Monday, August 20, 2012 at 5:55 AM
Such is the nature of groupthink among Western commentators that you’d be hard-pressed to find any who supported, as I did, Russia’s decision on Friday to incarcerate three Pussy Rioters for political hooliganism.
Likewise you’d be hard-pressed to find any who opposed, as I hereby do, Ecuador’s decision on that same day to grant Julian Assange asylum in its London embassy to escape extradition to Sweden to face sexual assault charges.
Despite a hollow threat to storm the embassy, Britain ordered police to surround it 24/7 and arrest him as soon as he steps foot outside. It maintains that it has an obligation to extradite him to Sweden in accordance with the Vienna Convention’s Extradition Act and pursuant to the finding of just cause by its own Supreme Court.
To be fair, Assange maintains that he has no fear of criminal prosecution in Sweden. Instead, he fears that, if he returns, Sweden will promptly extradite him to the United States to face the death penalty for publishing a treasure trove of classified government documents on his infamous site, WikiLeaks.
For the record, here is how I characterized his fate in this respect two years ago:
[I]f these leaks pose (or have caused) the kind of damage U.S. officials claim, then Julian Assange, the defiant discloser of all government secrets who heads WikiLeaks, should be either dead or sitting in Guantanamo Bay.
(“WikiLeaks More U.S. Secrets,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 29, 2010)
But let me hasten now to clarify that, if extradited then tried and convicted under the Espionage Act, Assange would be sentenced to prison, not to death. After all, the United States stopped executing people for espionage many decades ago. It is also instructive that prosecutors have already declared that they will not be seeking the death penalty against Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier who stole those classified documents for Assange.
This is why the only issue here is whether Ecuador - in the person of its wannabe-Chávez president, Rafael Correa - can be allowed to frustrate Britain’s obligation under international law to extradite Assange to Sweden to face charges for crimes he allegedly committed in that country’s jurisdiction. I say no.
Like Venezuela, Ecuador is becoming famous for condemning the way the United States prevails upon sovereign countries to act in its interest on the international stage. Therefore, it seems hypocritical that Ecuador is demanding a guarantee from Sweden that it would not extradite Assange to the United States if Ecuador hands him over to Britain. Got that?
Indeed, it’s academic because Sweden clearly will not, indeed cannot, offer any such guarantee. Not least because if the United States presented a legally cognizable case for extradition in a Swedish court, Sweden would be obligated – under the same Extradition Act that obligates Britain – to extradite him.
Meanwhile, it is plainly absurd for Assange to be championing freedom of speech from sanctuary being provided by a country that is notorious for denying this freedom. Not to mention that this whole cause celebre smacks of nothing more than a cynical ploy by Assange to deflect from the very credible charges of rape against him in Sweden.
It’s hardly surprising of course that pathologically anti-American countries are standing in solidarity with Ecuador. But I am stupefied that so many Western political commentators are standing in solidarity with Assange. Especially since they are doing so at the expense of the alleged rape victims who have been waiting for years for this self-righteous political crusader to be brought to justice.
It is utterly irrelevant, and I’m sure Sweden couldn’t care any less, if the United States is on a “witch hunt” against WikiLeaks as he charged during his sermon on the windowsill yesterday….
In the meantime the world is being treated to a Mexican standoff. And since there’s no way Ecuador can sneak him out of the embassy, let alone the country, Assange could be inside for a very long time.
In which case it might be helpful to know that this is not like the embassy of a rich country. In fact, by all accounts, his accommodations and amenities are such that it might be only a matter of time before Assange decides that he’d rather be imprisoned by either Sweden or the United States than remain holed up in Ecuador’s embassy….
That said, I’m on record declaring that if Assange were in the business of exposing government corruption and/or actions that betray the public trust, I would be his most ardent supporter. But in his foolhardy and untenable ambition to foster complete transparency in diplomatic relations, he has only ensured that diplomats will be even more secretive in all of their dealings to avoid even the remotest possibility of being “exposed.”
Which is why WikiLeaks is about as relevant today as yesterday’s newspaper. And soon enough Assange himself will be old news as the fickle Twitterverse, which seems to determine all the news that’s fit to follow these days, becomes obsessed with the next sensational story. (Apropos of which, Britain is probably wondering what happened to all of that media goodwill it was reveling in just days ago for hosting such a terrific Olympic Games.)
Still, it’s troubling enough that his supporters do not seem the least bit concerned that, far from exposing treachery, WikiLeaks merely compromised the constructive engagement the United States had with a number of countries to further greater comity and cooperation among nations. For obvious reasons, public knowledge of such engagement could incite domestic unrest in the countries involved. But it is truly mind-boggling that his supporters do not even seem concerned that Assange’s cult-like mission has ruined the careers and endangered the lives of scores of innocent diplomats.
Assange fears Guantanamo…