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The Accusations Against Assange

10 December 2010

The Accusations Against Assange

By Gwynne Dyer

The US government is doing all it can to silence the Wikileaks organisation, including starving it of funds by getting PayPal, Visa, and Mastercard to freeze its accounts. But has it also persuaded the Swedes to accuse Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder and chief whistle-blower, of raping two women, in order to shut him up?

Or more subtly, as some of Assange’s supporters allege, is Washington using the rape charges to get Assange extradited from Britain to Sweden, from where it hopes to extradite him to the United States to face espionage charges?

The latter accusation is clearly nonsense, because it would be far easier for the United States to extradite Assange from Britain than from Sweden. Under a 2003 US-UK agreement, the United States no longer has to provide prima facie evidence that an offence has been committed – usually in the form of witness statements – when requesting the extradition of an accused person from Britain.

It would be harder for the United States to extradite Assange from Sweden, and in any case the Swedes would have to get British permission to hand him over. Whatever the US government is up to, that is not its strategy. But are the rape accusations in Sweden genuine, or the result of American manipulation or entrapment?

The fact that they were first made after Assange released documents about the American war in Afghanistan last summer, and were then revived after he began releasing a quarter-million State Department confidential messages last month, is certainly a striking coincidence, but coincidences really do happen.

It is possible that a man might be a dedicated campaigner for truth and justice (or whatever) by day, and a serial rapist by night. So what are the odds that the accusations that have been made against Julian Assange in Sweden were brought in good faith and without American influence?

There are no actual charges against Assange. The accusations against him were first made last summer, and Assange voluntarily remained in Sweden until the investigation was closed. He claims that the file has now been re-opened (by a different prosecutor) for political reasons, and refuses to go back to Sweden for further questions, though he offered to be interviewed at the Swedish embassy in London. So he has been sent to jail in Britain.

This came as a surprise to him, since people who are resisting extradition normally get bail in Britain. Unless an appeal succeeds, he will be in jail for at least three weeks, and perhaps for months, while his case makes its way through the courts. Yet the allegations against him, even if true, would not normally lead to a rape charge in Britain or most other jurisdictions.

The definition of rape in Sweden is no longer restricted to coercion, but includes any infringement of another person’s “sexual integrity.” Accusations of rape have consequently increased fourfold in the past twenty years, and Sweden now has the highest per capita rate of reported rapes in Europe. But does anybody really believe that there are more rapists in Sweden than anywhere else?

Swedish courts are clearly unhappy about the politicians’ meddling with the law: they are only delivering about as many convictions for rape as they did twenty years ago. If Assange ever faced a Swedish court, he would almost certainly be found not guilty.

According to a Swedish police leak and an interview given by one of the two Swedish women who brought the accusations, Assange was the house-guest last August of Anna Ardin, an academic and an official with the Social Democratic Party who had organised various lectures for him around the country. They had consensual sex on the day they met in person, and at some point in the proceedings a condom split.

On the following day, she hosted a party for Assange at her home, and still seemed quite happy about his presence in Sweden. “Sitting outside nearly freezing with the world’s coolest people,” she tweeted. “It’s pretty amazing.”

At lunch that same day, however, Assange met another woman, Sofia Wilen. A few days later they travelled to her home in Enkoping, where they too had consensual sex. The following morning, she claims, he had sex with her again while she was still asleep, and this time he did not use a condom. Only after the two women (who did not previously know each other) discovered that he had slept with both of them did they go to the police.

Assange enjoys his rock-star status and the access to women that it brings, and it has made him arrogant. However, although a file was opened after the two women’s complaints, Sweden’s chief prosecutor refused to lay charges against him. He then left Sweden.

So far, no hidden American hand. But another, more junior Swedish prosecutor re-opened the file on Assange last month and demanded his extradition for further questioning. The man who asked the prosecutor to do that is Claes Borgstrom, the two women’s new lawyer.

Bergstrom denies any US ties, and you can probably believe him: he was Gender Equality Minister in the former Social Democratic-led government of Sweden until he returned to the law in 2008. Neither are Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilen likely to lend themselves to an American sting operation. Indeed, both women say that they still admire Assange’s actions in bringing so many secrets to light.

What we have here, therefore, is a man who assumes too much, and two wronged women, but probably not enough evidence for the law in most countries to treat his actions as rape. Even in Sweden it probably wouldn’t, and it’s unlikely that Assange would be in jail now if he had just gone back to Sweden and answered more questions. Not that the British judge’s decision to imprison him was sensible, or even defensible.
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This article, at 1050 words, is longer than usual. To shorten it to 850 words, omit paragraphs 2-4. (“Or…entrapment”)

To shorten it further to 750 words, omit also paragraphs 5 and 10. (“The fact…happen”; and “Swedish…guilty”)

Sweden and the Euro

10 September 2003

Sweden and the Euro

By Gwynne Dyer

Apart from the assassination of Prime Minster Olof Palme by a lone loony in 1986 as he walked home from a movie with his wife, politics in Sweden is rarely passionate, let alone violent. The knife attack on Wednesday that killed Foreign Minister Anna Lindh was therefore deeply shocking for Swedes, but it may also be a measure of how upset many of them are at having to choose between their own historic currency and the euro.

