The Assange Saga Continues  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

Guy Rundle at Crikey has an update on the Julian Assange saga, following Ecuador's decision to grant him asylum and his recent press conference - Rundle: Assange as Poppins meets HR Pufnstuff. It was interesting to see that Wikileaks' recent publishing of an email archive from Stratfor prompted a concerted denial of service attack on the site (along with a flurry of articles about a surveillance system called Trapwire) - which probably just gave the release more publicity.
Thus began the return of Julian Assange to public appearance, after a two-month enforced absence, hunkered down in the embassy — and by agreement with the Ecuadorians, refraining from overt political statements and appearances. It had been announced late last week, when it was suggested that Assange would appear “in front” of the embassy, a few hours after it had been announced that he had been granted diplomatic asylum. This led to renewed speculation as to his possible arrest, etc — the topic of feverish debate around town. Would he allow himself to be arrested, having made his point? Would a fast motorbike etc? Or, by contrast, would he address everyone by video link, having already escaped to Quito?

We waited to see, but first there were the warm-up acts — Assange’s international lawyer Baltasar Garzon, who spoke mostly in Spanish, venerable street-fighting man Tariq Ali, and then Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, who gave a roaring denunciation of large sections of the UK diplomatic apparatus, while also pointing out that he had used the UK embassy to harbour Uzbek dissidents, so the UK’s huffing and puffing about “no diplomatic asylum” came and went a bit.

Then there was a bit of faffing around with a microphone on the small corner balcony, and through the crowd, distributing red, yellow and blue (colours of Ecuador) helium balloons, “to be released when Julian finishes speaking”. It’s stuff like this that makes you cringe a little in matters Assange, although it was quickly defeated by the balloons clumping together and people losing hold of them anyway. Then there was a highly engineered roar, and Assange appeared, in clipped white hair, blue shirt, a maroon tie and a sheaf of papers, all the world like he was about to process your home loan.

His speech was brief and circumspect — apparently there were still agreements with Ecuador that he wouldn’t call for the overthrow of all governments. He referred to the solidarity of South American nations, in resisting the UK government’s blundering threat of invading an embassy, expressed gratitude to his supporters, and most importantly called on President Obama to “end the witch-hunt against WikiLeaks” and persecution of all whistleblowers. He gave a shout-out to Pussy Riot, the recently convicted Russian punk band, defying those who thought that his alliance with the state-controlled Russia Today channel would preclude any sort of mention. There was no account of the Swedish accusations, his view of them or the rationale for taking asylum.

It was a dignified speech, and he avoided the inevitable Evita comparisons with the whole Italianate balcony thing, but it was a close run.

Assange’s getting of asylum has coincided with a further backlash against Assange — one curiously, which did not emerge when he spent two years fighting extradition through the courts. Centre-left figures have always lined themselves up against Assange and the WikiLeaks project, which they find to be a disruption to business as usual. ...

Assange’s genius, from WikiLeaks to here, has been to use small interruptions in power processes to create major conflicts, which expose power relations, and alter them. Given that he set all this out in a couple of short papers at the beginning of the WikiLeaks project — that by releasing secret information in large amounts, one causes states and suprastates to lose their advantage and unity as conspiracies — it is surprising that people are surprised at every new twist.

His response to the extradition request has seen the European Arrest Warrant — the linchpin of a post-democratic EU, more so than the euro — subject to its most fundamental challenge in the UK courts to date, the case itself has shattered the easy “cultural left” refusal to examine the politics of sex, and sexual coercion. Now, his asylum request has done the same thing. It was inevitable that the UK would make secret threats to a smaller, “Third World” nation, and that Ecuador, in the WikiLeaks spirit, would release the memo, thus exposing implicit power relations and assumptions.

Now, that process is in play. Ecuador has appealed to leftist South America — through the OAS, and the smaller UNASUR (a South American nations group, which thus excludes Canada and the US) — to condemn the UK’s implicitly colonialist mindset.

The OAS will be meeting on August 24, in DC of all places, to consider a motion to censure the UK’s blatant disregard of diplomatic principles, and UNASUR agreed one today, with the foreign ministers of the continent linking hands as the resolution was met with cheers. In a sense, Assange’s initiative and British blundering has put the facade of international political equality right up front.

Whether that helps Assange get out of 3 Hans Crescent, remains to be seen. We await the next move. To add to my previous suggestions, the balcony speech gave me another idea. Helicopters can fly to 152 metres (500 feet) in London, with a general authorisation. Diplomatic vehicles are exempt under the Vienna Convention, and nothing in it says they can’t fly. So — a helicopter, a winch, and then a flight outside the 12-mile coastal waters limit. By the time it had happened, Assange would be on a yacht in the Channel.


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