Sweden's Director of Public Prosecutions Marianne Ny and Chief Prosecutor Ingrid Isgren, in a press conference in Stockholm last week, were keen to qualify their reasons why their investigation into Julian Assange's case for suspected rape had been dropped.
It did not matter, they stressed, whether he was innocent or guilty: what mattered were the interminable logistics that had dogged their failure to get him to Sweden for almost seven years.
Despite persistent communications by WikiLeaks legal representatives to the prosecutors that they were willing to accede to video interviews, or on site discussions in the Ecuadorean embassy where Assange was granted asylum, it took till November 2016 for any movement to take place.
Ny's text, relayed to the Stockholm District Court, asserted that it was 'no longer possible to continue the preliminary investigation pursuant to Chapter 23, Section 4, second paragraph, of the Code of Judicial Procedure.' Keeping in mind 'the facts and circumstances of the case, executing the decision to extradite him to Sweden is not expected to be possible in the foreseeable future'.
All in all, it had been a poorly conducted investigation, replete with stops and starts, and with suspicions of US pressure. Within Sweden itself, the legal fraternity were divided. The Swedish Supreme Court had also insisted that speed was of the essence: commence proceedings, or drop the investigation.
Claims that US authorities have shown no interest in Assange's case seemed rocky, with a revelation by Isgren and Ny about an FBI inquiry on the investigation. Both claimed the inquiry, received in March, was so vague as to require a simple answer: a referral to the office's website. In cavalier fashion, the inquiring email was deleted.
Professor Mads Andenæs, chair of the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention, felt that the rule of law had been vindicated. 'The warrant,' he asserted, 'was contestable. There were dissents in both the UK and Swedish supreme courts.' Andenæs also noted that the UK Supreme Court had trouble with 'several aspects of the extradition request'.
The UN Working Group on arbitrary detention found for Assange in February last year, claiming that his 'stay at the Embassy of the Republic of Ecuador in London to this date should be considered as a prolongation of the already continued deprivation of liberty'.
"To Assange, information, seen analogously to weaponry, is for the public, to consume and use. Government, to be accountable, needs to be opened. Little wonder that he regards the 'proper war' as only commencing now."
To that end, the Swedish and UK governments were told to take steps to 'assess the situation of Mr Assange, to ensure his safety and physical integrity, to facilitate the exercise of his right to freedom of movement in an expedient manner, and to ensure the full enjoyment of his rights guaranteed by the international norms on detention'.
Along with Sweden, the European Union, according to Assange, has been captivated by an unhealthy interest in indefinite detention. 'There is no time limit,' he claimed to supporters and the press from the balcony of the Ecuadorean embassy, 'that someone can be detained without charge. That is not how we expect a civilised state to behave.'
Prematurely, tabloid press and outlets were wondering if this meant the end of the drama. Ecuador's foreign minister Guillaume Long certainly wished that to be the case, stating his sentiments on Twitter. 'The European arrest no longer holds. The UK must now grant safe passage to Mr Julian Assange.'
A statement from the Metropolitan Police dispelled any doubts about Assange's plight, should he wish to leave his narrow digs in Knightsbridge. 'Westminster Magistrates Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Julian Assange following him failing to surrender to the court on 29 June 2012.' The Met were 'obliged to execute that warrant should be he leave the Embassy'. This, despite the collapse of the Swedish investigation.
While it has been repeatedly insisted by lawyers and politicians alike, from London to Washington, that Assange is perfectly entitled to leave this little bit of Ecuador whenever he chooses to, one fundamental point is missed. Assange, should he fall to British custody, will be ripe for extradition to the UK's allies in Washington.
Recent statements made by members of the Trump administration have added fuel to a fire the Obama administration had seemingly dimmed. The impediments of the free speech amendment to nabbing the WikiLeaks founder for using classified material were seemingly insurmountable.
Both the Attorney-General Jeff Sessions and the Central Intelligence Agency's newly appointed director, Mike Pompeo, have shown no such reservations, deeming WikiLeaks a 'hostile non-state intelligence agency' which precludes conventional press protections. 'We can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us. To give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for.'
From being a callow hacker to becoming a notorious political player, Assange has nursed a suspicion about establishment approaches to information. Information, seen analogously to weaponry, is for the public, to consume and use. Government, to be accountable, needs to be opened. Little wonder, then, that he regards the 'proper war' as only commencing now. His detention is far from over.
Dr Binoy Kampmark is a former Commonwealth Scholar who lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.
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22 May 2017
I am afraid I cannot see Julian Assange as any sort of martyr. The Swedes gave up, probably, because his time at the Ecuadorean Embassy, where he appears not to have endeared himself to many of the staff, who he seems to have treated as his personal peons, was as long as any sentence their courts, which are remarkably free and impartial, would have handed down. I imagine the lady/ies pressing charges had enough of waiting for him to surface. Nobody mentions the stress on them or the harm he may have wrought here. I don't think Sweden - a neutral country - would collude with the USA in any way. Technically the Met are correct. I don't think many in the government or intelligence community in the UK would be worried if he were extradited to the USA. Assange has made available information about Western intelligence agencies which may have, amongst other things, led to the death of Western intelligence operatives or informants. I don't think Assange gives a fig. The people who might have offed these operatives/informants are far worse than anyone in the West.
22 May 2017
"The people who might have offed these operatives/informants are far worse than anyone in the West."
A very confident statement!
23 May 2017
They can't handle the truth!
23 May 2017
The revealing of state secrets by Assange and Co may sound admirable when the trashing of justice and human rights is revealed. But the flip side is the "possible' destabilization of government especially during the election period.
23 May 2017
The flip side to the revealing of the trashing of justice and human rights is hardly the possible destabilisation of government during elections: it can only be the concealment of the trashing of justice and human rights.
24 May 2017
The problem I have with Julian Assange and his Wikileaks setup is that he tends to dump everything on the site without much thought of the consequences. This is in stark contrast to the person, still unknown, who released the Panama Papers, which were carefully evaluated by a group of highly responsible investigative journalists. I know there are people who regard the whole process of what must needs be secret intelligence gathering and undercover operations as unsavoury. John le Carre, who actually worked in that field, is one. He considers it a necessary evil. There are those, possibly amongst them some readers of ES, who think 'the West' is corrupt and who subscribe to all sorts of conspiracy theories. I am not one of these. I certainly regard our going into Iraq on the coat tails of Bush and Blair as being wildly erroneous and based on faulty intelligence about 'weapons of mass destruction' from a dubious source who had been reported to the US as such by the superb German Intelligence. This was a grave error. However, I regard the people running Russia and China and a number of other countries, such as North Korea, as being far, far worse. When intelligence operatives and informants are outed on the net their lives are in danger from the operatives of the above named countries who are far, far worse than the West. I am not surprised that the US want to extradite Assange. He would have to face due process in the courts there. The fact he is wary of being brought before any court in any democratic country does not sit well with me. I think he is a wild card, a law unto himself.
25 May 2017
I don't think Assange is a martyr, but neither do I believe he deserves to be condemned, singled out and blamed for the what is really the inevitable consequence of the digital age - access to information (even by dubious means). So rather than concentrate on Wikileaks, maybe our government agencies should realise the murky era of the Cold War secret operative is over, and it's time to grow up and start doing foreign relations differently. And that might mean making economic concessions in the interests of global harmony - after all, despite all the political and security justifications for secret intelligence, it's still all about maintaining economic power.