Assange should answer rape charge, but is right to fear Sweden-US extradition

Submitted by martin on 4 September, 2012 - 4:02

Ecuador has made the following absolutely clear:

1) Julian Assange can be questioned at their London embassy in connection with these allegations (at the moment he is only wanted for questioning);

2) If the Swedish government had given an assurance that Assange wouldn't be extradited from Sweden to US in connection with his wikileaks journalism, they would have asked him to leave their embassy and return to Sweden to face questioning long ago.

To be fair Assange himself has said the same. If you recall, he volunteered to be questioned by the Swedish authorities in September 2010 before leaving for London.

The Swedish government has the discretion to give these assurances about extradition to the USA (the executive makes the final call in extradition cases and can refuse requests which are politically motivated) and it has decided not to. In the absence of such assurances Assange is right to fear extradition from Sweden to US and Ecuador is right to offer Assange asylum.

Solidarity [254, 22 August] is wrong to support Assange's return to Sweden in the absence of such assurances. Rape suspects are held in solitary confinement in Sweden and rape trials are conducted in secret; this would give the US the perfect opportunity to begin an extradition bid.

It would take many years to extradite from UK to US (the system of appeals being such as to delay any extradition for a long time), where as the "temporary surrender" provisions in Sweden's extradition treaty with the US allows a much easier transfer of a suspect to American custody.

Assange should face justice in connection with these rape allegations, but Ecuador is absolutely correct to insist on safeguards in this case. In the absence of safeguards, they are right to offer him asylum and Solidarity is wrong to support his return to Sweden.


Submitted by martin on Tue, 04/09/2012 - 16:09

I'm not a lawyer, and am not qualified to judge on the legal arguments about extradition proceedings in Sweden and in the UK. Nor is the AWL, collectively, a source of legal expertise. That's not what we are geared up to do.

If there is reasonable doubt about the legal arguments on extradition - and Paul makes a reasoned case that there is - then I think Paul is right that AWL should avoid taking a position which relies on a particular evaluation of the legal arguments. The risk of the US "getting" Assange is real, and of great political consequence.

Can't we just say that we oppose US attempts to get Assange but think the women accusing him of rape should get a hearing, without trying to set ourselves up as legal experts, which would imply abstaining from saying that he should go to Sweden?

All the other arguments made in Solidarity on the Assange case would still hold.

Martin Thomas

Submitted by martin on Tue, 04/09/2012 - 16:14

David Allen Green, in a New Statesman blog, presents an opposite view on the legal issues.

"Any extradition from Sweden to the United States would actually be more difficult. This is because it would require the consent of both Sweden and the United Kingdom...

One can add that there is no evidence whatsoever that the United Kingdom would not swiftly comply with any extradition request from the United States; quite the reverse. Ask Gary McKinnon, or Richard O'Dwyer, or the NatWest Three.

In reality, the best opportunity for the United States for Assange to be extradited is whilst he is in the United Kingdom...

It would not be legally possible for Swedish government to give any guarantee about a future extradition, and nor would it have any binding effect on the Swedish legal system in the event of a future extradition request.

By asking for this 'guarantee', Assange is asking the impossible, as he probably knows. Under international law, all extradition requests have to be dealt with on their merits and in accordance with the applicable law; and any final word on an extradition would (quite properly) be with an independent Swedish court, and not the government giving the purported 'guarantee'...

[The idea that] the Swedes should interview Assange in London... is based on a misunderstanding.

Assange is not wanted merely for questioning. He is wanted for arrest.

This arrest is for an alleged crime in Sweden as the procedural stage before charging... [Under Swedish law] Assange... cannot actually be charged until he is arrested.

It is not for any person accused of rape and sexual assault to dictate the terms on which he is investigated, whether it be Assange or otherwise. The question is whether the Swedish investigators can now, at this stage of the process, arrest Assange..."

Submitted by martin on Tue, 04/09/2012 - 18:58

Glenn Greenwald, a former constitutional lawyer, has responded to Green in the Guardian.

[Easier to extradite from the UK than from Sweden?] "Swedish law permits extreme levels of secrecy in judicial proceedings and oppressive pre-trial conditions, enabling any Swedish-US transactions concerning Assange to be conducted beyond public scrutiny... In contrast to the secretive Swedish judicial system, there is substantial public debate along with transparent (and protracted) judicial proceedings in Britain over extradition.

[Previous UK extradition cases prove the point?] The US has been seeking McKinnon's extradition from Britain for a full seven years and counting; O'Dwyer also remains in England and is the subject of a popular campaign to block his shipment to the US; the NatWest Three were able to resist extradition to the US for four full years. These cases disprove, rather than prove, that an extradition demand from the US would be "swiftly complied with" in Britain.

[It is impossible for the Swedish government to make a commitment against extradition?] It is true, as Green notes, that the Swedish government cannot provide an iron-clad "guarantee" that Assange would not be extradited to the US... [but] in Sweden, the government must formally opine on whether extradition should take place (some Swedes have made the case that the government's position would be dispositive).

Both the British and Swedish governments could – and should – take the position that to prosecute Assange under espionage statutes for acts of journalism would be political crimes that are not subject to their extradition treaties with the US or are otherwise not cognizable extradition offenses...

[It's not true that the Swedish authorities could not question Assange in London]. The very same David Allen Green wrote on 28 February 2011... "Sweden may decide either not to continue or to interview [Assange] while he remains in England. However, unless some such external event intervenes, Assange will be shortly extradited to Sweden to be questioned about an allegation of rape, two allegations of sexual molestation, and an allegation of unlawful coercion".

The complainants in Sweden have the absolute right to have their serious allegations against Assange investigated and legally resolved. But Assange has the equally compelling right under international law and treaties to be free of political persecution: which is exactly what prosecuting him (and perhaps imprisoning him for life) in the US for WikiLeaks' disclosures would be...

Media attacks on Assange do not even pay lip service to, let alone evince any actual interest in, the profound threats to press freedom that would come if he were extradited to and tried in the United States".

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