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Michael Laxer lives in Toronto where he runs a bookstore with his partner Natalie. Michael has a Degree in History from Glendon College of York University. He is a political activist, a two-time former candidate and former election organizer for the NDP, was a socialist candidate for Toronto City Council in 2010 and is on the executive of the newly formed Socialist Party of Ontario.

No exception for Assange: Rape apologetics and the left

| February 13, 2013

Fallen left heroes.

Their mythology is often the hardest to defeat.

Just the other night, Bill Maher, the libertarian who, due to his willingness to confront the "sacred cows" of the right, has become a seeming icon to many on the left, conducted a live TV interview with Julian Assange, safe as he is from serious accusations of rape, secure in the Ecuadorian embassy, and with millions of uncritical supporters around the world, including Maher.

Maher said "I hope you get out soon Julian," at the end of a discussion of  the apparent importance of Wikileaks, acting as if Assange was already in prison for his "political activities" as opposed to being in hiding in the U.K. to avoid charges of sexual assault in, and the likelihood of extradition to, Sweden.

And now Assange appears to be running for office in his native Australia. Some think he might win.

Assange has become another in a tragically long series of men, leaders within their own left groups or within their specific context, that the left has given a "pass" to on allegations of rape and misogynist violence, both ignoring the abuse of women and making it clear that this is seen to be subordinate to the "greater" importance of the fight against the "capitalist class" or "imperialism."

The appalling example of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the U.K. recently covering up the actions of its male "cult of personality" leader is a case study in how leftists are willing to sell out women who have been victimized by the left's internal misogyny. There is nothing new about this, and leftists have come blindly to the defense of rapists before, as they did in the case of Mark Curtis in the U.S. in the '80s, who everyone now acknowledges was obviously guilty. 

Despite this, but due to the persistence of patriarchal ideas within western socialist and left movements, yet again we are hearing the same falsehoods in defence of a man accused of serious crimes against women.

While the authors of the piece accept the important principle that people are innocent of all charges until proven guilty in a court of law, we also accept the equally important principle that men, no matter what other noble causes or actions they may have taken in the past or what ideology they represent, must answer to criminal accusations of sexual assault in these same courts. 

Normally, this is hardly a controversial position in the left. But, even now, many months later, and due to what can only be described as a convoluted series of falsehoods and half-baked conspiracy theories, there remains widespread support within the left for Assange. Even important leftist thinkers, like Noam Chomsky, usually immune to conspiracist ideas, have taken up Assange's cause and repeated the "arguments" of his sycophants, even though these are often demonstrably false.

Given how many sisters fought for generations to try to get society to take sexual violence seriously, and given that they have counted the left as their allies, this is simply not acceptable. 

For Assange's supporters, the charges must "really" be about Wikileaks. And after the two women filed complaints they were subject to horrendous attacks and demonization. Rumors soon began to circulate, without a shred of evidence, that this was a "honey trap" and that one of the women was a "CIA agent." For far too many on the left, a conspiracy theory trumps taking women's claims seriously.

As the evidence against the "conspiracy" theories swirling around Assange is very clear, it is to these that we will first turn.

Assange and the alleged "honey trap" 

There are several claims made by Assange’s uncritical supporters that are just outlandish.  For instance in a documentary for ABC Australia, “Sex Lies and Julian Assange,” Assange’s U.K. legal adviser Jennifer Robinson actually stated the following:

You only need to look at the way that Red Notices are used around the world. Red Notices are normally the preserve of terrorists and dictators. The president of Syria does not have a Red Notice alert. Gaddafi in Libya, at the same time Julian’s arrest warrant was issued, was not subject to a Red Notice but an Orange Notice. It was an incredibly… it was incredibly unusual that a red notice would be sought for an allegation of this kind.

