Can Sweden grant Assange any assurances?

no extradition for Julian Assange

no extradition for Julian Assange (via Vertigogen, Flickr)

There’s an interesting online debate currently ranging about whether Sweden can grant Julian Assange any assurances that he will not be extradited to the USA. The debate erupted after the New Statesman’s legal commentator David Green wrote an article entitled Legal Myths about the Assange extradition. The article made several points, all of which merit further analysis, but the most contentious was his claim that it would not be possible for the Swedish government to give any legal guarantee about possible future extradition. Green claimed that:

Any final word on an extradition would (quite properly) be with an independent Swedish court, and not the government giving the purported ‘guarantee’.

This is supported by Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt who recently said that the government could issue no assurances:

The Swedish court system is independent. I cannot make any declaration that bind the court system in any way. I would then be violating the Swedish constitution.

American critic Glenn Greenwald picked up on Green’s article claiming it was false and demanded that Green issue a clarification and apology to New Statesman readers. Greenwald quoted Swedish legal professor Mark Klamberg who had earlier addressed the issue on his personal blog saying:

Even if the supreme court has found that there are no obstacles, the government can refuse extradition. This is because section 1(1) provides that if certain conditions are fulfilled, a person ‘may’ not ‘shall’ be extradited. In other words, even if the prosecutor-general and the supreme court finds that all conditions for extradition are fulfilled the government may veto such extradition.

Klamberg then hit back saying he had been misquoted by Greenwald. In a post entitled Sequencing and the discretion of Government in extradition cases, he claimed that the situation was not as straightforward as Greenwald claims. Klamberg writes:

In essence (Greenwald) is arguing that the Government should have the first and the last say with the Supreme Court in the middle. That would make the Supreme Court redundant which is contrary to the sequence that is provided for in the Extradition Act which I have tried to describe. It may also violate the principle of separation of powers.

Klamberg also quoted fellow international law professor Ove Bring interviewed in Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter who says:

The Supreme Court can not predict its own decision. If such a request is asked for it must be processed pursuant to the established manner. Subsequently the Government may deny extradition even if the Supreme Court has said yes but the Government can not issue any guarantees at the current stage. That would mean that the Government bulldozes the judicial system and says that it is irrelevant. It does not work that way in a democracy.

Finally, Klamberg also highlighted US-Swedish extradition treaty obligations which may complicate the issue further.

Greenwald wrote a repost to this on his personal blog this time quoting the Swedish government website which seemed to agree with Klamberg’s original assessment. Greenwald later took aim at Klamberg on Twitter questioning his objectivity on this issue because he is married to a Swedish government minister.

It does seem therefore that although the Swedish government would have final say, it can’t do anything until an extradition request has been made and the Swedish Supreme Court has considered that request. The question is then, can the Swedish government even issue any kind of worthwhile statement to Assange? Perhaps a simple public statement of the law is all that’s possible.

I suggested this possibility to Klamberg several days ago in the comment thread of most recent post:

Thanks for this detailed analysis Mark. Would it be fair to say then that the Swedish government could issue a statement along the lines of: “The government has discretion on any Supreme Court ruling on extradition but it should be remembered that it is also bound by international extradition agreements that may take precedent.”

So far there has been no reply. Greenwald made a similar point in his post:

Swedish authorities could, for instance, publicly state that they view espionage charges for the “crime” of reporting on government secrets to be a “political crime” not subject to extradition, but still reserve the right to formally decide upon any extradition request if and when they receive one.

However, you can understand the Swedish government’s reluctance to simply state Swedish law. In their view, the law is the law and it would be applied to Assange the same way as it would anyone else. Making an exception for him with some kind of public statement would be simply unnecessary in their eyes. If Assange really is asking for something impossible from the Swedish government, it seems the situation will remain deadlocked for a very long time to come.

4 things the media won’t tell you about Assange

English: Demonstration in front of Sydney Town...

Demonstration in front of Sydney Town Hall in support of Julian Assange, 2010, December 10 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Media interest in the Julian Assange case reached fever pitch again this week with the Ecuadorian government’s decision to grant him asylum. As usual though, much of the coverage continues to ignore important facts and context, spin the story in a way that suit their own political and economic agendas or simply attack Assange and anyone that disagrees with them. It’s important to highlight some important facts that are routinely being ignored in the media regarding the current plight of the WikiLeaks founder.

