A couple of years ago Julian Assange was a superstar, feted by the international anti-American left and pulling the strings of much of the world’s media. Leading liberal newspapers, including the New York Times and Britain’s Guardian, trumpeted every new revelation from his Wikileaks organization. He graced the cover of Time; a Guardian journalist who worked with Assange told him: “You’ll be up there with Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa.” He had, his sycophants proclaimed, done nothing less than change the world.
These days, Assange is holed up in the cluster of rooms that passes for the Ecuadorean embassy in London, living on fast food and trying desperately to avoid extradition to Sweden to face charges of rape and sexual assault. For a noted campaigner for truth and justice, he seems remarkably keen to avoid the truth coming out and to prevent justice being done.
His lawyers claim he is fighting extradition because he fears Sweden would in turn extradite him to the United States to face charges relating to the release by Wikileaks of military communications from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts plus thousands of classified diplomatic cables. Ever eager to stoke the drama — and keen to portray Assange as some feared global revolutionary rather than a fugitive from charges of sexually abusing two women — his supporters claim he could face the death penalty.
These claims, like almost everything Assange says these days, do not stand up to scrutiny. The Swedish government has indicated that it would be unlikely to send Assange to the U.S. In any case, it would be much easier for the U.S. to have him extradited from Britain, whose courts have in recent years sent a number of suspects to face trial in America, in the face of high-profile campaigns to prevent them from doing so.
Assange has been granted political asylum by Ecuador’s left-wing president Rafael Correa, an arrangement somewhat at odds with his ostensible commitment to freedom of speech and of the press. Since coming to power in 2007, Correa has run a campaign of intimidation and harassment against critical news organizations and journalists, shutting down dissenting TV and radio stations. The country’s journalists are not given to feeling a tingle down their leg when their president speaks — he’s been known to refer to the press as “savage beasts.”
Assange’s acceptance of Correa’s hospitality isn’t the only association that makes a mockery of Assange’s professed crusade for openness. While out on bail in Britain, he moonlighted for Russia’s state-funded news channel, apparently untroubled by the government’s persecution of journalists and political opponents. Assange has also flirted with Iran’s mullahs, and has dispatched a Holocaust-denying associate to cooperate with the dictatorial regime in Belarus.