This a flat-out lie. This “traffic light analogy," parroted repeatedly by Assange supporters, does not apply to Interpol notices. A Red Notice is not more severe than an Orange Notice.  Here is what the various ‘colors’ actually mean

Notice type:

Details:

Red Notice:

Requests (provisional) arrest of wanted persons, with a view to extradition. An Interpol Red Notice is "the closest instrument to an international arrest warrant in use today". Interpol does not have the authority to issue arrest warrants in the formal sense of the word, as this is the domain of the sovereign member states.

Blue Notice:

Requests additional information about a person in relation to a crime.

Green Notice:

To provide warnings and criminal intelligence about persons who have committed criminal offences and are likely to repeat these crimes in other countries.

Yellow Notice:

Asks for help locating missing persons (usually minors) or identifying people who are unable to identify themselves.

Black Notice:

Seeks information on unidentified bodies.

Orange Notice:

Warns police and other international organizations about potential threats from disguised weapons, parcel bombs, or other dangerous materials.

Purple Notice:

To provide information on modus operandi, procedures, objects, devices and hiding places used by criminals.

Interpol-United Nations Security Council Special Notice:

Issued for groups and individuals who are targets of UN sanctions against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. This was created in 2005 at the request of the UN Security Council through the adoption of resolution 1617 and implemented through the adoption of Interpol resolution AG-2005-RES-05.

In fact, of the more than 10,000 notices issued in 2011, 7,678 were Red Notices. Nor is it at all unheard of for Red Notices to be issued for rapists. A cursory look at the current Interpol database includes persons wanted for rape, as well as for theft, fraud, armed robbery, assault and drunk driving. Again, Red Notices are issued for any suspect who has left the country.    

There is also no basis to Assange’s own claim that Sweden is the “Saudi Arabia of feminism.” It is simply untrue that what Assange is accused of in Sweden would not constitute rape in the U.K. and it is unconscionable for any progressive-minded person to dismiss these charges on this basis. The City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court ruled :

The framework list is ticked for rape. The defence accepts that normally the ticking of a framework list offence box on an EAW would require very little analysis by the court. However they then developed a sophisticated argument that the conduct alleged here would not amount to rape in most European countries. However, what is alleged here is that Mr Assange “deliberately consummated sexual intercourse with her by improperly exploiting that she, due to sleep, was in a helpless state”. In this country that would amount to rape.

This was upheld by the High Court:

It is clear that the allegation is that he had sexual intercourse with her when she was not in a position to consent and so he could not have had any reasonable belief that she did.

Nor is it true that Assange is ‘merely’ wanted for questioning.  As David Allen Green points out:

Assange is not wanted merely for questioning.

He is wanted for arrest.

This arrest is for an alleged crime in Sweden as the procedural stage before charging (or “indictment”).  Indeed, to those who complain that Assange has not yet been charged, the answer is simple: he cannot actually be charged until he is arrested.

The oft-repeated claim by Bjorn Hurtig that Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny had given Assange permission to leave the country is false, as is the claim that Ny had refused to arrange for an interview with Assange. According to the court record :

The lawyer gave live evidence covering in some detail the attempts made to secure an interview with his client. On 15th September Ms Ny told him there were no “force measures” preventing Julian leaving the country, i.e. he was allowed to leave. He asked when his client would be interrogated but was told the officer she needed for the investigation was sick. He phoned his client to say he was free to leave the country to continue his work.

 As for the claim that Ny ‘refused’ to interview Assange:

In cross-examination the Swedish lawyer confirmed that paragraph 13 of his proof of evidence is wrong. The last five lines of paragraph 13 of his proof read: “in the following days [after 15th September] I telephoned [Ms Ny] a number of times to ask whether we could arrange a time for Mr. Assange’s interview but was never given an answer, leaving me with the impression that they may close the rape case without even bothering to interview him. On 27th September 2010, Mr Assange left Sweden.” He agreed that this was wrong. Ms Ny did contact him. A specific suggestion was put to him that on 22nd September he sent a text to the prosecutors saying “I have not talked to my client since I talked to you”. He checked his mobile phone and at first said he did not have the message as he does not keep them that far back. He was encouraged to check his inbox, and there was an adjournment for that purpose. He then confirmed that on 22nd September 2010 at 16.46 he has a message from Ms Ny saying: “Hello – it is possible to have an interview Tuesday”. Next there was a message saying: “Thanks for letting me know.  We will pursue Tuesday 28th at 1700”. He then accepted that there must have been a text from him. “You can interpret these text messages as saying that we had a phone call, but I can’t say if it was on 21st or 22nd”. He conceded that it is possible that Ms Ny told him on the 21st that she wanted to interview his client. She requested a date as soon as possible. He agrees that the following day, 22nd, she contacted him at least twice.