1. Assange has already been questioned once in Sweden.

The prosecution is perfectly within its right to re-question Assange but hardly a single media outlet offers any context by mentioning the fact that he’s already been questioned once in Sweden and released without charge. Shortly after, the interview transcript was mysteriously leaked to the Swedish press. Nor does the media highlight that Assange waited for 5 weeks before being granted permission to leave the country and continue his work on the War Logs and Cablegate releases with The Guardian in the UK. Some newspapers, especially in Sweden, instead say that he “fled” the country implying that he is somehow “on the run” from the allegations.

2. Assange is willing to return to Sweden but prosecutors can also question him in the UK.

Assange has stated his willingness to return to Sweden if a legal guarantee is made that he will not be extradited to the USA for his work with WikiLeaks. However, there is no compelling reason for him to be in Sweden for questioning. It is standard Swedish practice that when there is no charge and someone is merely wanted for questioning, it can be conducted anywhere in the world including over the phone and via video call. Swedish prosecutors also frequently travel to other countries to question suspects as they did recently to question a man suspected of murder in Serbia. In Assange’s case however, Swedish prosecutor Marianne Nye is insisting that Assange must physically be in Sweden to be questioned. No reason has been given for this inflexibility but Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter justifies it by saying it is “a matter of prestige” for Sweden.

3. There is mounting evidence that the US are compiling a criminal case against Assange.

There is enough to suggest that Assange’s legal team’s fears are justified. Australian diplomatic cables released to the Sydney Morning Herald under the freedom of information act reveal that the Australian government has confirmed that WikiLeaks has been the target of a US Justice Department investigation in Australia “unprecedented both in its scale and nature”. The Australian government also suggests that media reports that a secret grand jury has been convened in Alexandria, Virginia, were ”likely true”. In addition, the WikiLeaks Stratfor Intelligence releases revealed that the Stratfor vice president Fred Burton claimed that: “We have a sealed indictment on Assange“. Besides this, considering the atrocious treatment of Bradley Manning currently in a military jail in the US for allegedly leaking documents to Assange, you don’t have to wear a tin-foil hat to believe that the US will do whatever it takes to get their hands on Assange and make an example of him.

4. It’s actually easier for the US to extradite Assange from Sweden than the UK.

Many people dismiss Assange’s US extradition fears on the basis that if it wanted Assange, it would be easier to get him from the UK anyway. However, it’s actually considerably harder to extradite him from the UK for various reasons. One is that the UK does not have the “temporary surrender” extradition agreement that exists between Sweden and the USA which can be used to override current international extradition agreements and effectively give the US “instant” extradition powers. Another problem is that if the US were to issue an extradition order for Assange from the UK to the US, it would put the UK in a very difficult position because normally, the first extradition request received from Sweden would have to be honored first. In addition, the more diverse media and greater public support in the UK are factors that would make it harder for the US to extradite from the UK. And for all those that think that the Swedish justice system is somehow the best in the world, the Human Rights Watch archive on Sweden makes some interesting reading.

24-08-12: It’s since come to my attention that the “temporary surrender” agreement also exists between the US and UK which is definitely something that many of Assange’s supporters don’t seem to be aware of. However, the same problem would apply – since Sweden has already issued an extradition request, it would put the British Government in a very tricky position. There’s an interesting discussion on this here.

There are many more examples of facts and context routinely left out in media coverage that are important to understanding the Assange case. These are some of the more important ones but as the propaganda war goes on in this increasingly dramatic legal battle, they surely won’t be the last.

Postscript: If you want a really revealing and disturbing insight into how the sex allegations against Assange in Sweden unfolded, read the comment thread on my original post about Assange written almost exactly 2 years ago today.

Julian Assange: Trial by media

Julian Assange

Image by acidpolly via Flickr

Tomorrow morning Julian Assange will start his final legal battle over extradition to Sweden in the UK Supreme Court. The liberal media that were once in bed with him however passed judgement a long time ago during his 400+ days under house arrest without charge.

In fact, it seems certain liberal journalists have now declared some kind of media fatwā on both Assange and anyone who dares stand-up for him.  Even I, hardly a high profile target, was recently called an “Assange apologist” by renowned American investigative journalist Heather Brooke who slurs his supporters as “Assangistas”. Meanwhile her former colleague at The Guardian David Leigh has called Assange “some sort of dirty, flaky hacker from Melbourne”.

