This is Part 3 in a series on Julian Assange’s legal case and trial-by-media. In Part 1 I discussed the value of Wikileaks, and in Part 2 I discussed the Obama administration’s secret legal action against Assange.
On 20 August 2010, two Swedish women filed a police report accusing Assange of nonconsensual condom removal. I would not condone this behavior if it did happen, but I will show there are many reasons to be suspicious of the accusations and the investigation thereof.
Firstly, just days earlier the US government had sent out a memo, later mentioned in a leaked NSA document:
The United States on 10 August urged other nations with forces in Afghanistan… to consider filing criminal charges against Julian Assange, founder of the rogue Wikileaks Internet website and responsible for the unauthorized publication of over 70,000 classified documents covering the war in Afghanistan… The appeal exemplifies the start of an international effort to focus the legal element of national power upon non-state actor Assange, and the human network that supports WikiLeaks.
Note the language here: the NSA seems to view the law not as an impartial system for arbitrating disputes between equal citizens, but rather as a weapon for governments to use against their political opponents. Also note that Sweden has forces in Afghanistan. And sexual accusations do appear to be a standard anti-whistleblowing tactic, as British whistleblower Craig Murray points out:
I’ve been a whistleblower myself and active with other whistleblowers, and I’ve seen so many whistleblowers fitted up with false charges, and as soon as anybody blows the whistle, particularly on any aspects of, if you like, neoconservative foreign policy and war, you’re going to get fitted up and you’re going to get defamed with false charges, and if you’re male I think in every case those charges are going to involve sexual allegations…
The same thing happened to me. I blew the whistle on British complicity in torture, MI6’s complicity with torture in Uzbekistan and on extraordinary rendition. I was immediately charged with sexual allegations, in effect with extorting sex from visa applicants…
This has happened to James Yee, happened to me, happened to Scott Ritter, happened to Janis Karpinski – anybody taking seriously these accusations astonishes me… And the fact that none of what I’ve just said to you will you find reported in the mainstream media, you know, ought to really, really alarm people about the kind of world we live in.
Although sexual assault cases are normally kept secret under Sweden’s strict feminist laws, the case files were leaked to the internet in 2011, giving an unusual opportunity for the public to evaluate the evidence.
It began on 11 August, when Assange arrived in Sweden and at short notice was offered houseroom in the one-bed flat of Anna Ardin, a politician in the Christian branch of the Social Democrats, while she was away campaigning. Reportedly born in Cuba, Ardin has written for Cuban dissident groups, a possible link to the CIA which has inspired online speculation that she was a honey trap. Ardin revealed another possible motivation in a pro-revenge blog post (now deleted but archived here):
If you want revenge on someone who cheated or who dumped you, you should have a penalty to do with dating/sex/fidelity… or ensure that he gets a madman after him.
On 13 August Ardin arrived home without warning, meeting Assange in person for the first time, and they ended up having sex. Both agree that Ardin was initially enthusiastic and did not verbally object except to tell Assange to put on a condom, which he did. Ardin would later allege that Assange tried to restrain her arms to stop her handing him the condom, and that afterward she realized he had nonconsensually torn his condom. Yet a forensic team found no trace of DNA on a torn condom that Ardin gave the police.
And Ardin does not seem to have complained at the time. She continued sleeping in the same bed for the next week, rejecting several offers to house Assange elsewhere, and acting as his press secretary at the conference where Assange was speaking. In a tweet she later deleted, she even said she was “with the world’s coolest people”.
According to Swedish journalist Donald Bostrom, Ardin joked about feeling “dumped” when Assange left her bed for his computer during the night. But she explicitly denied having any sex with Assange: “We haven’t had sex. Of course he tried, but I turned him down.” Even when she first told Bostrom about her condom complaint, she claimed she did not intend to press charges because she was overall happy with the sex, saying: “I was proud as a peacock — the world’s most awesome man in my bed and living in my flat.” This is quite different to her later condemnation of Assange’s “twisted attitude to women and a problem taking no for an answer”. If Ardin is an innocent victim, why did she keep changing her story?
