Like many on the left, I’ve never been particularly good at spotting a con man. Anyone else who’d like to own up to pro Ayatollah demos in 1979 you can raise your hands now.
But in another life, I suspect, Julian Assange’s all consuming vanity and disingenuousness would have equipped him well for a life as the charismatic evangelical leader of an internet start-up. Which I guess is in many ways exactly what he is. In his nieve assumption that the internet had irrevocably changed everything from the rule of law to the self interest of the nation state there is undeniably a whiff of the Mark Zuckerberg about him. They’re sharing, caring people, these types, aren’t they? And don’t the rest of us just lap up their ‘public offerings’?
That or a CEO of Barclays or HSBC or Standard Chartered maybe. He certainly seems to have as few qualms about who he gets into bed with, if you’ll pardon the expression, in pursuit of the, or his at any rate, greater good or the generally laudable, and always popular, aim of fucking with the Americans.
But that’s not to say that as a constitutional lawyer (my bill’s in the post) that the Supreme Court didn’t get it wrong on the extradition appeal. It seems that there were, and are, as many grounds in law as there are in pure common sense for believing that he faces the certain threat of eventual extradition to the US to face trial under the Espionage Act. And a possible death sentence on conviction. Even if it is hard to believe that even Mitt Romney would be stupid enough to carry it out. Since it is, after all, now admitted that the Americans told the Australians (and presumably the British too) that they were preparing that very case against him.
The law on diplomatic asylum though is a whole other bag and is far from as clear cut as Ecuador, or America when it suits them, would like to make out. So long as he stays inside the embassy in Kensington he’s on sovereign Ecuadorian territory and safe from arrest for breach of his bail conditions. And so long as Cameron’s not on holiday or chillaxing in a pub in Chipping Norton having left Gideon the SAS’s phone number we can assume that it’s not all going to end in a hail of bullets and stun grenades.
But Julian needn’t go packing his toothbrush for the plane to Quito quite yet either. It’s a long old flight and he’s not Pinochet. I suppose that an Ecuadorian submarine waiting in international waters is a theoretical possibility. Their navy has two, both British built by the way, and a third, built by drug smugglers but quite impressive looking none the less, was recently seized by their coast guard. But he would still need to get from Kensington to Boris Island, or wherever, and in a country where you can’t even light a cigarette at a bus stop, a helicopter landing on the embassy roof in the middle of the night is going to attract the attention of the council’s health and safety people at the very least.
No. Much more likely is an involuntary pop at the all time record of Cardinal Jozef Mindzenty. A man who spent fifteen years in the US embassy in Budapest having sought asylum from a conviction for treason for failing to secularise Hungary’s Roman Catholic schools in 1949. Before a deal was eventually brokered whereby he agreed to leave the country. Not as a guest of the US, mind you, but of the Vatican.
And with Assange’s case now at the top of the agenda of the splendidly named Association of Bolivarian States as well as the Union of South American Nations, the Organisation of American States and the UN, as well as Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council no doubt, you have to say that fifteen years looks like a pretty reasonable time frame for a diplomatic solution.
Apart from Ecudor the other country that arbitrarily shuts down newspapers and jails their editors while using its state media in support of Mr. Assange, of course, is Russia. There’s precious little danger of his extradition to America from there, surely? And the British could always take Pussy Riot in exchange. It’s punk’s spiritual home for goodness sake. And we are a little short on authentic voices of youthful protest against state corruption just at the moment as it happens too. I see a bright future for them as part of the emerging New Cross scene. Or at least some TV commercials for butter at any rate.