Other liberal journalists have joined in on the Assange gang-bang. The Guardian’s Nick Cohen has dismissed him as nothing more than “an attention seeker”. In The New York Times,  John Burns described him as “On the Run” and “Trailed by Notoriety”. And in Sweden, Aftonbladet’s Dan Joseffson called him “a lonely and broken neo-liberal who wants to tear down democracy.”

How things have changed. Little more than a year ago, all of the above journalists and their newspapers welcomed Assange with open arms to publish the War Logs and Cablegate. In the case of Aftonbladet, they were even about to sign-him to write a regular column. Now they think he stinks – some of them quite literally. Is this really a particularly strong delayed reaction to Assange’s alleged hygiene or it something to do with the fact that the most powerful government in the world and its corporate backers would like to re-write the law books and charge Assange – and some of those that allegedly collaborated him with him – with espionage?

The way the liberal mainstream have abandoned Assange says a lot about how it operates when power really hits back – it becomes very reactionary. This is because the same corporate interests that own the liberal media, either directly through ownership or through advertising, are under attack from organizations such as WikiLeaks. In liberal societies, a certain amount of dissent has to be tolerated to give the impression of a critical and democratic mainstream media that holds power to account. But there are permissible limits to this dissent as the case of Assange and WikiLeaks has shown.

Some of the journalists and publications involved are also understandably worried. If the US can re-write the rulebook and somehow extradite Assange on “espionage” charges for merely giving whistleblowers a voice, then Leigh, Brooke, Burns and all the other newspapers that worked with him can theoretically be implicated as well.

This hostility from the liberal end of the media spectrum in the West means it’s no surprise that Assange has had to turn to Russia Today in order to continue his work. Assange will surely be under no illusions that he won’t have the freedom to critically discuss anything that compromises Russian interests when working for the Kremlin’s propaganda arm. But he will have the freedom to go beyond what the Western mainstream media are willing to discuss on their own doorstep.

Which only reiterates why WikiLeaks, and projects like it, are still so desperately needed in the West to extend the acceptable spectrum of dissent in the mainstream media.

A must read by Seamus Milne on Norway and Islamophobia

 

The rise of Islamophobia in Europe and the US is the manipulated product of a toxic blend of economic insecurity, unprotected mass migration and the consequences of a decade of western-sponsored war in the Muslim world: from Afghanistan to Iraq, Pakistan to Libya.

It has become the new acceptable form of racism – far outstripping in opinion polls the level of hatred for any other religious or racial group, and embraced by those who delude themselves that anti-Muslim bigotry has nothing to do with ethnicity – and even represents some sort of defence of liberal values.

For those who failed to deliver decent jobs, wages and housing, and encouraged employers to profit from low-wage migrant labour, how much easier to scapegoat minority Muslim communities than deal with the banks and corporate free-for-all that triggered the crisis? The attempt to pathologise last Friday’s slaughter and separate it from the swamp that spawned it can only ratchet up the danger to all of us.

via In his rage against Muslims, Norway’s killer was no loner | Seumas Milne | Comment is free | The Guardian. 28 July 2011

Al Jazeera’s Listening Post on WikiLeaks

Al Jazeera recently asked me to make a viewer contribution to its thought provoking media analysis show The Listening Post which you can watch above. This week it looked at the mainstream media’s reaction to the release of the Iraq War Logs by WikiLeaks. The point I make is:

The constant media reporting of the Pentagon claim that the War Logs have put lives in danger is not only untrue but monstrously hypocritical. Even NATO have confirmed that none of the Afghan leaks have led to reprisals in Afghanistan but more importantly, since the invasion of Iraq was illegal under international law, it is the Pentagon – not WikiLeaks – that has illegally continued to put lives on both sides in danger since 2003.

I added at the end: “This glaring war crime is almost completely overlooked by the corporate, mainstream media” although they didn’t use that bit along with some more general commentary about the way the War Logs had exposed the impotence of the media.

It’s refreshing to see a mainstream media organization like Al Jazeera taking a critical look at media coverage. It’s very rare that the media actually take a long hard look at themselves because it reveals far too much about how complicit they are in state-corporate crimes. A prime example is the way the liberal media have scrambled in recent weeks to smear both Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, deflect attention onto Iran (as a recent article in The Australian did which appears to have been deleted from their website) or dismiss them, as Obama has, saying that “there’s nothing new” in the revelations.

