Assange on the Run: Going Nowhere for Now

Julian Assange

Julian Assange at New Media Days 09 in Copenhagen. Courtesy New Media Days

Assange now has help, but seemingly not enough.

He’s surrounded by hostile Brits and a government threatening to storm the Ecuadoran embassy where he’s holed up. Ecuador’s government has granted him political asylum and is calling the Brits’ bluff, pointedly reminding them they’re not a colony and haven’t been for quite a long time.

If he does manage to escape and get his feet safely planted on Ecuadoran soil, he has a good chance of being able to eventually return home to Australia, where he has a strong support base.

For now, the Brits are unlikely to follow through on their threatened raid; that would set a dangerous precident. Ernest A. Canning, writing as a guest on The Brad Blog, explained the danger the threat exposes:

“How ironic! Only last year, both the U.S. and the U.N. Security Council formally condemned an Iranian attack on the British embassy in Tehran, drawing a comparison to the widely condemned 1979 Iranian assault on the U.S. embassy in Tehran and the ensuing hostage crisis.

“Yet, now we see the British government threatening to engage in the very same lawless behavior in order to seize an individual who has never been formally charged with a crime. To the contrary, as [Guardian writer Mark] Weisbrot correctly notes, Sweden has sought extradition solely to question Assange–an extradition which former Stockholm prosecutor Sve-Erik Alhem described as ‘unreasonable and unprofessional, as well as unfair and disproportionate’ because Assange has always been available to answer questions in the U.K.”

So Assange sits tight, a captive in the embassy. The Brits seem to have him locked down, but they don’t dare make a move to get him. Escaping through their net, however, would seem to be next to impossible. It’s a good old fashioned Ecuadoran stand-off.

As grim a picture as this may be, this is actually an improvement of circumstances for Assange. Although he has many supporters, especially among free speech proponents, until now he’s had no sovereign entity behind him. Yes, he’s still in a fix, but at least now he has the Ecuadorans watching his back.

The granting of asylum was a bold move on Ecuador’s part. The U.S. State Department might want to take note of the fact that Ecuador is an American nation not led by Castro, Chavez or any of the other leaders of the western hemisphere the U.S. likes to demonize for not buying the American plan.

Outside of Europe and Israel, there hasn’t been a groundswell of support for the U.S. position against Assange and WikiLeaks, least of all from Ecuador’s South American neighbors who understand from experience that the U.S.’s anger is primarily born out of embarrassment. Our intelligence spooks are embarrassed because Assange demonstrated how often sensitive security issues are discussed using email, which isn’t very secure even when encrypted. Secretary of State Clinton is embarrassed because she’s been caught speaking out of both sides of her mouth, which is something Latin American nations have learned to expect from U.S. officials.

If the embassy manages to spirit Assange to Ecuador, the Ecuadorans stand to gain much international prestige, especially in Latin America. Also, Assange will be stuck there until he can be assured he’ll be safe from prosecution back in Australia. It’s a certainty the Australian government isn’t going to grant him a free return until they’ve come up with a solution that will pacify the U.S.

While in Ecuador he’ll have to be well protected and kept in hiding, lest he be kidnapped or murdered, which is definitely a possibility. Remember, not only the U.S., but Israel and most governments in Europe want to see Assange permanently taken out of action. International law is only seen by this gang as an obstacle to be overcome. Mr. Assange will definitely be in danger during his stay in Equador.

As usual, the Europeans are relieved to be able to let the United States take the lead in this sordid affair. It lets them have the appearance of having clean hands–even when their culpability is clearly visible. Think about it, the Brits won’t extradite him directly to the U.S., that wouldn’t be cricket, but they will extradite him to be “questioned” in Sweden on an unrelated matter, knowing that as soon as he lands in Stockholm he’ll be turned over to the Yanks, probably right at the airport.

None of this has escaped the Ecuadorans, which they made clear when announcing their decision to grant asylum. Dylan Stableford, writing on the Yahoo blog The Lookout, reported on the announcement made by Ecuador’s foreign minister:

“‘We have decided to grant political asylum to him,’ Ricardo Patino said at the end of a long televised statement from the Ecuadorean capital of Quito, where he criticized the U.S. and U.K. governments for failing to protect Assange from political persecution.

“‘The countries that have a right to protect Assange have failed him,’ Patino said. ‘[Assange] is victim of political persecution. … If Assange is extradited to U.S., he will not receive a fair trial.'”

If he makes it back to Australia he might never be able to travel safely outside his home country again. In this way, he’ll be in much the same situation as Roman Polanski. But that’s a big if. Right now he’s surrounded by Brits determined not to let him give them the slip.

Originally posted on FOSS Force.
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Christine Hall

Christine Hall began her journalism career in 1972 writing for the "underground" newspaper the Los Angeles Free Press. From 1988 until 2005 she covered politics for various newspapers in the Greensboro, North Carolina area.

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