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The Trials of Julian Assange: The End of Diplomacy?

Julian Assange, who has been granted asylum by Ecuador but remains in limbo in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, has been on trial for some time in the court of public opinion. The exact nature of many of his alleged crimes remains elusive.

First there are the sex crimes charges. Assange has been charged by Swedish prosecutors with counts of sexual molestation, coercion and rape. Assange’s lawyers, for their part, have argued the Wikileaks founder is a “victim of a ‘mismatch’ between English and Swedish law on what constitutes a sex crime.” Furthermore, Assange and his supporters claim these charges are part of “a global conspiracy” to silence him. 

Still, many of his own supporters believe Assange should man up and face the sex crimes charges. And yet, the situation is more complicated than that. At least from the perspective of Assange and his lawyers, the sex crimes charges cannot be viewed in isolation. 

Assange faces possible espionage or even treason charges, which have not yet been filed against him in the United States, and which remain a subject of heated debate. In other words, Assange does not know if and what he might be charged with in the future. That obviously puts him in an extremely precarious position. Various U.S. political leaders have called for Assange’s extradition or even assassination, while a secret grand jury has been empaneled in Virginia and the FBI has compiled a 42,135-page investigative file

This has all added up to a very complicated and indeed fascinating legal and diplomatic stalemate. Right now Assange has been granted asylum by Ecuador, but not “safe passage” by Great Britain. 

If the British authorities decide to raid the Ecuadorian embassy, as they have threatened, or arrest Assange if he attempts to leave, here is a likely scenario of what would happen next: Assange would be extradited to Sweden, face the sex crimes charges, and then, whatever the outcome of that trial, would likely face extradition or deportation through “temporary surrender” to the United States. 

And so Assange remains in the Ecuadorian embassy, a situation his supporters have argued amounts to “internment without trail.” It is unclear what kind of legal or diplomatic intervention can resolve this standoff. Britain might revoke the diplomatic status of the Ecuadorian embassy, or Assange might be living there for the foreseeable future.  

So in the meantime, here is a refresher on some of the key issues surrounding Julian Assange and the release of diplomatic cables by Wikileaks.

First off, did he actually break the law? If so, what crime should he be charged with? Can a non-U.S. citizen be charged with treason? Did The New York Times, which published many of the leaked cables, also break the law?

Big Think posed these questions to the First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams.

Watch the video here:

Not everyone agrees with Abrams, of course. According to Paul Rieckhoff, an Iraq War veteran and the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Assange, Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks “undoubtedly put people’s lives in danger—both American and Afghan, and Iraqi.” In fact, Rieckhoff asserts, “I think Julian Assange and WikiLeaks already probably have blood on their hands.”

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Watch the video here:

Whatever Julian Assange’s fate may be, the impact of Wikileaks on diplomacy has been far-ranging, and fascinating, according to Parag Khanna, author of the international best-seller The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order

Did Wikileaks usher in “the end of diplomacy” or can diplomacy adapt to new technology?

Watch the video here:

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @Daniel Honan


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