Bostrom also observed that Assange “attracts a great many women” and “I have seen the overwhelming majority of women who have gotten near him have fallen completely under his spell.” Johannes Whalstrom, a closer colleague of Assange, made the same observation:
I discovered very soon that Julian aroused some sort of celebrity interest among young women — and especially among women whom I expected to be, one might say, more professional… These were journalists from very prestigious publications who behaved, well, rather like schoolgirls when they saw him. Giggled, tried to hug him. Tried to place their hands on his thigh. He was relatively unmoved.
Whalstrom said Ardin’s circle of friends struck him as anti-male, recalling one remarking that the party would be better if there were no men. He also said on 16 August she texted about Assange: “He’s not here. He’s planned to have sex with the cashmere girl every evening, but not made it. Maybe he finally found time yesterday?” Why did Ardin not mention here that she considered Assange a sexual predator spreading diseases? Why did she not warn the girl she knew might have sex with him?
“Cashmere girl”, Sofia Wilen, would become the other alleged victim. She and Assange agree that she was a prior fan of Assange, and that they had consensual sex several times during the night. But afterward, she expressed concern that she might have caught an STD from him when she was half-asleep. Unable to contact Assange (who later said he was laying low to avoid American spies), she instead phoned Ardin. Ardin took Wilen to a hospital to get tested for STDs, then to a police station to report Assange.
Assange later claimed that he was certain that Wilen was awake and consenting to the unprotected sex. He says she phoned him from the hospital asking him to get tested and threatening to contact the police over it:
She said that it was normal in Sweden to go to the police to get advice about STDs and that if I didn’t come down to the hospital she would go to the police to ask whether I could be forced to get tested. I told her I found her mention of police strange and threatening. She stated that she was only concerned about the tests and that it had no concealed meaning. I agreed to take the test out of goodwill and to reassure her, although I told her I could not do it until the following day, Saturday.
The prosecutor has not allowed Assange to view text messages from Wilen’s phone, but his lawyers were allowed to see them and noted down the following alleged texts supporting his case. Before having sex with him, she texted a friend saying “I want him. I want him.” After the sex, she texted that it “turned out all right” except “JA did not want to use a condom”. More damningly, when Wilen was at the police station she texted that she “did not want to put any charges on Julian Assange” but “the police were keen on getting their hands on him”, and she was “shocked when they arrested him” because she “only wanted him to take a test”. The next day she texted that it was the “police who made up the charges”. (In later messages, Ardin persuaded Wilen to sell their stories to a newspaper.)
Indeed, Wilen refused to sign the police statement attributed to her. A friend of Wilen’s said she “had been run over by the police and others”. Instead we have only second-hand notes written by a policewoman named Irmeli Krans, who claims she was unable to find a working dictaphone to record in accordance with standard protocol. (Ardin’s statement also takes the form of imprecise notes, as do all the female interviewees. Precise transcripts exist only for Assange and the two other male journalists.)
Krans also failed to report a prior acquaintance with Ardin: they are members of the same political party and had previously run together on the same ballot paper. Krans and Ardin had chatted online in 2009 about how “white men” are “abusive” (Assange’s skin is famously pale). The Swedish police have refused to comment on whether this was a conflict of interests.
So who knows exactly what Wilen really said in that police station? Anyway for what it’s worth, “Wilen’s” statement claims that as she lay sleeping after having consensual sex earlier in the night, Assange woke her up with unprotected sex and she couldn’t be bothered telling him to stop. This is the most serious allegation against Assange. The statement concludes:
Sofia and I were notified during the interrogation that Julian Assange had been arrested in absentia. Sofia had difficulty concentrating after that news, whereby I made the judgement it was best to terminate the interrogation… The interrogation was neither read back to Sofia nor reviewed for approval by her but Sofia was told she had the opportunity to do this later.
Within days the initial prosecutor closed “Wilen’s” half of the case, leaving only Ardin’s accusation which constitutes a less severe crime under Swedish law. Ardin added her own accusation after “Wilen’s”, so it is possible that Ardin retroactively constructed her narrative to match “Wilen’s”.
Assange learned from a newspaper that he was wanted for rape. Two days later, Al Jazeera asked a spokesperson for the Swedish prosecution if she had spoken to Assange. She said “the prosecutor in question doesn’t know yet whether she wants to interview him or not” and “this is normal procedure”.
