By the time that Julian Assange, of WikiLeaks fame, was (briefly) accused of r-pe in Sweden, he and the entire WikiLeaks organisation had been under concerted attack for several weeks.
Following the release of 92,000 classified documents on the site, documenting and confirming the large number of civilian deaths caused by the allies in the Afghan war, negotiations with Taliban groups, Taliban-Pakistan ISI links and wholesale corruption and futility, the war hawks swung into action. First they said the documents told us nothing new, then that they constituted a traitorous and illegal act, then that they endangered Afghan collaborators and others whose names were cited.
Coincidentally or otherwise, the WikiLeaks upload was followed by a new push on the violence against women in parts of the Muslim world, with a woman whose nose had been sliced off by the Taliban, and the label “Why We Must Stay in Afghanistan”. This is the most concerted of several attempts over the past five years i.e. the latter half of the war to date to substitute a women’s lib angle for the other failed and forgotten causes. An imperial feminist war has the added advantage of throwing the anti-war movement a curve ball.
So, the timing of the accusations against Assange are curious, to say the least, even if one hesitates short of any conspiracy line. The facts of the case appear to be these:
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Assange was in Sweden to speak at a conference around August 14, a place where he spends some of his time, due in part to the journalist shield laws that give WikiLeaks some protection there. One of the accusers has now revealed herself to be Anna Ardin, press officer of the “Brotherhood Movement”, a Christian faction within the Social Democratic party. Ardin appears to have been assisting Assange in organising one of his speaking tours of Sweden.
Around August 14, Ardin claims that a second, unnamed woman approached her, and accused Assange of s-xual misconduct (or “ofredande” in Swedish, a word which means disturbance or in some contexts, assault) and they decided to go to the police together. A prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for r-pe. Hours later this was withdrawn by the prosecutor’s office.
Ardin later clarified that neither she nor the other woman had accused Assange of r-pe:
“It is quite wrong that we were afraid of him. He is not violent and I do not feel threatened by him … The responsibility for what happened to me and the other girl lies with a man who had attitude problems with women.”
Both the r-pe accusation and the s-xual disturbance remain open, though it seems likely that the r-pe charges will be formally and fully rejected tomorrow. The s-xual disturbance charge is not an arrest-based offence.
Various suggestions as to what the misconduct allegations specify have swirled around, with the Guardian suggesting it amounted to an alleged refusal by Assange to wear condoms, or submit to a s-xual diseases screen post-hoc.
The case has got even more complex as the degree of Ardin’s connection with Assange was made clear that she has been one of his champions, helpers and, it could be said, devotees. The suggestion that there was far more to this than meets the eye was amplified by the fact that Ardin had posted on her blog a seven-point guide to taking revenge on ex-lovers (illustrated with a picture of a man holding hands with a girl, while his girlfriend is looking in the other direction).
Step three . A good revenge is linked to what has been done against you. For example if you want revenge on someone who cheated or who dumped you, you should do something that involves s-x, dating or fidelity.
Step four: you can screw up your victim’s current relationship, so his new partner stops trusting him or ensure that he gets a madman after him.
Step five: Perhaps a series of letters and photographs may do the trick or should you go for the one big lie?
Part of the strangeness of this case stems from differences in Swedish law. In Anglosphere law, s-x gone wrong is either a process of negotiation between parties, or it’s a non-consensual continuation of something initially consensual, in which case it’s r-pe or assault. The Swedish “s-xuallt ofredande” law covers both and more, grouping stalking and harassment with generic “ar-ehole behaviour in the bedroom” that falls well short of coercion. In these matters Sweden has a legal/s-xual culture that is in some ways admirable, in others as if the Deakin University Wymyn’s Room had seized power in Stockholm.
On the one hand, confirming the clich, s-xual contact is pretty casual and the age of consent is 14, on the other hand it is shaded with laws governing behaviour in ways different from the rest of the West (the ‘s-xuallt ofredande’ laws, the criminalisation of paying for pr-stitution, but not for offering it).
Whatever the truth of the matter turns out to be, it certainly seems bound up in the mystique that has grown around Assange over recent months, as the mysterious, globetrotting face of WikiLeaks. With his home in a backpack and his weird hair, Assange has become the Scarlet Pimpernel* of cyberspace, and that appears to generate a lot of positive and negative energy around him. That’s also thrown a few wobbles into his presentation, especially when the charges of “endangering lives” was thrown at him and the organisation, by people whose organisations were in the business of dealing out wholesale death in an increasingly brutalised and amoral manner.
It was an error to get into a debate about the whys and wherefores of the document release and unredacted names Assange should simply have stated that it is not our responsibility to protect the participants in their futile, murderous and undeclared war. Assange turned a significant release of information into a turning point, a la The Pentagon Papers, which it wasn’t.
The Pentagon Papers was an explicit and closely argued condemnation of the Vietnam war, from the US government itself. The WikiLeaks Afghan document drop doesn’t of itself condemn the war, but it is infinitely useful in making that case. WikiLeaks should diversify its spokespeople, and Assange should stay away from the camera lens for a while (though only if other WikiLeaks personnel can step up) difficult, but hardly impossible.
That said, and noting that, to the best of our knowledge, the s-xual misconduct accusations are a private matter, WikiLeaks and Assange in his role as one of its core operators, have to be defended to the hilt. Evidence may yet emerge that Assange’s difficulties in Sweden are not all they appear to be; the honeytrap is a pretty old cloak-and-dagger device, and a feminist honeytrap gives it a new twist. Whatever the case, it is unlikely to be the last tribulation faced by WikiLeaks, or its leader, the Grey Blur.
*Actually the Pimpernel was a reactionary, but I can’t think of a more apt figure.
Ed: this story has been amended as it misrepresented the views of Tim Blair and Andrew Bolt. References to them were offensive and indefensible. Crikey regrets this and apologises.