Queensland boy Julian Assange seems set to walk out of the Ecuadorian embassy soon, hoping that the announcement by the UN human rights panel on the arbitrariness of his detention will protect him from being arrested. The baseline scenario is that he walks out, is quickly arrested by the UK authorities, and is then extradited to Sweden, which will go through its own pantomime but which in essence will just send him onto the US, where they will probably successfully convict him in a secret trial.
Julian surely expects the same, so why is he doing this and how will the Australian government react to this baseline scenario?
I understand that the main reason behind Julian’s move is medical: he is apparently in constant pain and needs to be put under an MRI scanner to ascertain the source. That is a treatment that the Equadorian embassy cannot possibly provide and the UK government refused to allow him safe passage to hospital. So his choice was stark: remain in the embassy in constant pain without hope of relief, or accept the wrath of the US secret services whilst at least getting some medical attention that might relieve the pain. He seems to have chosen the second option, maximising the degree to which he has the moral high ground with the UN ruling under his belt.
How will the Australian government react? As I have said when the Wikileaks case broke in 2010, the Australian government has so far backed the US administration and disowned Assange as much as it could. It will probably try to keep doing this (lib or Lab: doesn’t matter), but the groundswell of support for Julian will surely become quite formidable when he is in the US, particularly when Sweden dismisses the somewhat bizarre `rape case’ against him. I say ‘when’ and ‘bizarre’ because Julian is not accused of anything, has already given evidence in Stockholm before, and a previous Swedish prosecutor dismissed the case as baseless. The odds of anything but a second complete exoneration by the Swedish legal authorities seem remote. Still, that wont stop Sweden from sending him onto the US, particularly as Sweden now apparently wants to join Nato, fearful of the Russians.
So when Julian is finally in the US, one would expect a clear face-off between civil rights and the US security apparatus, where one should heavily favour the latter to win. Perhaps the Australian government will be pressured to at least openly object and secure reasonable prison lodgings for Julian, but I don’t expect the Australian government to go all out for him.
The case to me is illustrating the degree to which the US security apparatus is able to co-opt and coerce governments in the West to do its bidding. Already in 2010 I thought Julian would spend the rest of his days in some form of prison, given that small players cannot annoy big beasts without consequences, and this indeed is the scenario that has played out ever since. Sad, but I don’t see how civil society can regain its right to hold governments to account: the loss of free speech at the hands of anonymous agencies who use their discretionary powers as much for their own personal gain as for the defense of our societies, is very popular with voters who simply don’t see their loss. It is quite ironic to see Tea Party adherents in the US, who supposedly mistrust and dislike Big Government, being among the most vociferous opponents of Assange and Snowden. What would the ‘Founders’ in the US think of such open adherence to secrecy and government?
The legal profession, to its credit, is resisting the increased powers of the secret services as best it can, but at the moment it is losing. It needs a far worse scandal than Wikileaks or the Snowden revelations to bring some balance back to the way our society interacts with its secret services.
History does give us a glimpse of how hard it is for societies to bring a large secret service to heel once it has embedded itself and uses every perceived danger to increase its resources and powers. In Germany, it took a devastating 2nd world war and foreign occupation to finally break the hold of the Prussian military establishment over German society (and that war, according to president Eisenhower’s retirement speech, empowered the US military-industrial complex: you get rid of one here, you spawn another one there!). Russia is arguably still run by the secret services set up about 100 years ago. I wonder what might do the trick in Western countries? Any ideas?