Does Assange Matter?

Right now it’s very hard to distinguish what is going on with Assange from what is happening with Wikileaks, and from what is happening with the US governments actions in this mess. But I really think it’s helpful to take a look on whether Assange actually matters or not for what is happening.

There are three ways in which Assange is in focus right now, all intermingled. I regularly have debates where these things gets mixed up in one. The separate foci are the rape charges, the possibility of espionage or treason charges (though Assange isn’t American, so treason would be a long stretch) and his association, control and behavior within Wikileaks. Of course, all these issues touch on each other. So based on that, does Assange actually matter?


From everything I can see, Assange is acting as a figure head for Wikileaks, a public face – a lightning rod, if you will. It seems to be a very conscious decision to let Assange be the well known name and face that everyone associates with Wikileaks. That’s not to say that Assange isn’t an important person in the organization. He probably is. But Assange is not Wikileaks. And if things go haywire and Assange is executed or assassinated, I don’t think Wikileaks will have any trouble continuing with its mission.

I guess that the main reason I feel Assange doesn’t matter is because if his current troubles didn’t exist, I would still feel the same worry about the US governments behavior, both in terms of what the leaks have indicated, and also what their extra legal actions against companies have shown. Take Assange out of the equation and I would still be as worried about the future of world democracy and freedom as I am right now. Whatever Assange has done or hasn’t done doesn’t impact on these events. If anything, it feels like both Wikileaks and the US government is using him as a lightning rod – it seems the media in the US is spending way to much attention on anything related to Assange rather than focusing on what the leaks have revealed and how the government has totally sidestepped due process in persecuting a web page.


There is an argument to be made that without Assange and his personal philosophy, Wikileaks wouldn’t have happened. There is a reason a large number of people voted for Assange to be Time’s person of the year and he seemed to be in the lead for it for a long time. At the end, Time decided to go with Zuckerberg instead, even though he didn’t even have a fraction of the number of votes. So a large number of people (at least 380 000) feels that what Assange has done is important enough to shape history this year – positively or negatively.

But the most important part in why Assange matters to me is the relentless persecution he is being subjected to. It is obvious to anyone who has looked briefly at the story that the US government is trying to lay their hands on Assange, using whatever means they can. This is problematic on several different levels.

The first problem is the extreme insult the current behavior is to all rape victims all over the world. Naomi Wolf wrote a very good post about this aspect, here. The basic principle here is that no other suspected rapists have been treated with this kind of attention. This makes it so obvious that the US, Britain, Sweden and Interpol are just treating this as a pretext. Another aspect of this is the two women who claim to have been subjected to rape. They have to keep hearing over and over again that this is just a honeytrap from the US, this is just a setup, no rape happened, etc. That has to be extremely demoralizing to live through if you’ve been subjected to something like that.

Robert Gates has spoken publicly about this case, noting that it’s common practice for the US government to hold people for lesser crimes while they collect evidence and prepare a larger case. That to me is almost a tacit admission that this is what is going on right now. With the huge difference that both media and a large number of countries are cooperating.

Simply put, the current situation is a disgrace for world democracy and international justice. Calls for “hounding Assange as a terrorist” and to “harass, snatch or neutralize” him, from highly placed US officials, should worry anyone interested in democracy, free speech and a future as far away from 1984 as possible. Assange deserves due legal process just like any other individual.

As with all these things, the precedent set by the current behavior could impact any one of us. The world is changing around us, and we have a chance to say something. That chance might not come again.


Fundamentally, we don’t know what happened in Sweden in August this year. We don’t know whether rape was committed or not. And when things like this happen we have a defined way of handling it – a complaint is filed, an investigation is launched and a possible prosecution is initiated. It follows a legal process that is in many ways similar all over the world. But fundamentally, one of the basic ideas is that you aren’t judged until this process is over. And especially in a case like Assange’s, where there are so many unknowns and weird things are going on. We just can’t know, and we shouldn’t guess about things like this.

It is a bit worrisome that it seems Sweden might extradite Assange to the US. Most observers seem to agree that he won’t fare well, and there are indications that he might be treated as an enemy combatant and possible even being sent to Guantanamo (or any of the other dark military bases).

Another thing that is problematic is how quickly Assange’s name was leaked in this whole story. In Sweden, there is protection for people accused of a crime like rape – but that protection seems to have gone straight through the window with Assange.

Finally, from what is public information, it seems to me that something strange has happened surrounding this rape case. No matter what exactly happened (and my guesss is that something definitely happened) – the actions of Swedish prosecutors, press and police are highly questionable, and implies pressure from the outside. It doesn’t help that Thomas Bodström (former minister of justice) is tightly involved in this case, since he has a history of letting the US tell him how to do his job.

As a Swede, I would very much like to see an independent investigation of what exactly has been going on here, because it definitely doesn’t smell right.

All in all, the issues surrounding Assange are complicated. They also seem to be used by media to sway the debate away from what has actually been revealed from the leaks. I think that’s very unfortunate.

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