Was it a 'fit-up'?
Julian Assange’s latest piece of evidence that the extradition case against him is part of an American-Swedish plot doesn’t amount to much. Assuming he’s not making it up (which is unlikely), it simply tells us that someone at GCHQ – we don’t yet know who – believed it was a ‘fit-up’ because the ‘timings are too convenient’. Nothing solid here, and nothing from either of the horses’ mouths. So it doesn’t take us much further.
This must be the reason it hasn’t made much of a splash in the Swedish press: I’ve only found a brief reference in yesterday’s Aftonbladet, taken from the Guardian, and nothing at all in the two Stockholm broadsheets. The situation remains much the same as it was nine months ago. In a nutshell: Sweden demanded Assange’s extradition from Britain on charges – actually not strictly charges, just accusations – of sexual offences which look highly questionable, and after a process in Sweden that can be described as muddled at best. A British court allowed his extradition – could do nothing else, apparently, under the terms of the new European Arrest Warrant – but he took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy before he could be flown out, where he remains under strict watch by Special Branch in case he decides to do a flit (that must cost a bit). His objection to extradition, as I understand it, is not that he is unwilling to face a Swedish court – he claims he can prove his innocence – but that he fears re-extradition to the United States, to face charges there arising out of his Wikileaks activities. He offered to face the music in Sweden if it could be guaranteed that that would not happen. The Swedish authorities refused.
His critics accuse him of paranoia. What else can you expect from a ‘conspiracy theorist’? Well, his feared scenario may be unlikely. But it’s not impossible. The Americans certainly want him, and have prepared charges against him. They’re certainly not gentle with suspected traitors – look at their treatment of Bradley Manning, Assange’s suspected source. There are people in the US prepared to shoot him. Again, this would not be unprecedented: look at Lee Harvey Oswald. Secret services’ worst enemies are those who challenge their right to secrecy, which is exactly what WikiLeaks has done. There’s your motive. The Swedish government appears to be closer to America than it is willing to admit publicly: one of WikiLeaks’ earliest revelations was of secret collaboration between them over ‘extraordinary rendition’. (That was under the Social Democrats.) Karl Rove was reported to be helping the Moderaten (Conservatives) recently. Fishy, or not?
The main objection to this may be that Swedish public opinion wouldn’t allow Assange’s re-extradition. I’m not so certain. Swedes tend to trust their governments – with good cause, in most respects. I’m not certain I’d be happy being tried in Sweden by a judge flanked by two political appointees, rather than a jury; and that after months in prison before the trial. (As I understand it, Assange wouldn’t get what we call ‘remand’.) Because of Sweden’s image as a ‘progressive’ and liberal country, which is mainly justified, many foreigners can’t credit that its legal system could be so problematical. As are its police procedures. Forget Kurt Wallander; the Swedish police can be just as incompetent and liable to corruption as ours. Look at the mess they made of the Olof Palme assassination. So far as I know this isn’t one of the objections Assange has made to being tried in Sweden – which is probably wise, if he does end up going for trial there. But it can’t encourage trust.
Another reason he might not be widely supported in Sweden is the nature of the charges against him. If the US had wanted to ‘fit up’ Assange in Sweden (unlikely, I think, that the ‘conspiracy’ goes that far back), there’s no better way they could have done it. Sweden rightly prides itself on its protection of women from harassment. Its definition of rape is wider than the UK’s. The prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeld, claimed that this was at the root of the whole matter. In Sweden the case is almost exclusively debated in these terms. Even those who suspect there may be something ‘political’ behind the whole affair can’t be seen to be supporting a ‘rapist’. My Swedish partner and I can’t even discuss it any more.
What I find really puzzling, however, is why – if they simply wanted to try Assange on the sex charges – they couldn’t have come to some arrangement with him whereby he was (a) examined initially in Britain, or by a video link; and (b) given that guarantee about re-extradition to the US. Swedish legal opinion seems to be divided on whether these two things are possible; which at least suggests that there is room for diplomacy here. It would solve the problem, to everyone’s satisfaction; and also, incidentally, save a lot of money.
Which reignites the suspicion that perhaps the motive behind the extradition application was to please the Americans. In view of the extraordinary nature of these whole proceedings, that may be thought to make the ‘conspiracy’ theory marginally more reasonable than the alternative. Conspiracies do happen. Of course they are always denied at the time, and believers in them rubbished as swivel-eyed loons; but some of them turn out to be true. In my view wholesale conspiracy deniers are no less irrational than wholesale conspiracy theorists. We need to discriminate.
The people most likely to know about conspiracies are, of course, the conspirators themselves. This is why the most significant thing about the latest Assange revelations (again, if true) is that they come from inside GCHQ. If the spooks believe a ‘fit-up’ is likely – ‘definite’, was the word used – we ought to take them at least a little bit seriously. Apart from that, however, until one side or other budges a little, it’s still stalemate.