Having pumped out an article a day for the last few weeks, this writer took the weekend off. In all honesty, I didn’t think about Brexit once, and it reminded me of a simpler, happier time.
Once MPs come back from their holidays next week, all that will change. For now though, Brexit is just a discussion of hypotheticals, with the only notable developments being:
- David Lammy calling the ERG a bunch of pseudo-Nazis;
- John Bercow supposedly saying that he will not stand down as Speaker of the House until Brexit is sorted.
Forty more years of Bercow it is, then.
Today, however, I will be writing on something other than Brexit. I know, it’s weirding me out, too. But a strange, bearded vagrant has just been forcibly removed from the Ecuadorian embassy, and I think it would be prudent to answer the following question…
What’s The Deal With Julian Assange?
Julian Assange is one of those mythical names that everyone sort-of knows, but doesn’t particularly know why.
He’s that weird hermit who lives in an embassy, which the Met Police spent thousands of pounds guarding in case he ever tried to leg it. He’s like Edward Snowdon, only he hasn’t gone to live in Russia. He looks like a Scandinavian detective who’s investigating a gruesome murder on a Sunday-evening BBC1 thriller, but is actually Australian. Yes, really: he’s an Aussie.
So why was he ever famous, and why is he back in the news now?
Back in 2010, the “freedom-of-information”-championing website called WikiLeaks delivered its first massive story. Through Chelsea Manning, a US soldier, WikiLeaks uncovered a massive story around military brutality during the second Iraq war. It was desperately unpleasant reading: soldiers were murdering and raping Iraqi citizens and more senior military personnel were sweeping the stories under the rug.
Manning passed on a huge trove of data to WikiLeaks to reveal the story to the world, which it summarily did – Julian Assange was the founder of the company.
Because of the clandestine nature of how WikiLeaks got its sensitive material, the US set out to arrest Assange for whistleblowing on its military wrongdoings. At the same time, two Swedish women claimed that Assange had raped them while he was in Sweden, so Swedish authorities also sought Assange for questioning.
It was at that point that Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy – according to reports, he had met with the Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa the week before and been told he was welcome to seek asylum there.
Correa probably didn’t expect Assange to rock up at his embassy with a travel-bag, but that’s exactly what he did. He was granted asylum and allowed to remain indefinitely in the embassy.
Seven long, lonely and claustrophobic years later, and Assange was doing his absolute utmost to make living with him an utter hell. Supposedly he:
- Stole embassy employees’ food;
- Threatened and hit said employees (it is unclear if this was over food-theft allegations);
- Set up webcams in the embassy and tried to spy on the officials’ work;
- And reportedly went completely Broadmore and started smearing faeces on his walls.
He was cooped up in basically one room for seven years, but that’s still a pretty ropey list of past-times. Take up crochet, Jules, for God’s sake.
And so, last week, the Ecuadorians said “No mas,” and opened up their doors for the UK police to arrest him, which they did. He did not look well.
OK, So He’s Now In Policy Custody. Why Is All Of This Important?
Mostly because of the discussion around what the real definition of journalism is.
Many argue that Assange is something of a saint, with WikiLeaks consistently identifying and illustrating governmental corruption, wrongdoing or general skullduggery. The 2010 files were an international sensation of a story, but he found those files through asking Chelsea Manning to essentially commit treason (which could still be punishable by death in the US).
The fact that the US will be pounding on the door of the UK police and asking them to extradite him across the pond for a trial will be a real diplomatic headache for the UK. The UK police do have every right to detain him themselves for avoiding arrest all those years ago, and there is arguably a moral argument against sending him to the US – he did help people through WikiLeaks.
This situation isn’t helped by Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott, those darned Trotskyite troublemakers, both publicly declaring that he shouldn’t be extradited because he has committed no crimes through his form of journalism.
It was quite quickly pointed out to them, however, that rape is definitely a crime.
Sweden also want Assange extradited, but not to the US – they are considering reopening the investigation into those rape claims to see if there is any validity to them. While all the claims are so far are allegations, not convictions, the Swedes want him in their custody to make sure he doesn’t flee again.
So, what are the Brits to do? Hold him on their own charges? See him extradited to the US for a trial on crimes that helped prevent military wrongdoing? See him extradited to Sweden for unproven rape allegations and thoroughly piss off the US, a country which we might need to rely heavily on for trade post-Brexit?
Whatever happens, the general consensus seems to be this: Assange managed to do a considerable amount of good with his 2010 document leak and helped a lot of vulnerable people in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, good people can do bad things, and some good things are done by weird, egotistical, allegedly sexually-aggressive wankers.
I feel like this situation is more column B than column A.
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