Speeches from Debating the Case of Julian Assange meeting
Here are the transcripts to the speeches made by Hannah Thompson and Roxanne Baker at the last Anticapitalist Initiative London meeting ‘Debating the Case of Julian Assange’ (9 October 2012).
Thanks to the ACI for arranging this debate and for inviting me.
Firstly, I think that Roxanne and I agree that women’s rights and anti-imperialism are not mutually exclusive. We both oppose Assange’s extradition to the US and the persecution of Wikileaks. We are for the immediate release of Bradley Manning and the continuation of Wikileaks to publish state and military secrets. Bourgeois society should be kept accountable.
Where we disagree, is that in order to take both imperialism and women’s rights seriously. Assange should return or be extradited to Sweden to face the sexual assault allegations in court. In order to retain Assange’s legitimacy as a figurehead against imperialism, some of the left have described the assault allegations as a CIA coup. This is a failure to take the allegations seriously, or to take rape seriously.
Rape crisis stats
- 23% women, 3% men experience sexual assault as adults
- 5% women, 0.4% men experience rape
- 40% of victims of rape and sexual assault tell no one.
- Only 15% of all serious sexual offences against 16+ year olds are reported to the police
- Of this 15%, only 6% result in conviction
Why is the conviction rate so low?
The misogyny existing in society doesn’t require elaboration to this audience. It is particularly pronounced in the British legal system. Rape within marriage wasn’t criminalised in Scotland till 1982, and in England till 1991 (Sweden 1965).
Criminalisation of sex work and racist immigration laws make many victims of sexual assault unable to report crimes because they fear deportation or prosecution. Migrant women married to men with refugee or migrant status have to wait years before having access to any public services, including rape and domestic abuse support.
It is very difficult to prove rape, even if clinical evidence is available immediately afterwards. The 2003 Sexual Crimes act was good, in that it described rape as a matter of consent, not a matter of whether the victim showed signs of resistance. However, the majority of sexual assault cases are not heard by crown prosecution services — evidence or not — because of snap decisions made about consent, usually based on a character assessment of the victim (usually a woman.) It is a crime committed away from public eyes, usually by someone familiar to the victim; it is one individual’s word against another. A woman’s word against a man’s in a misogynist society.
If there is an allegation of sexual assault made, the evidence should be considered and the complaint heard in a court of law.
It is not for us, the left, feminist groups, the media or the state to speculate on the details of the events that have led to Julian Assange being accused of sexual assault. Consensual sex is agreeing to sex without coercion; the circumstance, previous events and political profile of the accused are irrelevant.
Some on the left have fallen into the trap of defending Assange by questioning the legitimacy of the assault allegations, the nature of consent, or simply ruling the whole case out as a CIA coup. The methods of misogynists have been used to do this. We’ve all hear Galloway and Tony Benn’s comments.
Chris Marsden of the World Socialist Web Site says the allegations are ‘not credible’ because ‘both women had repeated sexual encounters with Assange… including after the alleged incidents’ and that the police had allowed the women to ‘confer’ before pressing charges.
Uncritical defence of Assange and his continued presence in the UK is problematic in several ways:
- It harms the women’s movement and trivialises rape and sexual assault
- It has pushed Wikileaks into the background and turned the debate towards the conduct of an individual. Bradley Manning still rots in an American jail; Wikileaks is not leaking state secrets.
- It demonstrates that many on the British left can a declare a ‘hero’ above criticism. Right- wingers accused of assault are attacked; left-wing ‘anti-imperialists’ are defended, and their accusers dismissed as instruments in a CIA plot.
Assange should go to Sweden and face trial. Assault should not be used as a political tool.
by Hannah Thompson
The persecution of Julian Assange, which is presented as an issue centring on questions of rape, sexual assault and the rights of women, is in fact essentially an attack on democratic rights – in particular, freedom of the press. Differences on the left over the Assange case do not revolve around ‘taking rape seriously’ but rather subservience to ruling-class pressure and the willingness of some ‘revolutionaries’ to act as mouthpieces for imperialist propaganda.
Everyone knows that Assange and WikiLeaks antagonised the leaders of the ‘free world’ by publishing hundreds of thousands of classified documents and pieces of diplomatic correspondence that laid bare the inner workings of imperialist diplomacy and exposed the monstrous crimes committed in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Of particular concern was a video entitled ‘Collateral Murder’, released by WikiLeaks in April 2010, that showed American soldiers in an Apache helicopter gunning down Iraqi civilians (including children and journalists).
The savage persecution of Bradley Manning, the young soldier who is accused of providing WikiLeaks with documentation of the crimes of the US military, stands as an object lesson in how ‘enemies of the state’ are treated in ‘the world’s greatest democracy’. Manning has been held in solitary confinement for more than two years without a court hearing – a blatant violation of the supposed right to a speedy trial. Socialists demand the immediate release of Bradley Manning.
The attack on Manning and Assange provides dramatic evidence of the erosion of democratic rights in the American security state and its partners in Sweden, Britain and elsewhere. I believe we should applaud the decision by the Ecuadorean government to grant asylum to Assange and I note with pleasure that William Hague has had to backtrack on earlier threats to invade the embassy to seize him. Assange, as everyone knows, has not even been charged with a crime. The Swedes ostensibly want him for questioning in connection with accusations attributed to two women with whom he had sex during a visit to Sweden in August 2010. Assange is willing to answer questions from Swedish authorities, but not to be extradited to Sweden, from whence he could be whisked to the US to face charges under the Espionage Act that could result in life imprisonment or even execution.