Nobody yet knows if Lindh was killed because of her pro-euro position, but it seems likely: she had such a high profile in the campaign which ends with a referendum on the euro this Sunday (14 September) that one newspaper dubbed her the ‘Yes Queen’. Much bigger countries like Germany, France and Italy gave up their own historic currencies without a murmur when the euro was launched twenty months ago, and didn’t even bother with a referendum. But Sweden is different.

Sweden gets so little attention in normal times that when I went there recently I stuffed a bunch of euros in my pocket, stupidly assuming that it was already a euro-zone country. Instead, I arrived in a country where the bank machines still give out crowns and people are caught up in a heated argument about whether to keep it that way or switch to euros. In Gothenburg late last month ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigners came to blows, and now this.

Prime Minister Goran Persson desperately wanted a ‘yes’, but his own cabinet was split, with five of the 22 members campaigning for the ‘no’. Families were split, the whole country was split, and though some people kept their sense of humour — one poster shows a couple tied to the railway tracks, with the husband saying to the wife, “we mustn’t miss the euro train” — both sides wound up depending mainly on scare propaganda.

Potential ‘yes’ voters have been told that adopting the euro would destroy Sweden’s ability to choose its own economic policy, and that the result would be the loss of the country’s cherished social welfare system. To many Swedes, that would be tantamount to losing their national identity, so the argument has been bitter from the start. (Hostility to the euro comes mostly from the left in Sweden, whereas it is mainly on the nationalist right in Britain and Denmark, the other two European Union members that have kept their own currencies.)

Prospective ‘no’ voters were threatened with a different kind of disaster: if Sweden doesn’t join the euro, it will become Europe’s odd man out. Twelve of the fifteen existing EU members already use the common currency, and most of the ten new members due to join next year will adopt the euro as soon as possible. So a ‘no’ vote would isolate Sweden, make it loses out on foreign investment, and send it into permanent decline.

Most of Sweden’s industrial giants backed this version of events, but despite all the money lavished on the ‘yes’ campaign the Swedes weren’t buying it. In late August the ‘no’ supporters were fifteen percentage points ahead, and the last opinion polls on Wednesday showed the ‘no’ still winning by 48 percent to 39 percent. The pro-euro forces had been hoping that it would end like Sweden’s referendum on joining the EU in 1994, when the ‘yes’ came from behind to win 53 percent-47 percent, but there was no way that such a huge gap could close by the weekend: Sweden was going to reject the euro. Why?

Because economists and market analysts normally do most of the talking about money, the euro is usually treated as a financial and monetary phenomenon. In reality it is much more an historical and psychological issue — and Sweden’s history and psychology are both quite different from most other places in the EU.

For the richer EU countries, the common currency is mainly a way of ensuring that Europe never slides back into the disastrous internecine wars of the past — but Sweden, geographically isolated and neutral by conviction, has sat out all of Europe’s wars since 1815. For the poorer EU members, adopting the euro is also a kind of sympathetic magic: if we use the rich people’s currency, then we will get rich more quickly too. But Sweden is not poor, and despite its separate currency it has enjoyed a higher growth rate and lower unemployment in recent years than any big EU member except Britain — which has also kept its own currency.

With only nine million people and not much in the way of natural resources, the Swedes have managed to turn themselves into one of the world’s most prosperous and civilised countries, and they are just the tiniest bit smug about it. Unlike Switzerland, which enjoys equal prosperity on an equally improbable base, they have deigned to join the EU, but it was a close-run thing back in 1994, and on the euro it wasn’t going to happen at all. Until now.

Despite the horror that Swedes feel at Anna Lindh’s assassination, the referendum will not be cancelled: to do so would be seen as a surrender to violence. The suspicion in many Swedish minds that she was killed because of her support for the euro could even create enough revulsion against the ‘no’ campaign to swing a narrow victory for the ‘yes’ on Sunday — but it would always be a tainted ‘yes’. There can be no good outcome now.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 3 and 4. (“Sweden…propaganda”)

NOTE: I HAVE WRITTEN THIS IN THE ASSUMPTION THAT THE REFERENDUM WILL GO AHEAD ON SUNDAY. CHECK THE WIRES BEFORE GOING TO PRESS, AS PRIME MINISTER

PERSSON HAS NOT YET CONFIRMED THAT. IF THE REFERENDUM IS POSTPONED, AN ALTERNATIVE VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE WILL BE SENT WITHIN A COUPLE OF HOURS.