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Hands off Julian Assange!
Bogus rape claims and imperialist vendetta
Following two years under house arrest in Britain, in mid-June Julian Assange, the founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London. Assange is facing extradition to Sweden on trumped-up allegations of “sexual molestation” and “rape” — which boil down to charges of unprotected sex in what were by all accounts consensual relations — but he rightly fears that this is simply a pretext to facilitate his extradition to the US. By granting him political asylum, Ecuador threw a monkey wrench into the process of handing Assange over to the US imperialists, who are intent on exacting retribution against Assange and WikiLeaks for having lifted the lid, however slightly, on the hideous crimes of US and British imperialism.
In April 2010, WikiLeaks posted a video online which showed a US Apache helicopter gunning down and killing at least twelve civilians in Baghdad in 2007, including two Reuters journalists, while the pilots gloated over the carnage. The release of the video was followed by the publication of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables as well as classified documents recording the murder, torture and rape carried out by the imperialists in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the leaks contained little in the way of revelations, the British and US capitalist rulers were enraged at any light being shed on their machinations. Contrary to Sweden’s “human rights” façade, WikiLeaks drew attention to its militaristic role, not least in Afghanistan where it has maintained a military presence for over ten years.
If sent to the US, Assange could face charges including “espionage”, which carries a potential death penalty. US Army Private Bradley Manning has been in military prison for more than two years in torturous conditions accused of “aiding the enemy” — a capital offence — for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks. If Manning was indeed the source of the information, then he has provided a useful and courageous service on behalf of imperialism’s victims. We say: Free Bradley Manning now! Hands off Julian Assange — let him go to Ecuador!
The British government, caught off guard by Ecuador’s granting asylum to Assange, reacted with fury. Attempting to intimidate tiny Ecuador into handing over their quarry, swarms of cops surrounded the embassy while the Foreign Office threatened to revoke Ecuador’s diplomatic immunity and to storm the building in order to arrest Assange. This arrogant imperialist threat to breach internationally recognised diplomatic protocol comes from the same government which screamed bloody murder against Iran when protesters, furious at British imperialism imposing financial sanctions on that country over its nuclear enrichment programme, briefly took over the British embassy in Teheran last November. Back then, foreign secretary William Hague waxed eloquent on the sanctity of embassies, castigating the Iranian government for a “grave breach of the Vienna convention which requires the protection of diplomats and diplomatic premises under all circumstances” (Guardian, 29 November 2011).
The Iranians certainly have cause for anger — among the WikiLeaks exposures were cables showing that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other Arab states have been pressing the US to stage a military attack against Iran’s nuclear programme, showing yet again that Iran needs nukes to deter attack by the US or its Israeli proxy. And while Hague told Ecuador: “The UK does not accept the principle of diplomatic asylum”, the British imperialists have no problem with such asylum when it serves anti-Communist China-bashing. When Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng sought refuge in the US embassy in Beijing in April this year, Hague rushed to lecture the Chinese government on its “abuse of power”, while the European Union urged China to use the “utmost restraint” in dealing with Chen.
“Socialists” aid witch hunt
The rape allegations made against Assange by two women in Sweden are simply not credible. Both women approached Assange at separate times and, by their own accounts, had consensual sex with him. Neither claimed at the time that she had been the victim of a rape or sexual assault. One of the so-called “victims” organised a barbecue for Assange the day after the supposed “assault”. The other went to the police after exchanging emails with the first woman, and then apparently to see if Assange could be forced to take a sexual health test after a condom allegedly broke during sex. Prosecutors in Sweden initially opened, then dropped, then reopened an investigation into the accusations. Assange — who has not been charged with any offence — has repeatedly offered to be interviewed by Swedish authorities either in London or by video link, but the Swedes have steadfastly refused.
The capitalists and their hired scribblers in the media — particularly the so-called “liberal” press — have cynically seized on the rape accusations to smear Assange and to discredit WikiLeaks. “Considering he made his name with the biggest leak of secret government documents in history, you might imagine there would be at least some residual concern for Julian Assange among those trading in the freedom of information business. But the virulence of British media hostility towards the WikiLeaks founder is now unrelenting”, wrote Seumas Milne (Guardian, 21 August). To the British press, Milne noted, Assange “is nothing but a ‘monstrous narcissist’, a bail-jumping ‘sex pest’ and an exhibitionist maniac”. This venom is spewed at someone “who has yet to be charged, let alone convicted, of anything”.
