Where in the World Is Julian Assange?

by Matthew Shaffer

The short answer: in England, in jail, and at the center of the world’s attention. This week’s story, and expectations for the future, are much more complex.

On Monday, WikiLeaks fsounder Julian Assange, after earning the fury of statesmen everywhere for “Cablegate” (his release of thousands of classified diplomatic cables obtained from Pfc. Bradley Manning) turned himself in to Scotland Yard. He had been sought and was then detained for his alleged crime of — ahem — “sex by surprise,” an accusation leveled by two separate women in Sweden. Assange contends that the charges — which revolve around his deceptive refusal to wear a condom during sexual encounters — were ginned up and politically motivated. At his court appearance on Tuesday, Assange protested his innocence while flanked by several vociferous and wealthy supporters offering to pay for his freedom, but was denied bail. The presiding judge explained that England had every reason to expect that Assange would not return for the trial, given his personality, controversy, and history (there is, for example, no record of Assange’s original entry into the U.K., even though he is a flight risk).  

Throughout the week, Assange’s supporters have been waging a cyber-war, disabling the websites of Visa and Mastercard, to punish them for stopping money flow to WikiLeaks. They’ve even cyber-targeted — who else? — Sarah Palin, for her description of Assange as a terrorist.

But with Assange in chains, we’ve heard very little from the man himself recently. However, he claims to have a trump card. Before turning himself in, he released encrypted files of mysterious content and import, and threatened to publish the code should he be arrested. Recently, Assange was transferred to a “segregation unit” at his U.K. prison, where he will be allotted limited internet access — perhaps we’ll hear more from him soon, then.

Over the next few weeks, expect Assange to be transfered to Swedish custody. From there, he can be extradited to the U.S. We have an enforceable extradition treaty with Sweden, dating to 1963 and with substantial supplements from 1984. Whereas many such treaties contain long lists of specific extraditable offenses, the U.S.-Sweden treaty supplement simply enables extradition for any crime that carries a punishment of two or more years. Assange, to say the least, qualifies.

But there’s an interesting caveat in our extradition treaty with Sweden. It provides that Sweden can transfer a criminal for the purpose of prosecution in the U.S., but also stipulates that he may then be transferred back to Sweden “after the conclusion of the proceedings” with “conditions to be determined by mutual agreement.” That is, Sweden, could take him back. What does “after the proceedings” mean, though? After the trial? After he has served his full sentence? There is a great deal of uncertainty still.

Once Assange is in the U.S., there is no question he can be tried under the Espionage Act of 1917. The trouble might be getting him to the U.S. at all. Sweden has a reputation for and history of protecting asylum-seekers. To his many sympathizers, Assange qualifies as such.

The Corner

The one and only.