This New York Times pieces by Robert Burns (which requires you to register for free access to the NYT) is a prime example on smearing Assange and WikiLeaks. Check out the comments on this article (which don’t require registration to view) to see just how out of touch the NYT is with its readers on WikiLeaks. Also do not miss this piece in Salon by Glenn Greenwald which is a brilliant expose of both Burns and the liberal media’s Nixon-esque reaction to the War Logs.

WikiLeaks explodes the last liberal justification for Iraq

Statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Bagh...

Statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Baghdad's Firdos Square on April 9, 2003. Image via Wikipedia.

One frequent justification liberal apologists give for the illegal invasion of Iraq is that for all its failings, at least it removed Saddam Hussein. WikiLeaks latest release has dealt a major blow to this tepid liberal justification for the crippling of an entire nation. The on-going torture by Iraqi Security Forces that the documents reveal, prove that the sadistic spirit of terror that Saddam Hussein unleashed is still very much alive and well.

Much is being made of the fact that American forces knowingly stood aside and knowing let Iraqi Security Forces torture their fellow Iraqis. However, as Al Jazeera point out, while this is morally reprehensible, legally American forces did nothing wrong:

International law did not require the US to investigate these allegations of Iraqi-on-Iraqi detainee abuse, because all of them were reported after June 30, 2004 – when Iraq once again became a “sovereign country”, according to the United Nations resolution 1546. The United States no longer directly controlled Iraq’s security services, and thus, it was no longer legally obligated to police them.

In reality, this caveat is of little relevance either. As is amply clear throughout history, the US Government has little concern for international law. However, even if American forces had been legally bound to intervene in Iraqi-on-Iraqi torture, it should have been no surprise if they hadn’t since the US Military has routinely used torture to “interrogate” detainees in Guantanamo Bay. The fact that they stood by – whether legally or immorally – should be no real surprise.

The biggest scandal here is that one of the supposed main aims of the illegal invasion of Iraq – to remove the tyranny of Saddam Hussein – has merely removed the man, not the brutality of the regime. Perhaps even more scandalous, is that the invasion has left Iraq in an even more desperate state than before troops arrived. One of the most disturbing facts to have emerged prior to WikiLeaks latest release is that due to the invasion, Iraq City now has a higher cancer rate than Hiroshima. It’s a damning indictment of the invasion that many Iraqis feel compelled into the perverse situation of longing for a return to life under the tyranny of Saddam Hussein than face the one they now have in the aftermath of the US led invasion and occupation.

In view of this, the on-going torture revealed by WikiLeaks, and the scandalous revelation that of 109,000 people killed in Iraq, a staggering 66,081 were civilians, there are no liberal excuses left for one the 21st Century’s most shocking war crimes.

Sweden – Where liberal left is right

Mona Sahlin - Current leader of the center "left" Social Democrat party which has lead the dismantling of the Swedish welfare state over the past 40 years.

Sweden is regularly held up as a model of social democracy, equality and of a “cradle-to-grave” welfare state. But while it still has a welfare state and level of equality that’s ahead of most countries, the truth is that it has been in terminal decline for the past 40 years. The astonishing thing is, this decline has happened under a liberal center-left government – the Social Democrats – who have been the ruling party in Sweden for all but 13 of the last 78 years. It is their failure to stand-up for working Swedes that has seen the country shift even more to the right in this year’s General Election. While many liberal-left Swedes are outraged at the success of a racist far-right party in this year’s election, they show little outrage at this right-wing attack on their society by liberal-left wing governments since the 1970s.

Sweden’s social democracy and welfare state reached a peaked in the 1950s and 60s when unemployment reached virtually zero for a while and it was considered one of the richest countries in the world. Since the 1970s however, Sweden’s welfare state has been subject to a series of vicious attacks by successive center-left Social Democratic governments which have failed to stand-up to corporations and international right-wing organizations such as the IMF and OECD and aggressively applied pro-corporate neo-liberal economic policies ushered in by the Reagan and Thatcher eras and which still continue today.

