Nicholas Wapshott: Julian Assange has reason to fear US extradition
Published 23/08/2012 | 07:45
NO ONE is emerging well from the Julian Assange extradition circus playing out in London. As the Wikileaker in chief sits tantalizingly beyond the reach of British police in the Ecuador embassy, he can congratulate himself on a rare trifecta.
By holing up in some corner of a foreign field that is forever Ecuador, he is embarrassing the British government, which prides itself on upholding the law. By resisting Sweden's demands that he return to Stockholm to face rape charges, he continues to besmirch the justice system of a country otherwise famous as a beacon of liberality and progressivism. And by picking Ecuador, he is drawing attention to his reluctant host's cruel, despotic regime, which thumbs its nose at democratic governments everywhere.
Add to that a fourth motive - and to Assange perhaps the most important - for his failure to turn himself in: his reproach of America. The reason he cites for not answering sexual assault accusations against him by two women is that Sweden may extradite him to America, where he fears he will be tortured and put to death.
His account of the law is both misleading and inaccurate. Britain could as easily extradite Assange to the U.S. as to Sweden, but it can't. Like the rest of Europe, Britain may not deliver to America a criminal suspected of a capital crime - spying, in Assange's case -- because America has the death penalty. The same is true of Sweden. But his suggestion that if America could capture him he would be tortured and killed is plausible. And any who doubt his seemingly absurd claim should acquaint themselves with the wretched plight of United States Army Private First Class Bradley Manning.
Manning stands accused of providing Assange with a document dump of secret information in the biggest breach of security ever suffered by America. While the world's press has reveled in America's discomfort, the wholesale exposure of secret diplomatic reports has made it more difficult to work toward a peaceful settlement of the turmoil in Iraq and Afghanistan. If found guilty, Manning deserves to be punished.
The breach of security has, further, put in mortal danger the lives of individuals who have helped us achieve our aims. Some lives have been wrecked. Some may have been lost. The flip side of the notion that the world of spies and spying is glamorous is the betrayal of those who have been helping counter al Qaeda and the murderous regimes of Saddam Hussein, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Taliban.
But the disgusting treatment of Manning by U.S. Army authorities has played into the hands of Assange and his anarchist pals. By all accounts, Manning is a troubled individual whose confusion about gender led to his being relentlessly bullied throughout his Army career. The Army looked on and did nothing. After being arrested and charged with "aiding the enemy", for which he faces the death penalty, he was subjected to conditions any civilized person would consider torture.
Under the pretext he was a "suicide risk," Manning was held in solitary confinement for three months and for a further six kept apart from others for 23 hours a day. He was deprived of sleep and his spectacles taken so he couldn't see. His clothes were confiscated, and each dawn he was made to parade naked before guards. A U.N. special rapporteur, who usually records the bestial behavior against prisoners of conscience held by despots, ruled Manning's incarceration "cruel, inhuman and degrading."
The veteran public servant Philip Crowley declared Manning's treatment at the hands of his Army captors "ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid." Amnesty International, usually concerned with the torture and imprisonment of dissidents by tyrants, was so appalled it urged the British government to intercede. Nearly 300 distinguished American legal scholars judged Manning's ill-treatment unconstitutional. Manning's conditions were subsequently improved.
When it became known that torture methods, such as repetitive waterboarding, were being employed by American interrogators against al Qaeda suspects, many took some small comfort in the fact that the practice was personally authorized by Dick Cheney, who called it "the right thing to do." But Manning was maltreated by the current administration. Crowley was made to resign from Hillary Clinton's State Department for speaking out.
President Obama, a Harvard-trained lawyer, condoned the Pentagon's treatment of Manning as "appropriate and meeting our basic standards." He later followed Richard Nixon's legal calumny over Charles Manson by pronouncing Manning guilty as charged, even though he still awaits trial.
While Assange is protected by European laws from being sent to America, where he might be killed in cold blood by the state, Manning may still be put to death. So long as Assange is on the run, the world will be reminded that America, once a benign republic proudly defending the world's freedoms, has slipped in the last 10 years into a state of shame where torture is excused and executions defended by even the most liberal of public figures. I wonder what "The Greatest Generation" would think?
Nicholas Wapshott's "Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics" is published by W.W. Norton. Follow @nwapshott at Twitter.)