The sad truth about Assange's long, lonely wait
He's sick, stressed and stuck, but the WikiLeaker excels at making enemies of his supporters, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards
Pale, puffy and looking exhausted, the Australian hacker Julian Assange made a bid last Monday for the world's attention by holding a press conference in the London Ecuadorian embassy, where he's been stuck since June 2012 when he applied for (and later received) political asylum.
The assembled journalists were hoping for some exciting news. Was he going to bow to the inevitable and agree to go to Sweden to face allegations of unlawful coercion, sexual molestation and lesser-degree rape against two women four years ago?
He was coy. He would be leaving, he explained, "soon".
The sad truth was that nothing had changed except that he was older and iller. He's still refusing to go to Sweden unless given a guarantee that he won't be extradited to the United States, which is feeling pretty vengeful about the damage done to its security by the release in 2010 of military and diplomatic documents by WikiLeaks, the website Assange co-founded in 2006.
As Conrad Black has pointed out vociferously, there isn't much justice in the American justice system and its prisons are mostly very nasty indeed.
It's a peculiar time for hackers and leakers. Edward Snowden, the American who provided journalists with thousands of documents belonging to the National Security Agency has, since June 2013, been marooned in Moscow, where he has permission to remain for three years. According to the World Press Freedom Index, out of 180 countries, the Russian Federation is number 148, so I doubt if Snowden will be pinching information from President Vladimir Putin.
Despite his protestations, Assange should realise he has little chance of making it to Ecuador (95 on the index) and he won't go to Sweden (10) or hand himself over to the United Kingdom (33).
Meanwhile, the poor benighted Private Bradley Manning, who had supplied the classified material to Wiki- Leaks, was sentenced last year to 35 years, and is confined in what is rather scarily known as a "maximum-security Disciplinary Barracks" in Kansas. Now anxious to be known as Chelsea Manning and be referred to by the female pronoun, she has just released a press statement saying that the military has not provided her with "a treatment plan, to bring my body more in line with my gender identity." There is, however, a possibility of parole after eight years.
Snowden's life is better than Manning's, but it's still very restricted and he doesn't know what his future holds. Assange's is also pretty miserable. The Ecuadorian embassy is small, he has little space, and although he has access to a tiny balcony, he claims he is suffering ill-health from a severe shortage of Vitamin D (no, I don't know why he doesn't take the relevant vitamin pills or drops), has heart trouble, a lung complaint and high blood pressure.
He complained to the press about his health, about missing his family and about the waste of close on €9m, the sum alleged to have been spent by the Metropolitan Police on ensuring he can't leave without being arrested. He speaks of being "under siege", which is dramatic licence. No one's trying to conquer the embassy: the cops are just doing their job by hanging around outside, making sure he can't make a run for it.
Under the Swedish statue of limitations, the case against him expires in August 2020. Meanwhile, the US authorities have been dithering for a long time over whether it would be sensible to charge Assange, and though the authorities hate him (Vice President Joe Biden called him "a terrorist"), there's a good chance that particular fear could evaporate.
In the meantime, although he still runs WikiLeaks, it is publishing little of interest and its Twitter account seems to be his mouthpiece, being suspiciously devoted to praising Assange and denouncing his enemies. He now so loathes his one-time ally The Guardian that a tweet alleged this peacenik paper had chosen Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who stood up to the Taliban, as its person of the year just to suit its "pro-war" agenda.
He writes away busily, but his life is stressful and lonely. He betrayed supporters such as Ken Loach, Jemima Khan and the documentary-maker Michael Moore by jumping bail, and because of his ego, his aggression and his paranoia, he tends to fall out with everyone in the end and has few friends left.
A bright spot in his life must be his beautiful and able barrister, Amal Alamuddin, however, she is expensive and will be marrying George Clooney in the autumn and will have tough choices to make about where she lives and works. There will probably be furious tweets.
It's the Ecuadorians I feel sorry for. Not only are its London diplomats stuck with him, but Assange says he wants to emigrate there. They must realise by now that they've been trapped into giving sanctuary to a self-righteous and bad-tempered rattlesnake.
ruthdudleyedwards.com Twitter @ruthde