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It's not easy as it looks

india Updated: Aug 22, 2012 21:32 IST
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Considering he made his name with the biggest leak of secret government documents in history, you might imagine there would be at least some residual concern for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange among those trading in the freedom of information business. But as far as the bulk of the press is concerned, Assange is nothing but a 'monstrous narcissist' and an exhibitionist maniac. After Ecuador granted him political asylum and Assange delivered a 'tirade' from its London embassy's balcony, fire was turned on the country's progressive president, Rafael Correa, ludicrously branded a corrupt 'dictator'.

The reason for this venom is of course Assange's attempt to resist extradition to Sweden (and onward extradition to the US) over sexual assault allegations. But as the row over his embassy refuge has escalated into a major diplomatic stand-off, with the whole of South America piling in behind Ecuador, such posturing looks increasingly specious.

To get a grip on what is actually going on, rewind to WikiLeaks' explosive rele-ase of secret US military reports and hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables two years ago. They disgorged devastating evidence of US war crimes and collusion with death squads in Iraq on an industrial scale, the machinations and lies of America's wars and allies, its illegal US spying on UN officials — as well as a compendium of official corruption and deceit across the world.

WikiLeaks provided fuel for the Arab uprisings. Not surprisingly, the US government made clear it regarded WikiLeaks as a serious threat to its interests from the start, denouncing the release of confidential US cables as a "criminal act". The US administration recently claimed the WikiLeaks founder was trying to deflect attention from his Swedish case by making "wild allegations" about US intentions. But the idea that the threat of US extradition is some paranoid WikiLeaks fantasy is absurd.

The US interest in deterring others from following the WikiLeaks path is obvious. It would be bizarre to expect a State which over the past decade has kidnapped, tortured and illegally incarcerated its enemies, real or imagined, on a global scale, and continues to do so, to walk away from what Hillary Clinton described as an "attack on the international community".

The politicisation of the Swedish case was clear from the initial leak of the allegations to the prosecutor's decision to seek Assange's extradition for questioning — described by a former Stockholm prosecutor as "unreasonable, unfair and disproportionate" — when the authorities have been happy to interview suspects abroad in more serious cases.

But why, Assange's critics charge, would he be more likely to be extradited to the US from Sweden than from Britain, Washington's patsy, notorious for its one-sided extradition arrangements. There are specific risks in Sweden — for example, its fast-track "temporary surrender" extradition agreement it has with the US. But the real point is that Assange is in danger of extradition in both countries — which is why Ecuador was right to offer him protection.

The solution is obvious. It's the one that Ecuador is proposing — and that London and Stockholm are resisting. If the Swedish government pledged to block the extradition of Assange to the US for any WikiLeaks-related offence (which it has the power to do) — and Britain agreed not to sanction extradition to a third country once Swedish proceedings are over — then justice could be served. But with loyalty to the US on the line, Assange shouldn't expect to leave the embassy any time soon.