…Mr Hurtig was asked why he told [former Swedish judge] Brita Sundberg-Wietman that Ms Ny had made no effort  to interview his client. He denied saying that and said he has never met her…He agrees that where he had said in his statement (paragraph 51) that “I found it astonishing that Ms Ny, having allowed five weeks to elapse before she sought out interview”, then that is wrong. He had forgotten the messages referred to above. They must have slipped his mind.

Hurtig’s antics led the judge to rule that Hurtig made “a deliberate attempt to mislead the court” and in fact did mislead expert witnesses Brita Sundberg-Wietman and Sven Allam. Hurtig received a disciplinary warning from the Swedish Bar Association 

What of the claim that Sweden would extradite Assange to the U.S.? Isn’t it reasonable for the Swedish government to issue a guarantee before Assange is extradited to Sweden? Is their refusal to do so a sign of complicity with the U.S. government, and that the charges are ‘really’ about Wikileaks? It is our argument that such claims are absurd and would not be raised by progressives in any other context.

With regard to the guarantee, Glenn Greenwald demanded that Green retract his “clear and crucial falsehood” that the Government does not have a final say in the extradition process and thus can issue such a guarantee. In a critique of Greenwald, Stockholm University law professor Mark Klamberg  notes:

The problem is that Greenwald earlier and later in the same text argues for a sequence that would put the Government before the Supreme Court. In essence he is arguing that the Government should have the first and the last say with the Supreme Court in the middle. That would make the Supreme Court redundant which is contrary to the sequence that is provided for in the Extradition Act which I have tried to describe. It may also violate the principle of separation of powers. 

And Pal Wrange, also of the Stockholm University law faculty, points out , while it is true that the Government makes the final decision: 

Even if the Government has leeway under national law, it is bound by international law. Both the Swedish and the UK Governments have extradition agreements with the US, and these agreements provide that extradition shall take place, if the legal requirements are met. Hence, the Government could not provide a guarantee, without potentially violating an international obligation.

It is difficult, to put it mildly, to take the claims that Assange would simply be handed over to the U.S. seriously. Espionage is considered a political crime in Sweden and Swedish law as well as its extradition treaty with the U.S. prohibits extradition for political crimes.

Consider the case of Edward Lee Howard, a CIA agent who sold secrets to the Soviet Union, devastating U.S. operations in Moscow, and who was arrested for overstaying his visa in Sweden. The U.S. government requested Howard’s extradition, which Sweden refused. The prime minister of Sweden at the time was Carl Bildt, the current Foreign Affairs Minister who Assange supporters claim is a U.S. ‘lapdog’ who would immediately extradite Assange after “a single phone call” from the White House.

One final question that is never answered by Assange supporters: wouldn’t it have been far easier to extradite Assange to the U.S. from the U.K., which is much more of a ‘lapdog’ than Sweden? The U.K., unlike Sweden, does have an extradition treaty with the U.S. for espionage. Indeed, it would be much more difficult to extradite Assange from Sweden, as it would require the support of the governments of both Sweden and the U.K. Both are signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights which forbids the extradition to countries where the accused could face the death penalty.  He cannot just simply be handed over to the U.S.

