Thursday, September 02, 2010

The strange case(s) of Julian Assange

I was in the midst of a very long drive when I first heard the news that the founder of WikiLeaks had been accused of rape by Swedish prosecutors, a charge that was dropped a day later with no more explanation than the Swedish version of "whoopsie." Strange enough.

Today it got stranger still

PARIS — The Swedish authorities announced Wednesday that they were reopening an investigation of rape allegations against Julian Assange, the founder of the WikiLeaks Web site, saying there was “reason to believe that a crime has been committed.”

The announcement by Marianne Ny, director of public prosecution, was another reversal in the convoluted case. Last month, Swedish prosecutors confirmed that they had issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Assange on rape and molestation allegations, but dropped the rape charge after saying it was unfounded.

But on Wednesday, Ms. Ny said in a statement that “considering information available at present, my judgment is that the classification of the crime is rape.” She said additional investigation was needed “before a final decision can be made.”

A WikiLeaks spokesman said Mr. Assange, who has maintained his innocence, was unavailable for comment.

Leif Silbersky, Mr. Assange’s lawyer, said his client was innocent. Mr. Assange was questioned Monday by the police, Mr. Silbersky said, “and they said nothing about rape.”

Mr. Assange, a 39-year-old Australian, was initially investigated Aug. 20 on charges of rape and molestation after separate complaints from two women who had had separate sexual relationships with him. The rape inquiry was dropped within 24 hours, but the women who brought the complaints appealed for the investigation to be reinstated.

According to accounts the women gave to the police and friends, Swedish officials said, they had consensual sexual encounters with Mr. Assange that became nonconsensual. One woman said that Mr. Assange had ignored her appeals to stop after a condom broke. The other woman said that she and Mr. Assange had begun a sexual encounter using a condom, but that Mr. Assange did not comply with her appeals for him to stop when it was no longer in use.

Prosecutors have continued to investigate the lesser charge of molestation, which covers a wide range of offenses and carries penalties of up to a year in prison, and they said Wednesday that they were expanding that inquiry to consider charges of sexual coercion and sexual molestation.

The story goes on to say that one of the women, in an interview, denied that the Pentagon was behind the charges.

James Fallows finds it all pretty weird, too.

It is worth reading in order the series of posts on the Fabius Maximus site -- from earliest to latest here, here, here, and here -- making the case that the "official" story of the rape accusations against Julian Assange of Wikileaks is too strange and coincidence-ridden to be easily believable. The first post in this series, more than a week ago, starts with a summary of his hypothesis: "The CIA used to overthrow governments. Now they cannot even frame a rape charge against the leader of Wikileaks." Nothing is "proven" as of the latest update today; but individually and collectively, the posts do something most newspaper articles haven't. They put the whole story together and say: this part doesn't match that part, and this other part is extremely improbable, and if we're to believe the official version, then the following ten coincidences must all have gone the same way.

I do not know the truth here and am not in a position to dig into it myself. But if his suggestions prove to be true, they would have wide ramifications, and they are worth being aware of now. (Also, see this summary today by the Atlantic's Heather Horn.) So it becomes a test of which is harder to believe: That there was a conspiracy to frame Julian Assange? Or that there wasn't?

If it was a government plot, how far we have come from orchestrating the overthrow of South American presidents to broken condoms.

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