The reformist left have joined in the witch hunt of Assange, treating the rape allegations as good coin, as was seen when the bourgeois press unleashed a vicious backlash against MP George Galloway. He made the unexceptionable statement in an online video broadcast that “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.” Salma Yaqoob, a leader of Galloway’s Respect party, condemned his remarks as “deeply disappointing and wrong” and later resigned from Respect.
The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) also took aim at Galloway, who was their coalition partner in Respect before a split in 2007. In an article in Socialist Worker (1 September) leading SWPer Judith Orr chastised Galloway for his assertion that Assange was guilty of nothing more than “bad sexual etiquette”. Orr objects to Galloway’s statement, saying: “Part of the fight for women’s liberation has been for us to no longer to [sic] be seen as sex objects.” The SWP’s concern for women’s liberation rings hollow, to put it mildly, given its long record of pandering to Islamic reactionaries such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. For sure George Galloway, who also panders to Islamic reaction and opposes abortion, is hardly a champion of women’s rights. But this was not a problem for the SWP when, in order to form the Respect coalition with Galloway in 2004, these opportunists buried the question of women’s oppression (and gay rights) in order to avoid alienating the mosques. Now the SWP cynically invokes women’s rights while in reality providing a cover to the witch hunt against Julian Assange, whom the imperialist rulers have declared a public enemy.
The Socialist Party joined the vendetta against Assange, including in an editorial comment from its Swedish sister group, Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna, which opposes Assange’s extradition to the US, but tacitly supports his extradition to Sweden. The article says: “Internationally, the case centres around US imperialism’s need to punish WikiLeaks and no doubt the Swedish state and government would happily assist the US in getting Assange extradited. However, the case is also about serious allegations of rape, which must be investigated” (Socialist, 30 August). The International Socialist Group in Scotland (a split from the SWP) brands Assange a rapist before he has even been charged, let alone convicted. An online piece by Sarah Watson declares: “Assange committed rape and should face trial in Sweden” (internationalsocialist.org.uk, 22 August).
We are opposed to government interference in people’s private, sexual lives, as well as to any categorical criminalisation of a sex act, such as the reactionary “age of consent” laws. As a guiding principle, we advocate the concept of effective consent — that is, mutual understanding and agreement. To conflate consensual sex with rape is to trivialise the brutal crime of rape. The reformist left share a touching faith in the capitalist state, which they entrust to regulate the sexual activity of youth, as well as to “protect” women and children.
The state in Sweden, as in Britain, is certainly not known for its sympathetic treatment of women who have been raped. An article titled “We are Women Against Rape but we do not want Julian Assange extradited”, written by members of Women Against Rape (Guardian, 23 August) expressed a healthy scepticism over the sudden concern for “rape” victims in the Assange case. The article noted:
“When Julian Assange was first arrested, we were struck by the unusual zeal with which he was being pursued for rape allegations.
“It seems even clearer now, that the allegations against him are a smokescreen behind which a number of governments are trying to clamp down on WikiLeaks for having audaciously revealed to the public their secret planning of wars and occupations with their attendant rape, murder and destruction.”
Julian Assange is a bourgeois liberal who vainly seeks to rid the imperialist system of its worst excesses through exposure of its crimes. In trying to take down Assange, WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning, the US and British imperialists are sending a message that any exposure or even accurate reporting of the imperialists’ crimes and atrocities will be punished by life in prison, or the death penalty. It is in the interests of the working class and all the oppressed to fight the witch hunt of Assange, which is an attempt to criminalise dissent and to silence opponents of imperialism’s wars and occupations as well as domestic repression carried out in the name of fighting “terrorism”. We Marxists seek to impart the understanding that imperialist war, with all its savagery, is inherent to capitalist class rule. Only when capitalism is destroyed root and branch through workers revolution will humanity finally be rid of such horrors.