Swedish prosecutors have reinstated rape charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, after issuing and dropping them two weeks ago. Headlines over the accusations have all but eclipsed public discussion of the whistleblower organization’s plan to disclose another 15,000 classified US documents about the Afghanistan war.
As of September 8, Swedish media were reporting that Assange still has not been called for questioning, much less been detained, a situation his lawyer terms, “weird, especially given the degree of suspicion that is hanging over him.”
As long as the Stockholm sex investigation continues, Assange may be blocked from obtaining resident status. And he has been asked to step aside as WikiLeaks spokesperson by a once-close ally, the Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdotter, who has authored pro-whistleblower legislation there.
According to one Swedish peace campaigner, “By this one move, at least three things are [being] shaken around – disturbing Julian, WikiLeaks, and perhaps preventing Sweden from once again becoming a country favoring ideals that will be inconvenient and scary for some.”
The Swedish national election is scheduled on September 19, pitting the pro-US governing coalition against one led by the Social Democrats and Greens, who recently adopted an anti-war platform.
A longtime Swedish peace campaign leader, Stefan Lindrgren, thinks the WikiLeaks controversy will have little impact on the upcoming election. The WikiLeaks documents exposing Afghanistan as a failed war are helpful to the peace movement, he notes. The ruling coalition has little interest in drawing attention to their support of the war and hidden agenda of NATO membership. The opposition [red-green] is proposing a troop withdrawal beginning in 2011 and ending in 2014: “too little, too late.. But still progress,” Lindgren says.
“If they [the governing coalition] win and stay in power, then we might see some real efforts to make trouble for WikiLeaks in Sweden. But I am sure they already control all traffic to and from the [WikiLeaks] server, so in a way they can just lean back, hand over everything to the Pentagon, and wait for an opportunity,” Lindgren added.
At this point it does not appear that Assange raped anyone. The questions being investigated thus far seem to be whether there was unprotected sex. One woman has accused Assange not of being dangerous but having difficulty “taking no for an answer.” The flip-flop of prosecutors over the rape charge has added to public questioning of their credibility.
Nor is the theory of a CIA conspiracy, now ricocheting around the blogosphere, backed by solid evidence thus far. But there is little doubt about Pentagon pressure to prevent Sweden from becoming a sanctuary for WikiLeaks.
The woman at the center of the controversy is 31-year old Anna Ardin, a research student from Uppsala University and political secretary for a faction of the Christian Social Democrats. Ardin was involved in inviting Assange to speak at a conference on the media three weeks ago. He stayed at her apartment and the two apparently had sex the same night, if not previously. Then, after Assange became involved sexually with the second woman a few days later, he was reported to the prosecutor by Ardin.
Conspiracy theories swirling around Ardin are based on circumstantial evidence. First, she is accused of being a “radical feminist” who has written a blog on taking “legal revenge” against men. Second, she is the cousin and apparent friend of Lt. Col. Mattias Ardin, the deputy head of Swedish Joint Forces attached to NATO in Afghanistan.
There are serious unanswered questions about how Expressen, a right-wing tabloid, already had the story before asking the prosecutors for confirmation and going public on August 20. Perhaps someone in law enforcement, or Ardin herself, provided the background information to Expressen.
Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt formally denies that the US has contacted Swedish authorities about WikiLeaks. But Pentagon spokesmen describe a “very robust” investigation with active support from the FBI and Justice Department.
Meanwhile US Private Bradley Manning is already in military custody facing accusations of downloading and transferring thousands of classified files which were published by the New York Times, Der Spiegel, and the London Observer. In addition, Manning is accused of releasing video last April of killings of civilians in Baghdad in 2007, during which US helicopter crews were recorded laughing and joking. Protests in support of Manning have been held across the country.
Will the mainstream media back away from publishing the next batch of 15,000 documents which WikiLeaks describes as even more incendiary than the first files?
WikiLeaks has stored its servers in multiple locations, including a supposedly safe facility in downtown Stockholm once used as a nuclear bomb shelter. Will that protect WikiLeaks from the full blast of governments and corporations defending their secrets at any cost? Having mostly driven the Taliban out of their Afghanistan sanctuary, will the Pentagon succeed in destroying a Swedish sanctuary for whistleblowers like WikiLeaks?
Eva Ehrstedt contributed research and translation.