1 a.m. August 19, 2012

Julian Assange and the launch of NSFWCORP Desknotes

It's midnight in Las Vegas but 5000 miles away in the little pocket of London that is -- for now -- Ecuador, Julian Assange's alarm clock is ringing. It's time for the Wikileaks founder to rise from his inflatable mattress, crack open a window and address his wikilegions of adoring fans.

Assange, you'll recall, was due to be extradited to Sweden -- after exhausting every avenue of appeal -- to face accusations of sexual assault against two women. Instead the man who once said "It is the role of good journalism to take on powerful abusers" has taken refuge inside the embassy of a country that boasts five whole pages of press freedom abuses on the website of Reporters Without Borders. (Such is the ideological gulf between Wikileaks and the government of Ecuador that one imagines the latter is now seriously regretting listing its embassy on Airbnb.)

Assange's double standards ought to be shocking, but they are not. Double standards are Julian Assange's stock in trade. In 2010, he broke off his relationship with the New York Times because the newspaper published unflattering profiles of him and Bradley Manning. Next he burned his partnership with the Guardian in London after threatening to sue the newspaper if they published any of "his" diplomatic cables without permission. Now, having achieved global celebrity by undermining the centuries old tradition of secure communication between diplomats, Assange is invoking the inviolability of a diplomatic mission to escape accountability for his own alleged misdeeds. After all, we can't have people who aren't Julian Assange running roughshod over the traditions of international diplomacy.

Also un-shocking is the miles-deep foundation of bullshit on which his most recent publicity stunt is constructed. Ecuador claims it granted asylum because of a very real threat that Assange would be sent from Sweden to the US to face the death penalty. Never mind the fact that there isn't a single lawyer -- even those engaged by Assange himself -- who can demonstrate that extradition to the US is any more likely from Stockholm than it would be from London. Furthermore, neither Sweden nor the UK will extradite to the US unless the death penalty is unequivocally ruled out.

The sad truth is that Julian Assange simply cannot tolerate the prospect of being held accountable to anyone, for anything. He'd rather live out his days on a ratty air matress across the street from Harrods than be taken to Sweden and forced to answer to those women. And as for Ecuador's real game in all of this -- the Guardian's Renard Sexton explains:

"The forceful anti-imperialist and anti-colonial rhetoric of Correa and Foreign Minister Patiño in the context of the UK's threat to remove diplomatic protections from the Ecuador Embassy in London have been couched in nationalistic terms for the Ecuadorian population. Essentially, Correa has wrapped himself in the flag – in a such a way that his conservative opponents are not able to criticize him effectively, lest they seem unpatriotic."

All things considered then, there seems little doubt -- to me at least -- that Assange should be dragged from his hole and strung up by the balls for, if nothing else, the crime of gross hypocrisy. Meanwhile, if Ecuador is so keen to share a roof with arrogant, peripatetic, over-sexed Australians, Britain should call the country's bluff, kick its diplomats out of Knightsbridge and force them to relocate to the Earls Court branch of Easyhotel.

And yet… I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that my black-and-white view of the case puts me in the minority here at NSFWCORP. Mark Ames, for instance, has a far more nuanced and informed view of the affair, not least the ugly contrast between Britain's eagerness to extradite Assange at all costs and the country's refusal, in 2000, to extradite former Chilean president, Augusto Pinochet...

I'm more curious why Britain refused to extradite Gen. Pinochet to Spain to face trial for crimes against humanity, including mass-murder, torture, and rape...but is so committed to extraditing Assange over allegations of date-rape that Britain's even even willing to pull an Ayatollah raid on the lowly Ecuadoran embassy. Not sure if the word "double-standard" quite captures the meaning of protecting Pinochet from extradition
Mark wrote the above on Desknotes, a new -- and still very experimental -- feature of NSFWCORP that offers a window into the discussion and-or debate behind everything we publish. Subscribers can read the most recently active Desknotes threads by clicking the grey tab on the top, left-hand corner of the front page. That same tab on an individual article page will take you to the discussion surrounding that article. (Non-subscribers are reminded that subscribing to NSFWCORP costs a mere $3.) Perhaps more usefully, Desknotes lets NSFWCORP writers add immediate commentary to fast-moving stories while they work on longer, more fully-reported Dispatches. Indeed there are more than 35 Desknotes about Assange -- comprising thousands of words -- but this is the first Dispatch to mention him. Sometimes, as with Assange, the debate in Desknotes is fierce, other times it most decidedly isn't. The hope is that it's at least always interesting to see the various thought processes behind what ultimately gets published on NSFWCORP. Put another way: our writers may have all kinds of sick agendas in choosing which stories to write, but at least now none of those agendas will be hidden. Ok, Julian, back to you.

Back channel chatter

There is a scribble about this dispatch in the backroom, with seven contributors.