It is impossible to know with certainty what, if any, legitimacy there is to the allegations against Assange. But there are many indications that the whole case is essentially a stitch up. The two women supposedly originally approached police in an attempt to compel Assange to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases. The lead complainant, Anna Ardin, who had invited Assange to Sweden and organized his trip, proposed to the other alleged victim, Sofia Wilen, that they go to the police after they compared notes about their sexual encounters with Assange. Ardin accompanied Wilen to the police station, having already set up an appointment with a policewoman who was a personal friend. Ardin herself was subsequently interviewed by telephone.
When Wilen learned that Assange was going to be charged with rape on the basis of her statement to the police, she terminated the interview and refused to read or sign the transcript. The officer who uploaded the transcript to the police data system apparently amended it subsequently at the request of her superior. Despite Wilen’s objections to the whole proceeding, the Swedish tabloid press immediately began publishing lurid allegations that Assange had been accused of double rape.
A senior prosecutor who reviewed the case declared that there was not enough evidence to go forward, and dropped it. In a very unusual move, this decision was reversed through the intervention of Chief Prosecutor Marianne Ny. There have been plenty of suggestions that this resulted from political string pulling from on high.
Ardin has connections with an anti-communist Cuban group called Ladies in White, which has received funding from the US government and is supported by Luis Posada Carriles, a CIA asset convicted of killing hundreds of people in terror attacks. Ardin’s brother ‘works in Swedish intelligence, and was a liaison in Washington to US intelligence agencies’, according to an account that appeared in Counterpunch on 7 December 2010.
Unfortunately, several socialist groups in this country have lent legitimacy to the campaign against Assange. The Socialist Workers Party [SWP] proposed that: ‘if the Swedish authorities were serious about investigating [the charges], they would guarantee that Assange would not be extradited to the US. That could clear the way for him to face his accusers’ [Socialist Worker, 21August 2012]. Such a ‘guarantee’ is not on offer, but if it were it would not be worth the paper it was printed on, and Assange would be a fool to accept it.
The naiveté of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty [AWL] is even more breathtaking: ‘The Swedish state’s legal system is independent and does not simply deliver verdicts at the whim of Swedish politicians or, still less, Washington. Swedish law requires evidence showing ‘probable cause’ for believing the crime was committed, before any extradition request can be made. In other words we have every reason to believe Assange has a serious case to answer’ [Solidarity, 22 August 2012]. The AWL claims ‘to argue both against extradition to the US and at the same time for a fair trial in Sweden on the rape charges’ [Solidarity, 11 July 2012]. They might want to consider the fate of Ahmed Agiza and Muhammad Alzery, two asylum-seekers who were immediately sent back to Egypt from Sweden in December 2001 following a request from the CIA. In that case, the magnificent machine of impartial Swedish justice sent these two unfortunates to Mubarak’s torture chambers without even bothering to notify their lawyers.
Assange has no chance of receiving a ‘fair trial’ (in Sweden or any other US ally). The sensationalist and prejudicial press coverage of the allegations against him reflect the implacable hostility of the ruling elites of Sweden, Britain, America and all their imperialist allies towards the man behind the WikiLeaks revelations. A leaked memo from the American private strategic forecasting firm, Stratfor, includes a comment by a former deputy chief of the US Department of State’s counterterrorism division for the Diplomatic Security Service on how to go after Assange and his friends:
‘Ferreting out [Assange’s] confederates is also key. Find out what other disgruntled rogues inside the tent or outside. Pile on. Move him from country to country to face various charges for the next 25 years. But, seize everything he and his family own, to include every person linked to Wiki.’
Another Stratfor analyst casually remarked: ‘Charges of sexual assault rarely are passed through Interpol red notices, like this case, so this is no doubt about trying to disrupt WikiLeaks release of government documents’. So you do not have to be left-wing to understand what is underway here. Much of the discussion around this case has swirled around questions of what constitutes rape. Leaving aside the politically motivated character of the charges and the virtual impossibility of determining exactly what transpired, on a more general level the key issue in cases of rape and/or other forms of sexual assault is that of informed consent. It is, for example, clearly criminal to engage in unprotected sex when consent has been made conditional on the use of a condom.
As there is no chance of Assange getting a fair hearing in Sweden on these allegations, socialists must oppose all attempts to extradite him. To do so is not to downplay the seriousness of the crime of rape or any other sort of sexual abuse. In an article headlined, ‘We are Women Against Rape but we do not want Julian Assange extradited,’ published in the Guardian on 23 August 2012, two experienced anti-rape campaigners correctly pointed out: ‘The authorities care so little about violence against women that they manipulate rape allegations at will, usually to increase their powers, this time to facilitate Assange’s extradition or even rendition to the US.’
Assange is being hunted by America for daring to shine a light on some of the crimes of imperialism, a capital offense in the eyes of the oppressors. He is no Marxist – he is a liberal who considers himself a realist, and he has serious illusions. Speaking from the Ecuadorean embassy on 19 August, he said:
‘I ask President Obama to do the right thing: the United States must renounce its witch-hunt against WikiLeaks.’
Assange is certainly aware that the US ruling class will not cease its attempt to make an example of him. The reason he is reduced to calls on bourgeois authority figures to reform themselves is because any notion of the potential of class struggle lies outside his political framework. We must defend Assange because he is an advocate of freedom of the press whose revelations have helped the working class and other victims of capitalist rule. Only by defending the rights and liberties won through the difficult struggles of past generations – which the capitalist class often tries to reverse during times of reaction – will it be possible to go forward to win new gains and lay the basis for overturning the entire system of global oppression and mass murder that imperialist rule entails.
by Roxanne Baker