The left and rape culture

In August, 2012, during one of his regular broadcasts noted British leftist and Respect Party MP, George Galloway, when coming to Assange's defence stated:

Even taken at its worst, if the allegations made by these two women were true, 100% true, and even if a camera in the room captured them, they don't constitute rape...At least not rape as anyone with any sense can possibly recognise it. And somebody has to say this.

Woman A met Julian Assange, invited him back to her flat, gave him dinner, went to bed with him, had consensual sex with him, claims that she woke up to him having sex with her again. This is something which can happen, you know. I mean, not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion....

Some people believe that when you go to bed with somebody, take off your clothes, and have sex with them and then fall asleep, you're already in the sex game with them. It might be really bad manners not to have tapped her on the shoulder and said: 'Do you mind if I do it again?.' It might be really sordid and bad sexual etiquette, but whatever else it is, it is not rape or you bankrupt the term rape of all meaning.

While this is a particularly appalling example of a leftist man showing a total lack of understanding of what constitutes rape and of the terrible impact of sexual violence against women, what is equally notable is that, when the controversy that erupted around these disgraceful, misogynist comments had run its course, it was not Galloway that had been forced to resign in disgrace from his "leftist" party.

Rather it was its female leader, Salma Yaqoob who resigned. Resigned due to the fact that she had publicly criticized Galloway and, instead of rallying to her support, as they should of, the leadership of Respect stood by Galloway, their sole MP and their central male "cult of personality" figure.

This is both a telling and very sad statement about the left. It has, all too often, put blind support for its men and male leadership ahead of justice for women. It has accepted the false notion that, somehow, some systems and types of oppression take precedence over others; specifically over the oppression of women.

Galloway, by no means, is alone among the many leftists who have come Assange's defence. As noted earlier Noam Chomsky has, with idiotic and facile claims about Sweden's alleged lack of sovereignty. So has Naomi Klein, Naomi Wolf, Michael Moore and altogether too many others.

This is a terrible error and it helps to reinforce the global culture of rape that the left has claimed to have traditionally opposed, as well as being yet another example of leftists making excuses and exceptions for one of their male leaders or heroes.

The left should not make an exception for Assange.  As David Allen Green puts it: 

Assange has challenged the arrest warrant in Sweden.  It was upheld. 

He then repeatedly challenged the European Arrest Warrant in the United Kingdom.  He lost at every stage, but each of his many legal arguments were heard and considered in extensive detail.

And in doing this, Assange had the assistance of first rate legal advice and advocacy from some of the UK's leading human rights lawyers, and he also had the benefit of having been granted bail in England in the meantime.  The extradition was fought by him all the way to the Supreme Court.  

Assange has been afforded more opportunities to challenge the warrant for his arrest than almost any other defendant in English legal history.  This is hardly "persecution" or a "witch-hunt".

Furthermore, as Rebecca Solnit recently wrote for Aljazeera:

We have an abundance of rape and violence against women in this country and on this earth, though it's almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern. Violence doesn't have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.

We cannot abandon our sisters on the supposed alter of class anymore, and we can no longer pretend that "other" oppressions somehow take precedence over the oppression of patriarchy. Nor can we continue to give precedence to male leaders over serious accusations of rape.

Assange, while not guilty of any crime yet, clearly and demonstrably should face trial in Sweden. And leftists should abandon the apologism for his alleged actions and those of other left wing men when they are accused of sexual crimes and remember that, yes, left-wing men do also commit rape and sexual violence, and no one, no matter what else they may have done, should be above answering for it.

For more information on the Assange case, we highly recommend the excellent website Wikiwatch (http://www.wikiwatch.org.uk/) as well as Green’s article “Legal Myths About the Assange Extradition” (http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/david-allen-green/2012/08/legal-myths-about-assange-extradition) in The New Statesman. 

Matt Fodor is a Toronto based writer and academic. He is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at York University.

Michael Laxer is a political activist, a two-time former candidate and former election organizer for the NDP, was a socialist candidate for Toronto City Council in 2010 and is on the executive of the newly formed Socialist Party of Ontario.

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