Until a few weeks ago, Julian Assange was riding high. He had just whipped up a media storm in Washington, revealing 70,000 classified Pentagon documents that portrayed the US war in Afghanistan in a way often at odds with the official cheerleading.
But since that triumph in July, Assange, and by extension his crusade, has been damaged by allegations from two Swedish women that he subjected one to rape and the other to sexual harassment.
As a result, people within WikiLeaks, as well as some Assange followers have proposed that he back away from his public role, at least pending the rape proceedings. From WikiLeaks' beginnings in 2006, however, Assange has been not only the leader but also its soul; the question now is how effective the loose network would be without him.
In interviews and online statements, meanwhile, Assange has proclaimed his innocence. He indeed had sex with the two women, he said, but it was consensual in both cases. The accusations, he suggested, were part of a US-orchestrated smear campaign against WikiLeaks.
No evidence has surfaced, as yet, that Assange fell victim to some kind of intelligence-agency honey trap.
Ironically, Assange came to Sweden for protection from his enemies. He was to be bestow ed the legal protection of a recognized Swedish political party to WikiLeaks activities here. Perhaps most important, Assange hoped to benefit from Swedish press protection laws, among the most stringent in the world.
Against that background, the nomadic Assange had applied for a Swedish residence permit, saying this country was the only one where he could feel safe from attempts by US and other officials to prosecute him.
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