“What really happened in room 2806?” The Times asked yesterday. 2806 was the room Dominique Strauss-Kahn was staying in, in New York, when he was accused of r-pe by a hotel maid, Nafissatou Diallo, only to have the charges dropped after a lengthy investigation.
The case put paid to DSK’s chances of leading the Socialist party of France — and gave a boost to the re-election chances of Nicolas Sarkozy, currently facing near-certain defeat. Public opinion had swung hard against Strauss-Kahn, then back towards him as Diallo’s story fell apart, and evidence of collusion appeared.
That itself became disputed, but not enough for a prosecution to hold, even though Strauss-Kahn’s conduct with women was shown to be sleazy and even predatory. Strauss-Kahn’s strongest supporters always maintained that the whole thing was a set-up, an accusation widely rejected as fantastical conspiracy theory.
Now, an investigation by Edward Jay Epstein published in The New York Review of Books has re-opened the whole matter dramatically. Epstein has trawled CCTV footage, electronic key records and text messages to come up with a substantially new account of the event.
Epstein’s account is close to unsummarisable in any way that would convey the story, but the gist is this: on the morning of the incident, Strauss-Kahn was informed by a friend in the UMP (Sarkozy’s party) that his (i.e. Strauss-Kahn’s) Blackberry had most likely been hacked by elements within the UMP.
Hours after this warning, the s-xual enounter with Diallo occurred. Diallo’s account, Epstein shows, was even more contradictory and inconsistent than first supposed. The hotel security staff on camera are shown on CCTV cheering and high-fiving once the arrest process for Strauss-Kahn has been put into play. The international head of the hotel’s security is called about the matter, while at a football match with President Sarkozy.
By that time, Strauss-Kahn’s Blackberry — which he had told his wife (via the hotel room phone) he would have investigated on his return to Paris — had gone missing at some point in the day.
There’s much much more, and it gives weight of evidence to the most extreme accusation of the Strauss-Kahnites — that the hotel, part of the French Accor chain associated with UMP and Sarkozy, actively conspired to frame Strauss-Kahn in order to destroy his political career.
There are two pertinent and related issues that arise from this — the first is the role of conspiracy theories in public life, and the second is the role in which accusations of s-xual violence or crime play in it.
The first of these is easily dealt with. For many years in the post-WW2 period, conspiracy theories had a great deal of purchase for people engaged in rational political assessment, as it appeared that the world may be run by networks of intersecting elites, that espionage agencies clearly engaged in covert tactics, and that events such as the Kennedy assassination had remained manifestly under-researched in official accounts.
In popular culture, that obsession has rolled on until rational investigation of conspiracy has started to merge with a quasi-Gnosticism, which offers easy concrete stories as a compensation for the lack of power people feel over their own lives, individually and collectively. The unquestionable machinations of the US government, the World Bank, the finance markets, etc, etc, bleed into the plain fantasy of 9/11 trutherism, and into the wilder reaches of alien abductions and lizard people.
In reaction to this, elite opinion has moved decisively against any notion of conspiracy. Self-appointed guardians of the Enlightenment such as Christopher Hitchens and David Aaronovitch — usually people who went to the hard-left for existential reasons, now looking for a new secular faith to give their lives meaning — now routinely decry any suggestion of deliberate conspiracy even when there is ample evidence (i.e. in the invasion of Iraq) that such has occurred.
The Times write-up of the NYRB piece has a sidebar by the Iraq war spruiker Oliver Kamm conceding that though the evidence produced by Epstein is substantial, and then recovering with some general blather about irrationality, and the Bilderberg group.
Yet it’s the denial of conspiracy — the simple and very human act of small groups working together, using falsehoods to manipulate larger groups — that has become the true (and, to the power elites, very useful) irrationality of the current age.
That irrationality is inevitably bound up with accusations of r-pe. That is a far more explosive issue, but it has to be talked about — the plain fact is that in our age, accusations of r-pe are potentially and actually the honeytrap — vinegartrap — of our era.
One has hitherto hesitated to compare the Strauss-Kahn case with the Julian Assange case, because of the different nature of the accusations — Strauss-Kahn was accused of violently pursuing Diallo through his suite, attempting multiple forced penetrations of her, Assange is accused of, at the most, using the weight of his body to prevent a woman from gaining a condom to apply, later tearing it off, and of initiating s-x while sleeping, subsequently and rapidly consented to, with another woman.
But in both cases a similar process has occurred, especially in sections of the left — that while some scepticism has been expressed, it has often been discontinued, or self-stifled, by several unsubstantiated assertions, and plain irrationalities.
Despite the obvious motives that might come into play in such cases, we are asked to subscribe to the following without question: that the public burden of proof should be reversed in r-pe accusations (even where consensual s-x has been acknowledged), that r-pe’s particular character — as the non-consensual form of a common, desired, consensual act — does not make it particularly useful as a means to discrediting someone.
We are further asked to believe that these two factors, combined, are not uniquely useful in discrediting left-wing figures, nor more widely that accusations of r-pe might not serve as one potential means of revenge in an asymmetrical s-xual culture, and that it is not more easily falsely reported than other crimes of bodily encounter, even though this involves nothing more than retroactively reclassifying a consensual encounter.
