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.

A former Wall Street worker speaks-out

Couldn’t help but re-post this great comment by a former Wall Street insider on a recent interview with Naomi Klein by OnPoint Radio. Sometimes, only an honest insider can say it best.

I was a senior, high profile stock/company analyst in a major global (and still extant) Wall Street firm and witnessed firsthand the greed-driven, destructive policies pursued by the executive management teams of the many companies I followed for institutional clients during my career. The cynicism of these ‘managers’ with their huge self-dealing stock options grants (some offered at a discount to the company’s stock price only days before the business announced positive “news”) can’t be overstated. They orchestrated massive layoff schemes in which tens of millions of their colleagues lost their livelihoods, benefits & pensions to global offshoring centers while they simultaneously presided over insider-stuffed corporate boards that rewarded them with ridiculous and ever-escalating salary, benefits and options packages, private planes, ultra exclusive golf and country club memberships, private staffs, 8-figure office decorating budgets and many other excesses, all under the chimera of “adding value”. I voluntarily left my position because these practices were repugnant to the Midwestern, middle class values of hard work, fairness and community I’d been raised to believe mattered. The few journalists, politicians, intellectuals and others who openly questioned these policies were branded as ‘losers’, ’socialists’ and ‘radicals’ who were presumed to lack the intelligence, Ivy League education and/or connections to become highly paid corporate managers, consultants, investment bankers, hedge fund managers themselves, rather than the white, pink and blue-collar schmucks who worked for shrinkng pay, benefits and job security – that is if they were fortunate enough to have a job.

If anyone believes this era is over, ask yourselves who received the massive no-strings-attached, taxpayer (and Chinese) funded bailout packages (Wall Street & other finacial elites) and who didn’t (most taxpayers & the economically dispossessed). Yup – the same small, elite group who made billions of dollars in bonuses before they engineered the near- catastrophic collapse of our economic and financial system, are once again making record bonuses when our true national unemployment rate (e.g., the short- and long-term unemployment rate plus those who’ve given up looking for work) is nearly 20%. And in January 2010, the US Supreme Court overruled two important precedents by banning the government from limiting corporate spending on political campaigns as if the business lobby doesn’t already have enough influence on our political process. Where is the outrage? Unfortunately, many Americans are either too busy working (many have 2 or 3 jobs and dependent children and/or parents), too afraid or both, to protest a system some barely comprehend. And the nation’s traditional watchdog – the media – is either too hallowed out and/or owned by huge, rich global conglomerates which are too invested in the system to investigate the architects of the problems, or even register discontent. Even the much-lauded ‘Tea Party’ movement is largely populated by older, right wing, economically and financially privileged white men and wealthy PACs who want US tax dollars to be spent on programs that enrich their personal and business priorities rather than the needs of the majority of U.S. citizens. However, the Pied Pipers of this elitist system are mostly Baby Boomers – the infamous “Me Generation” – so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised.

Ms. Klein was spot on ten years ago with “No Logo” and her thesis on “disaster capitalism” is just as prescient. It’s truly disturbing to realize that after the shattering natural, economic and military developments of the last decade, crony capitalism is still alive and thriving. But there are small cracks, and I hope readers of this book realize that we have the power to influencee and change this corrupt and corrosive system in a democratically-elected government despite its flaws. When a former Wall Streeter feels like a radical for having progressive views, the system well and truly needs reform.

The interview incidentally is also well worth listening to for an insight into “Brand Obama” and how branding has evolved since Klein wrote No Logo. Someone actually tried to copyright the logo of her book after it came-out and then sue her for using it!

That’s just twisted.

Why the public remains Obama’s biggest enemy

Noam Chomsky’s latest article “Why WikiLeaks Won’t Stop the War” highlights perhaps the most important part of the WikiLeaks disclosures (largely overlooked by the mainstream media for obvious reasons). They are internal CIA memos that express huge concern that popular opposition in France and Germany to Obama’s war may make it increasingly difficult for the US Government to pressure their governments into sending more troops to the region.

Chomsky writes:

In May, WikiLeaks released a March CIA memorandum about how to sustain Western Europe’s support for the war. The memorandum’s subtitle: “Why Counting on Apathy Might Not Be Enough.”

“The Afghanistan mission’s low public salience has allowed French and German leaders to disregard popular opposition and steadily increase their troop contributions to the International Security Assistance Force,” the memorandum states.

“Berlin and Paris currently maintain the third and fourth highest ISAF troop levels, despite the opposition of 80 percent of German and French respondents to increased ISAF deployments.” It is therefore necessary to “tailor messaging” to “forestall or at least contain backlash.”

The CIA memorandum should remind us that states have an internal enemy: their own population, which must be controlled when state policy is opposed by the public.

Democratic societies rely not on force but on propaganda, engineering consent by “necessary illusion” and “emotionally potent oversimplication,” to quote Obama’s favorite philosopher, Reinhold Niebuhr.

The clear lessons of these memos are that powerful interests are terrified of democracy and popular resistance in the West still remains the most effective way of stopping Obama’s war.

Liberals rejoice at health care injustice

Good liberals across America are supposed to be dancing in the street today because President Obama has managed to pass a watered down bill that doesn’t deliver the public health-care system that the majority of the American public have wanted for so long. That is what’s called a “victory” in liberal America today.

Of course the bill is a small step in the right direction but that’s the kindest thing that can be said about it. The passing of such a bill appeases liberals everywhere that however flawed the system is, it is still basically democratic which is the most dangerous result of this whole long drawn-out charade. The fact that they even contemplate this is true is indicative of how indoctrinated they are by the liberal media and political establishment when the facts are considered.