In the 1990s, after an economic crisis which saw unemployment reach 40% bringing the Swedish economy to its knees, the Swedish government commissioned a study into the state of its famous welfare state entitled Welfare in Sweden: The Balance Sheet of the 1990s. It provided a damning indictment of the performance of the center-left Social Democrat party:

Over the last decade, the most noticeable change was the increase in the proportion of the population that encountered various kinds of disadvantage and ill-health. Negative psychosocial working conditions and short-term employment became more common. Progressively larger groups suffered financial difficulties and low incomes. In the health field, we find a significant decline in specific areas, especially as regards mental well-being. In the area of chronic disadvantage, the number of long term social assistance recipients increased significantly.

The report pointed out that public service workers saw their wage levels fall continually and around 60,000 lost their jobs to private contractors. Immigrant areas became more segregated. Higher fees were introduced for child, elderly, health and dental care. Almost 20% of elderly people who needed home support did not apply for it anymore because it was too expensive. 12% less was spent on teachers as fewer and less qualified teachers were employed to teach ever increasing class sizes. And since 1997, social security was no longer linked to inflation and housing support was removed for single people over 28 years of age.

As the new millennium arrived, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) felt these cuts hadn’t gone far enough and were outraged in particular that in their eyes, too many Swedes took sick leave from work. In a 2002 report, they concluded that there wasn’t enough workers in Sweden because too many were signed-off sick:

The Swedish government spends 113 billion Skr ($12 billion) per year, or 16 percent of the national budget, on sickness and disability payments. The surge in sickness absenteeism and continued high levels of disability retirement have eroded the labour supply.

Perversely however, they acknowledged that the huge cuts in government spending had been mainly responsible for creating high levels of sickness and absenteeism saying:

It is possible that cuts in fiscal expenditures during the second half of the 1990s led to a rise in work-related stress, particularly in the health and education sectors.

The center-left Social Democrats agreed with them that sick Swedes had it way too easy and planned to cut central government spending on sickness and disability benefits in half by 2008 through an Orwellian sounding scheme called “The programme for a humane working life.” They never got the chance however.

Completely disillusioned with the Social Democrats, Swedes abandoned them in the 2006 election paving the way for Frederik Reinfeldt and his center-right Moderate party to form a government with other center-right parties (including one party called “Center” Party which launched a campaign of hate against Swedish workers at the 2010 election called “Fuck Facket Forever” – meaning effectively “Fuck Swedish Workers Forever” since Facket is the biggest workers union in Sweden). Naturally, Reinfeldt’s Alliance government not only continued the public spending slashing of the Social Democrats but accelerated it. Today, claiming sickness benefit in Sweden has been made as difficult and humiliating as possible leading to cases such as this where a woman who was declared unfit to work for the rest of her life by 5 different doctors, was turned down for sickness benefit by the Swedish government.

There is virtually no opposition to this dismantling of the Swedish welfare state in the mainstream Swedish political system. One party in Sweden – The Left Party – has in the past rejected at least some of this path that Sweden is taking. But the Social Democrats have refused to even consider entering into a deal with them unless they water down their principles and accept that Sweden “has to” carry out even more more major public spending cuts – which the Left Party have more or less agreed to. Social Democrat leader Mona Sahlin calls this “responsible economics”. What she means however, is that perpetual large cuts to public spending are responsible to the needs of capital and big business in Sweden, not to the social and economic needs of Swedish people.

Only the Trade Unions in Sweden offer any kind of voice for working Swedes nowadays. One Trade Union leader, Ylva Thörn, summed-up the failure of the liberal left in Sweden when she said: “The typical working class feels left out. People with low wages and women need to feel that a better alternative for them exists.” It is precisely this alienated state of the Swedish working class that Thörn talks about which has seen working Swedes turn increasingly right-wards in search of solutions in the 2010 election. While the center-right Alliance looks almost certain to retain power, early indications are that the Sweden Democrats – a far-right party which wants to expel large numbers of immigrants from Sweden – has won almost 6% of the national vote. That’s almost the same percentage of the vote as the Green Party won in a country that’s one of the most environmentally conscious in the world.

Many people on the liberal left who consider themselves Social Democrats will no doubt bemoan this rise of a racist far-right party in Sweden. But they don’t see that Sweden has already been under a right-wing attack from the left for the last 40 years. This is in large part because they are subject to intense subtle propaganda by the mainstream corporate media which perpetuates the illusion of a vibrant left and right debate in Sweden while expressing liberal outrage at the racism of the far right. But while working class Swedes feel that they can’t turn to the Swedish political left to solve their problems anymore, the popularity of those parties on the right that offer scapegoats and oversimplified solutions to the failures of the liberal left will only increase.