'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Assange: We Can Walk and Chew Gum at the Same Time 

A couple of days ago, lenin put up a good post on the subject of Assange and the ongoing investigation of sexual assault charges against him in Sweden. So, perhaps, my effort today is unnecessary. Even so, I think that there are some important things to note that I haven't encountered much, if at all, during the often heated discussion about it.

Clearly, the publication of extensive details of the allegations against Assange by the Guardian has compelled many on the left who have been uncritically rallying to his defense to reconsider their stance, as Michael Moore did the other day. Lost in the furor, though, is the fact, as I have noted several times, that the credibility of the victims is being more severely damaged by the actions of the Swedish prosecutors and the US government. Of course, this has little to do with whether they are truthful or not (and, as noted by lenin, the historical tendency has been to smear or dismiss the accounts of rape victims), but the apparent coordination between the actions of the Swedish prosecutors and the US, which are hard to characterize as coincidental, contributes to a public perception that the allegations are merely a ruse to deliver Assange into the torturous bowels of indefinite solitary confinement already occupied by Bradley Manning.

Hence, if the Swedes want us to take their investigation seriously, they should publicly announce that they will not transfer Assange into US custody if he is extradited to Sweden for futher investigation and possible criminal prosecution. But, as already noted here, the Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny, has instead opted to evade the issue, thus intensifying suspicions as to her true motivation. Again, it can't be emphasized too strongly that the credibility of the complainants themselves end up being damaged by such shenanigans. Likewise, people with a strong commitment to the investigation and prosecution of sex crimes should urge the Swedes to make such a commitment as well. Otherwise, there is the very real prospect that the outcome of these proceedings will be the delivery of Assange into US custody by the Swedes, without any further investigation of the allegations against him. If that happens, future rape victims will confront even greater skepticism in cases involving public figures.

And, it may already be too late. Given the release of materials from Ny's file, the likelihood of charges being brought, much less successfully prosecuted, has been significantly reduced because of defenses now available to Assange based upon prosecutorial misconduct and the inability to obtain a fair trial. Furthermore, we can't assume that the materials released to the Guardian are comprehensive, the people who leaked the documents may well have held back exculpatory evidence, evidence tending to exonerate Assange. For prosecutors, if they really want to charge and convict someone, the rule is pretty straightforward. Let the defendant play the media game, and talk as much as he wants, through himself or through surrogates, while you keep your mouth shut and let your evidence in court do the talking instead. Experienced prosecutors have known this for a long time, with an exception for a few well-timed leaks to friendly journalists. But you have to be a professional to carry that off, and Ny seems to lack this skill. Again, the complainants are the ones who suffer from the prosecutor's contribution to the media circus that surrounds the investigation. On the other side of the ledger, the apparent fact that the complainants did not go the police until they got together and talked about their experiences is not very helpful to Assange, his supporters' protestations to the contrary. It is, after all, fairly common for women who have been subjected to sexually assaultive behavior to delay going to law enforcement until they have received encouragement, although the fact that the alleged victims provided it to each other does seem unusual.

What about Assange's so-called leftist defenders? I say, so-called, because many of them, like Michael Moore, for example, strike me as liberals instead. In any event, we find ourselves subjected to the same Manichean, good versus evil response that so characterized the response of some leftists to the Iranian protests last year. Just as the protests had to be instigated by the CIA and the Mossad, refusing to consider the possibility that Iranians had their own reasons to be angry with the regime, we now find outselves subjected to claims that one of the complainants against Assange is possibly associated with the CIA through her activities in support of Cuban dissidents. Well, anything is possible, and perhaps we will learn more of substance about this, but, for now, it is important to point out that there have been people on the left who have identified with Cuban dissidents, people such as long time Italian leftist, and former PCI member, Rossana Rossanda, for example. Accordingly, the possibility that Anne Ardin, as a Swedish Social Democrat, could support Cuban dissidents and Palestinian self-determination, is not implausible.

As with the situation in Iran, it is long past time for us on the left to walk and chum gum at the same time, as one feminist blog encouraged us to do in relation to the Assange situation. We can move beyond a faux leftism that sees events through the conspiratorial mirror of US and Israeli actions, and instead relate to them in terms of historic left values of secular inclusion, equality and anti-imperialism, which requires an appreciation of the perspective of radical feminism. Accordingly, we can insist that Sweden commit to not delivering Assange into US custody, even as we likewise insist upon the importance of a thorough investigation of the charges against Assange. It is an essential endeavor, because, in this instance, we can see how the empire, and the capital behind it, have successfully put many people who should be allies at odds with one another. The US has effectively driven a wedge between liberal and leftist supporters of Assange and feminists. Now, not all feminists are leftists, of course, but many are, and we should not allow the empire to divide us. Together, we can fight misogyny, sexual violence and imperial oppression, while divided all three will persist, and possibly gain strength.

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