better comments posted here - where the main value of this correspondence resides, rather than in my initial piece. I didn’t know that about bail, for example, and about keeping remand prisoners isolated. And Prime Minister Reinfeldt’s political intervention really does seem rather shocking - wouldn’t it be classed as ‘contempt of court’ in Britain?

    It may be that Swedish procedures are fair; but so far I’ve read nothing in this debate from the Swedish side that even argues this, let alone persuades me; only angry, defensive posturing and slurs. It would be interesting to read a proper, reasoned defence of the Swedish trial process. Then perhaps we could make our minds up. In the meantime, it is - I repeat yet again - natural for Assange and his lawyers to worry. That was my sole point. (After the historical one.)

  • 16 February 2011 at 11:07am
    alex says:
    Many thanks for your response, I appreciate it. By the way, Alex is not a pseudonym, it's my real name - call it a 'meronym' if you like, a partial name. I think it's fair not to use my full name while I'm 'chatting'. The rules of this site dictate that I use the same name for everything I post from this email address. And i accept the host's right to delete anything offensive or irrelevant.
    But in the above discussion, it really doesn't bother me too much who the commenters are. It's possible that 'Kairo' and 'cigar' are one and the same person posting radically opposing views from different email addresses for the purposes of generating a reaction. That type of discourse, far from being a modern scurrility, has a venerable ancestry which can be traced back to ancient Greek philosophical dialogues - no kidding.
    I accept your other points; on a small matter, I happen to think you might have cast your conditional in the future rather than the perfect ('If Kairo would care to look at my previous articles, he would', not 'If Kairo had bothered to, he would have'). But it's not a big deal.

  • 16 February 2011 at 2:19pm
    Bernard Porter says:
    I do apologise for provoking the pseudos, which was unnecessary, and seems to have derailed what was turning out to be a worthwhile discussion on the main issue. Can we get back to that?

    • 16 February 2011 at 2:54pm
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ Bernard Porter
      Bernard Porter: I’m beginning to get cross... Can’t you read?

      You're the one who got "provoked", Bernard, not us. Too bad you still don't seem to understand why people might have good reason prefer anonymity.

    • 16 February 2011 at 4:11pm
      alex says: @ Bernard Porter
      For my part, as I said, I'm neither pseudonymous nor provoked. Your other points I accepted. Happy to return to the discussion.

  • 20 February 2011 at 10:33am
    philip proust says:
    "Prime Minister Reinfeldt’s political intervention really does seem rather shocking ...." If Reinfeldt does not respect the separation of powers and is comfortable with contaminating the justice system with 'external' political imperatives, I see no reason why he would not be sympathetic to an approach by the CIA to arrange for Assange's extradition to the US.

    None of the bloggists nor Bernard Porter appears to take seriously Assange's very real fears of such an outcome, as if he had no adequate conception of the workings of the global system of repression. Porter states that "I don’t believe in any of the conspiracy theories surrounding this case: that it was ‘got up’, for example, by the CIA". However, all the CIA needs to do is 'piggy-back' on the work of Swedish prosecutors; the allegations allow for the intervention of an opportunistic attack on behalf of those - from the right to personnel very high up in the White House - who see Assange as a threat to the US or a soft proxy for Osama in a presidential campaign.

    It is amazing that despite the Wikileaks revelations, journalists still seek to establish their integrity by denying the existence of conspiracies, as if all 'conspiracy theories' were homogeneous forms of madness. The practice of rendition, for example, has involved a major international conspiracy; does Bernard Porter believe in that conspiracy theory? There seems a reluctance on Bernard Porter's part, in this instance at least, to recognise the hardness and cynicism of state power. His naivete in relation to the use of pseudonyms is a case in point. Those fortunate enough to inhabit secure niches in Western countries can afford to be open in expressing their views, but in very many countries, participating in debates where one defends liberal or leftist views can be a dangerous, life-threatening business. Even in the West, professing certain unwelcome opinions might be career-threatening for some vulnerable respondents. Does Bernard Porter want to disqualify those 'pseudos' who want to avoid repression from discussing his writings?

    On the other hand, Bernard Porter, rather than attacking some of his detractors, might take pride in the extent and vigour of the debate his article has provoked. There is, I think, a common theme that runs through the discussion, from the question of whether Assange will get a fair hearing from a globalised legal system to Bermard Porter's at times desperate attempt to retain the honour and authority of the author: even those with minuscule amounts of power will tend to act strategically rather than ethically when that power is threatened.

  • 20 February 2011 at 4:05pm
    Bernard Porter says:
    If Philip Proust (or is it 'Philip Proust'?!) could send me his email address - mine is above - I can forward to him the elaborated thoughts on pseudonymous blogging that I've already sent to 'Alex' and 'AJP Crown'; which I thought was better discussed in this form - privately, for the moment, but between open identities - than tacked on to - and distracting attention from - a discussion of the more serious issue I raised originally, and which thoughts I think address some of the points he makes here; and also some references to the several books and articles of mine that discuss the thorny question of 'conspiracy theories', which he'll find I don't dismiss out of hand. Otherwise I'm out of this blog!

  • 14 January 2012 at 2:58pm
    DonQuixot says:
    US classification of war crimes:
    1) To leak crimes and make them known to the public. Punished with life imprisonment.
    2) To urinate on dead combatants. Punished with a fine for urinating in public, in this case, on the public.
    3) To kill civilians and other collateral murders. No punishement unless it is leaked.
    4) To invade a country to make the industrial-military complex and Pentagon contractors richer. No punishement at all.

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