Ardin chose to be represented in court by another political colleague, Claes Borgstrom, then the Social Democrats’ gender spokesperson and running for re-election. He supports the Feminist party’s proposal to impose a tax on all men to compensate for male violence against women. Borgstrom’s legal partner Thomas Bodstrom is yet another politician, the husband of Irmeli Krans, and as Justice Minister he extradited alleged terrorists to be tortured by the CIA. When a reporter asked Borgstrom why the complainant initially did not believe she had been raped, he responded: “She is not a lawyer.”
When Assange was finally interviewed by police, he willingly answered the questions put to him about Ardin’s accusation. He said he had worn a condom supplied by Ardin and denied tearing it. Though he was not asked about “Wilen’s” accusation, he voluntarily brought up her phone call from the hospital.
Shortly afterward, “Wilen’s” case was reopened by a new prosecutor named Marianne Ny, an advocate of stricter rape laws. Curiously though, Wilen herself has not been heard from since 2010, to the point all her social media accounts have been deleted.
A document of “agreed facts” totally contradicts the oft-heard claim that Assange was unwilling to face the accusations against him. He initially cooperated with the investigation, remaining in Sweden for weeks waiting to be interviewed again, proposing several interview dates which Ny rejected. Assange was told that he was allowed to leave Sweden, but when he left Sweden issued a warrant for his arrest. Assange offered to be interviewed by phone or video-link, or at the Australian Embassy, or by written statement, any of which would have been legal at the preliminary investigation stage. But Ny insisted he be interviewed in person in Sweden, and issued an EU-wide arrest warrant. Why was Ny so insistent on interviewing Assange in person? Assange voluntarily surrendered to the British police and provided a DNA sample. After paying £340,000 in bail, he was placed under house arrest with an electronic tag on his ankle.
Yet when Ny issued her international warrant, she justified it to the media with this lie: “we have not been able to meet with him to accomplish the interrogation.” She then lied that “we are by law prohibited from conducting hearings via telephone or video link”. She later argued anything other than an in-person interview would be “giving him preferential treatment” and “lower our quality requirements”.
In a British court she did not repeat her lies, instead refusing to specify a reason, which the judge accepted. In 2012 the UK Supreme Court ordered his extradition to Sweden, leading him to enter the Ecuadorian embassy where he was granted political asylum. Assange said he would go to Sweden if they guaranteed not to extradite him to the US, but Sweden refused to give that guarantee. Assange had good reason to fear that Sweden would in turn extradite him to the US: as early as December 2010, the Independent reported that Sweden and the US had already discussed the possibility. It’s also worth remembering bail does not exist in Sweden.
Meanwhile in 2013, Ardin posted this bizarre tweet: “no, I have not been raped, but I still believe that animals have rights and that people are animals, tag down!” Since Ardin later deleted this tweet, it is now impossible to see the context. However, in a recent tweet Ardin continues to stand by her accusation against Assange: “For me this was never about anything else than his misconduct against me/women and his refusal to take responsibility for this.”
In 2014, a Swedish appeal court ruled that the “failure of the prosecutors to examine alternative avenues” went against their “responsibility to proceed with the investigation, in the interests of all parties involved”. Even then, Ny still insisted she had missed no interview opportunities. She backed down only just before the Swedish Supreme Court was due to consider ending Assange’s detention. In the interim, Ardin’s accusation had already been dropped due to the shorter statute of limitations.
It was not until late 2016 that Ny finally questioned Assange on “Wilen’s” accusation. Unaccountably, she did not allow his Swedish lawyer to be present. Assange released a written public statement making some of the same points discussed above. Of course, this has still not stopped the media widely claiming that Assange was never questioned about it.
In 2017 the whole Swedish investigation was dropped, never having proceeded far enough to issue charges (though Sweden is now considering reopening the case again). Of course, this has not stopped the media widely claiming that Assange faced “charges”.
Overall the evidence suggests the accusations against Assange are politically motivated. If not for the leaked documents, we would never have known most of the above information calling into question the impartiality of the process and the credibility of the accusers. We would not even have known the accusers’ names. All this reinforces the importance of government transparency and leaks.
In Part 4 I will examine the Russian conspiracy accusations against Assange.