That is not to accept unequivocally the version of events by the accused, either. But it does mean, that where there are clear extraneous motives and gains from a false charge, we have a right and duty to intelligently assess the accusations. Epstein does this for Strauss-Kahn. Since the question nothing brigade has made another representation on the Assange case, let me mention a few key points:
- Assange was initially accused of minor s-xual assault by one complainant (Sofia Wilen) and of only misdemeanours by another (Anna Ardin), who told a newspaper that “he was not violent”. After the s-xual assault accusation was dismissed by the senior prosecutor, Ardin made a complaint of “physical s-xual coercion”. Without the s-xual coercion accusation, Assange would potentially have faced only non-extraditable accusations.
- After changing her view of the encounter, Ardin subsequently attempted to delete two tweets from her twitter account (without deleting the whole account), which had been sent the day after the s-xual encounter with Assange that she alleged was coercive. They involve her organising a party for Assange, and later, from the party, saying that she is “sitting here with the coolest, most interesting people in the world”.
- Ardin also deleted a “7 step guide to revenge” from her blog, which detailed steps necessary to destroy unfaithful lovers.
- Assange continued to stay with her throughout the week, sharing the bed for most of it. A witness interviewed by police confirmed that there were multiple other offers of accommodation for Assange that week. On the Sunday, at a meeting between Assange and the Swedish Pirate Party, Ardin agreed to be Assange’s press liaison for the week, and her name and mobile number is listed on the press release in question.
- Ardin claimed that Assange had torn off a condom during s-x, even though he had readily applied it earlier. Ten days after the encounter — which she had not at the time represented as criminal — she supplied police with a condom she claimed to be the one in question. Initial forensic reports found no DNA present.
- At the party she had arranged for Assange, she gave conflicting accounts of her encounter with him, telling different attendees (subsequently interviewed by police) that a) she had not had s-x with him, b) that she had, that it was bad but consensual and c) that she had and did not feel safe/secure/sure around him. According to one attendee, who claimed Assange was making a pass at her, Ardin said that if she (the attendee) wanted to have s-x with Assange, she could.
- Wilen told police that Assange, after consensual s-x – during which she had insisted on condom use — the previous night, had begun unprotected s-x with her the next morning, while she was asleep. On waking she said she had said to him “you better not have AIDS” and then explicitly consented to the act. That encounter and evidence forms the basis of the s-xual assault/r-pe accusation.
- One friend of Wilen’s interviewed by police said that Wilen had told her that she was “half-asleep” when the morning s-x began, and the consent was more or less immediate. Another friend said that she and Wilen had spoken on the phone about “making a lot of money by going to the newspapers” about the accusations, but that it was just “a joke”. Another friend told police that Wilen had never wanted to make an acccusation of r-pe, but was pushed into it by the police and everyone around her.
- Ardin and Wilen went to a small police station to report Assange on August 20. A duty officer there, Irmeli Krans, was a political colleague of Ardin’s, and conducted the interview with Wilen, past her shift. Later when Assange was accused of “third degree r-pe/s-xual assault” Krans tweeted and made comments on Facebook condemning the decision, arguing that Assange should have been charged with second degree r-pe, and barracking for Claes Borgstrom, the lawyer representing Ardin and Wilen. A Stockholm police board inquiry was made into her conduct, but no action was taken.
- When the decision not to investigate Assange for r-pe/s-xual assault was appealed, Claes Borgstrom became the women’s lawyer. Borgstrom had been gender ombudsman for Sweden, gender equality spokesperson for the Social Democratic party, and had co-drafted the expanded s-x crimes bill under which Assange was accused. He essentially took on a legal aid case in order to represent the women. His law partner was Tomas Bodstrom, who had been Minister of Justice until 2006. In 2001 Bodstrom had facilitated the rendition of Swedish citizens to Egypt for questioning under torture, at US request.
- When Borgstrom was asked why an accusation of “s-xual coercion” had been made on behalf of Ardin, when she had told a newspaper that “Assange was not violent and we do not fear him”, he said that the woman was “not a lawyer. She doesn’t know what r-pe is”. Ardin had previously been the gender equality officer of Uppsala University student union, and had drafted the latest edition of its gender equality handbook, which included extensive sections on s-x crimes, and reporting them to police.
- Sweden has a law that does not exist in other jurisdictions (including the UK) whereby someone held in an existing legal process in Sweden can be “temporarily” extradited to other countries, including the US, for proceedings there. Bail does not exist in Sweden — the accused is held in remand, and for s-x crime charges, incommunicado, save with lawyers. Swedish s-x crime trials are held in-camera, and a full transcript is not made available to the public.
- The accusations against Assange were initially made at a time when he was applying for a Swedish work and residence permit. The permit would have made it possible for him to register WikiLeaks there as a publisher, and himself as a journalist, thus taking advantage of numerous government protections not available elsewhere. Because of the s-x crime accusations, the permits were refused.
- Anna Ardin, before joining the social democratic party (and the Christian sub-group, the Brotherhood, which had invited Assange to Sweden, on Assange’s request), had been a Third World-oriented activist, and had done a thesis on the anti-Castro opposition in Cuba, including various groups with active US and CIA contacts and support. She had left Cuba where she was actively in contact with such groups, ahead of being deported, and returned to Sweden, where she became active in the Social Democrats.
Yeah, nothing to see here. R-pe as they say, is about power. And so, in very different ways, are accusations of it.