The Assange Reality Distortion Field

21 August 2012 by

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:

  • 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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21 comments


  1. The only people who fell for jobs where those beleived he was anything other than a salesman. He invented nothing and stole everything. Again the parallel with Assange are striking, what he did was take Bradley Mannings work and take credit, he took someone in a vunerable position and exploited them.

  2. Jules says:

    Good post but there is a whole range of nuanced positions in between the poles you begin with .,.though to be fair you have alluded to fact that there are grounds for some fears. But too many people haven’t read the context surrounding accusations – even trying to stick largely to the *provisionally* accepted account. So hyperbolic language on all sides.

  3. oliver oloula says:

    The Evil Empire strikes back. Three captured members of Pussy Riot, martyrs to the hollow cause of decadence and heroines of a counterfeit revolution have been sent to the Siberian Gulag at the behest of Vlad Putin, The Russian Black Hand. But they are not afraid. They have powerful allies. Madonna flew to Moscow and told them Luke Skywalker Assange will not abandon them to their terrible fate.

    Meanwhile, gun crazy storm troopers massacre thirty-four workers striking at a South African platinum mine. But it’s only an insignificant glitch in the mass media matrix and the ANC bosses will fix it, just as soon as they can find a wire coat hanger. The world turns and no-one can remember the time before “Soylent Green” became Monsanto. The dark days of apartheid, when the Bruderbond and their Kafir lackeys in uniform shot down and killed defenceless men, women and children at Sharpeville.

    Now, those who do not suffer cognitive dissonance can see that the ANC party men and their gangster masters at De beers, Barclays and Rio Tinto are inflicting a cruel tyranny on the people, a tyranny more ruthless than ever they suffered as victims of apartheid at its zenith. And no-one has come to the rescue.

  4. Alex says:

    Is he really technically in Ecuador? I understood from the convention that the embassy is inviolate not sovereign. E.g. A crime committed in an embassy is still liable for prosecution under local law (but arresting the accused or gathering evidence would require consent of the head of mission). Am I incorrect, are embassies more like mini-Vaticans?

    1. Toby says:

      I’m with you on this. Julian Assange is not in Ecuador (much as he would like to be), but the bit of Britain that he is in is covered by the inviolability of diplomatic missions. The theory of extraterritoriality is a convenient, but ultimately misleading metaphor. As you rightly say, a crime committed in an embassy comes within the UK’s territorial jurisdiction and is only taken out again by diplomatic and State immunity. If things were different, presumably the burglary of an embassy could not be prosecuted in the host State. Also, a waiver of immunity would have to be construed as retroactively putting the crime in a different place, which surely would be a bit odd. (Compare Chung Chi Cheung v R [1939] AC 160)

      1. Lofthouse says:

        Toby: could ( as Galloway seems to believe), be placed in a diplomatic bag and taken out of the country? Holdalls, it seems, can quite easily accomodate human beings (as the odd prepackaged MI5 agent’s corpse found in the bathtub proved) – would the police be allowed to search a diplomatic bag or seize its contents? Even if they knew what it contained?

  5. Lofthouse says:

    ….George Galloway’s ‘Molucca Red’ broadcast on the Assange issue is online from 13.54 at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5B4I5F05jNg – 27.54 expands on a plan for Assange to leave the UK in an Equadorian diplomatic bag..

  6. Visigor says:

    The Swedish legal firm have a close relationship with the law and it’s interpretation lawyer representibg women was equality ombudsman whilsy his partner wast minister of justice during rendition to torture in Egypt For the CIA

    A bit too close for comfort

    1. Ben says:

      Lawyer works in law shocker.

  7. Truls Kvammen says:

    Conspiracy or not, there are some unusual and strange behaviour going on:
    – Why will not Sweden guarantee to Ecuador that Assange will not be sent to the U.S?
    – Why does Great Britain go to the dramatic steps of threatening to storm the embassy over a man who is not even charged of anything.
    – Why does Sweden not accept to ask him out in London, instead of in Sweden?

    1. Simon Bradshaw says:

      Truis: Have you actually read any of the links in the original post, in which such questions are answered in great detail?

      1. Lofthouse says:

        Simon: not covered in this post, the question –
        Could ( as Galloway seems to believe), Assange be placed in a diplomatic bag and taken out of the country?

        Holdalls, it seems, can quite easily accomodate quite large bodies (as the odd prepackaged MI5 agent’s corpse found in the bathtub proved). Would the police be allowed to search a diplomatic bag or seize its contents? Even if they knew what it contained?
        Isn’t it true that even if the diplomatic bag was made of clear vinyl, the Police would not be able to seize Assange and arrest him?

        Assange could turn himself into ‘the boy in the bubble’ if not….

        1. simonjbradshaw says:

          Carl Gardner considered this point in one of his blog posts:

          http://www.headoflegal.com/2012/06/26/julian-assange-can-he-get-out-of-this/

          Answer is: possibly, but UK might well be entitled to open it if it’s sure he’s inside (Vienna Convention doesn’t allow diplomatic bags to be used for people-smuggling).

      2. Lofthouse says:

        According to BBC 1, a close up picture of instructions given to the police working outside the embassy indicates they have been told to arrest Assange if he attempts to leave inside a diplomatic bag. This is because point 4 Article 27 of the
        Diplomatic Privileges Act ( http://legislation.data.gov.uk/ukpga/1964/81/data.htm?wrap=true ) states The packages constituting the diplomatic bag must bear visible external marks of their character and may contain only diplomatic documents or articles intended for official use.
        Fair enough.
        However, point 5 of Art.27 states: “The diplomatic courier, who shall be provided with an official document indicating his status and the number of packages constituting the diplomatic bag, shall be protected by the receiving State in the performance of his functions. He shall enjoy personal inviolability and shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention.”

        Would Assange be able to leave the country by securing employment as a courier?

  8. ObiterJ says:

    O wad some Power the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us! Note from Robert Burns to Julian Assange

    1. Lofthouse says:

      .. noting Assange’s resemblance to John Inman, the Daily Mail headline for this story is “Are You Being Served (With Extradition Papers?) I’m Not Free”…(Warning; contains George Galloway…..http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2191224/George-Galloway-says-Assange-did-rape-women-Sweden-extradition.html)

  9. Mike farrell says:

    It was Steve Jobs, not Jobbs, and as for Assanges RDF, for me It didnt really extend beyond the fence of his balcony on Sunday TBH.

    1. Adam Wagner says:

      Thanks Mike- I blame the reality distortion field

      1. Mike farrell says:

        Ha :)

  10. ObiterJ says:
  11. ObiterJ says:

    Goes to show the value of modern media such as blogging. Long may it continue. The “clamp down” on “judicial blogging” is still there but should be re-thought. Another good example today is Felicity Gerrity’s post on “sleep rape.” Brilliantly concise, replete with good practical material and contains a super exposition of the law on automatism as well. Link to follow …

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