The good points can be summarized as:

1) Around 32 million more poor Americans will finally have some measure of medical insurance.

2) Medical insurers won’t be able to turn away people with prior illnesses or medical problems.

However, this isn’t exactly much reason to celebrate when:

1) The American public wanted a universal  health care system a long time before Obama came along and the fact that it was even under consideration was an opportunity that has gone begging. It wasn’t even considered an issue by the mainstream media and political elite then and now that this bill has been passed, the chances of ever realizing one are even more remote. Now that the masses have been pacified, the liberal elite can return to ignoring health care as a serious issue.

2) The bill will not change the fact that the American system is twice as expensive as health care systems in the UK, Canada, Germany and Australia and yet offers the poorest service to its customers.

3) It does nothing to stop the fact that health care premiums will continue to rise. Unbelievably, medical care providers are already rubbing their hands at this just hours after the bill was passed. The new bill actually prevents the government from negotiating pharmaceutical prices with big pharmaceuticals and prevents it from importing medicines. Health care in America thus remains in the hands of private tyrannies which is the system’s biggest single problem.

Most polls show that the public wanted a public option which would have counteracted these problems. For example, a recent poll by CBS showed that almost 60% of Americans want a public health care system like every other civilized Western nation. And since a public system already exists for those over 65 in the USA, is it really that complicated to extend it to the rest of the population?

Of course it isn’t. It’s simply a question of political will and that will has been entirely hijacked by the corporate community in America. The new health care bill hasn’t proved that Obama has suddenly turned over a new progressive leaf for America. Rather what it has proved is that public opinion is woefully constrained by what the corporate community and mainstream media want in the USA.

The key for the American public is now to push even harder for a universal health care system and make it clear that the new bill doesn’t even go half as far enough. They certainly won’t be able to rely on Obama and the Democrats to do it for them.

Howard Zinn 1922-2010

Considering the subject of the last post I wrote, today seems an appropriate if rather sad occasion to start blogging again. I’m very sad to learn that Howard Zinn has died of a heart attack at the age of 87. I was only listening to a talk by him a few days ago and his mind was still so lucid, its hard to believe he has died so suddenly.

Zinn will be sorely missed as one of the few American historians who told history from the perspective of the people and not the powerful and always encouraged listeners that the lessons of history are that they can confront power and change things for the better. Zinn started his life killing thousands in World War 2 bombing raids and spent the rest of it trying to raise awareness about the realities of American abuse of power throughout the ages.

It’s a funny world he leaves behind. As I highlighted in the last post, try and tell history from the perspective of working people nowadays and you’re labeled a “Marxist”.

Send thousands of young people to their deaths, and you’re awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In-depth tribute on Democracy Now and commentary piece in The Guardian.

An Orwellian end to the decade

It seems wholly appropriate that a decade that has been punctuated by death and destruction, from the nightmare events of 9-11 to the illegal invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, should end with a man winning the world’s most prestigious peace prize for waging war. In a world of Orwellian political discourse such as The “War On Terror”, “A War for Freedom and Democracy” in Iraq and a “Moral War” or “War of Necessity” in Afghanistan, a picture of a man being lauded by intellectual elites for recently sending another 30,000 troops into an already impoverished country seems very fitting.

Not that this is anything new of course. Powerful interests have to cloak acts of aggression with pretty words otherwise the public they rule over wouldn’t let them get away with it quite so easily. It’s just that the whole thing with Barack Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize – when there are millions of charities and aid workers out there working for genuine peace – has reached rather bizarre extremes. Even the authors of the Wikipedia entry on Nobel Peace Prize Laureates have been a bit naughty and said that Obama “doesn’t deserve it” (scroll to the bottom of the page).

And it’s no secret that Obama will soon be “bringing peace” to Iran with missiles and bombs which is what this peace prize is really all about. The main reason Obama has been awarded the peace prize is apparently because of his rehtorical “commitment” to reducing nuclear weapons. Words are cheap though and any rational person judges someone on their actions and not their words.

Unfortunately, Obama’s actions on nucelar proliferation don’t paint a pretty picture. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently passed a resolution calling on Israel to join a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (N.P.T.) and open its nuclear facilities to inspection. The USA, along with Europe, tried to block it (to the general silence of the media) although unfortunately for them it passed anyway. But while it’s OK for Israel to be armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, Obama has made it quite clear that it’s not OK for Iran to do so.

Even more tellingly, the day before Obama was awarded the Nobel Prize, the Pentagon announced it was accelerating delivery of the most lethal non-nuclear weapons in the arsenal: 13-ton bombs for B-2 and B-52 stealth bombers, designed to destroy deeply hidden bunkers shielded by 10,000 pounds of reinforced concrete. Ideal for attacking a well protected country like Iran unlike a feeble one such as Iraq or Afghanistan.

It would be nice to think that those naive Scandinavians have awarded Obama the Peace Prize to “encourage” him towards real actions towards peace. To give them the benefit of the doubt, they did award it to him in a moment of madness after getting a little over excited about his election just a few days after he took office. However, as they very well know, it has been interpreted as a ringing endorsement of what Obama is doing now. The unfortunate effect is that it looks like the European intellectual elite’s way of giving Obama a green light to go steaming into Iran when the US administration feels the time is right.

As the decade ends, Orwell’s 1984 depiction of a world where “War is Peace” has been given new meaning by this year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.