It was once said of Apple’s Steve Jobs that he could convince himself and others to believe almost anything with a mix of charm, charisma, bravado, hyperbole, marketing, and persistence. Following Jobs’ untimely death, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has taken over the mantle of his patented Reality Distortion Field.
It would seem (on Twitter at least) that you are now either with Assange or against him. To be with him is to believe that he is in the throes of an international conspiracy involving, but not limited to, the British Government, courts, the Swedish Government, his rape (not bad sexual etiquette) accusers, of course the Americans and possibly the saucer people too. To be in the other (artificially exaggerated) camp is to not automatically believe that his Swedish accusers have been concocted by a dastardly international conspiracy, but rather that their accusations should be met with (whisper it) due process. Moreover, Assange has had his days in court, all the way to the UK Supreme Court, and now must face his accusers.
Since Assange happens to be in the UK (well, technically in Ecuador I suppose), the UK legal blogging community has taken it upon itself to bring reality back into line. Not since the Freemen of the Land has a legal issue generated a series of counter-woo posts of such quality, and after this rather lengthy introduction, all I seek to do is link to them with approval:
- Let’s start with Assange’s appearances in the UK Courts: Supreme Court: press summary of judgment, Assange kills off Pupino, but ambiguity remains – Alex Tinsley; Assange: does it matter if ministers mislead Parliament?; High Court: Julian Assange loses High Court appeal against extradition and Magistrates Court: Julian Assange must face rape charges in Sweden, rules court
- Carl Gardner: Julian Assange’s statement today (19.8.12); Julian Assange: can the UK withdraw diplomatic status from the Ecuadorian embassy? (15.8.12); Julian Assange: can he get out of this? (26.6.12)
- David Allen Green: Legal myths about the Assange extradition (20.8.12); Will the Ecuadorian embassy be stormed? (16.8.12); Assange: would the rape allegation also be rape under English law? (19.6.12)
- Francis FitzGibbon QC : Julian the Asylum Seeker (20.6.12, updated 16.8.12)
- Colin Murray: A footnote on the Julian Assange Case (18.8.12)
- Anya Palmer: Why doesn’t Sweden interview Assange in London?
- Joshua Rozenberg: Offering Julian Assange asylum in Ecuador could be an empty gesture (20.6.12)
- The Blog that Peter Wrote: Assange (16.8.12)
What to make of it all? It is very tempting simply to dismiss Assange and his large group of supporters as conspiracy theorists. Certainly, some of them are. But it is also important, even through the reality distortion field which is at its strongest only a few miles from his current Ecuadorian residence, to keep sight on the interesting legal issues which have emerged during the Assange phenomena.
The most interesting is still Wikileaks (remember, Assange set up a website) which raises all sorts of interesting questions through both its form – relating to freedom of speech and whistle-blowing – and its content, which raised many important issues perhaps at the expense of endangering some individuals it exposed.
Then there were the court cases. Although Assange’s arguments about his extradition were eventually dismissed by the Supreme Court, he did convince two of the five Justices that his European Arrest Warrant was invalid. And, as David Hart QC pointed out on this blog, the ruling raised important issues about whether it matters what Parliament is told when it is enacting legislation.
And, there is the interesting if a little arcane law in relation to diplomatic embassies. This has been like red meat for the geekier end of the UK legal blogging community, of which I count myself as a member.
Finally, just because you are a conspiracy theorist doesn’t mean that everyone isn’t out to get you. The United States probably do want to prosecute Assange for the data disclosed on the Wikileaks website. And the UN special rapporteur on torture recently concluded that the United States’ treatment of Bradley Manning, accused of leaking military data to Wikileaks, amounted to cruel and inhuman treatment. So Assange has legitimate grounds to fear arrest in the United States. But that does not mean the Swedish accusations have been fabricated.
As interesting as this all is for lawyers, for many the Assange debate has become more about international politics and power than about legal niceties. Indeed, this appears to be how Assange is now playing his limited hand, perhaps inevitably given he has exhausted his legal remedies here whilst exhausting a good proportion of the UK’s human rights Bar in the process.
Assange has some powerful allies and as such anything is possible going forward. Most likely seems to be that he will be re-arrested, on the basis of some kind of diplomatic assurances. These are not uncommon in international legal proceedings – see, for example, the assurances provided by Jordan in relation to suspected-terrorist Abu Qatada. But the UK or Sweden cannot make promises which only the United States can keep, so this may not be enough for Assange, leaving the current stalemate in place.
The legal interest has been draining steadily from Assange’s story, in inverse proportion to the increase in the nonsense-factor. Keep a close eye on the UK’s dedicated band of legal bloggers who are cutting through the reality distortion field.
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