Thursday, December 09, 2010

A Critique on Julian Assange's accuser

In which we "smear" Julian Assange's accuser

Yesterday, Julian Assange turned himself in to British authorities for extradition to Sweden, to face a number of sexual-assault charges. Since it's for the court to determine whether or not he actually is guilty as charged, let's wait to see how that shakes out. Meanwhile, I'll address some things that started nagging at me as soon as the first feminist analyses of the situation started cropping up on Twitter yesterday.

It's pretty clear to me that battle lines are being drawn in this whole kerfuffle. The discourse has shifted from Wikileaks and Cablegate to Winkyleaks and Condomgate. And it's clear, too, that women are being used--and abused--atrociously here. No, I'm not talking about Julian Assange and what he's alleged to have done to those two women. I'm talking about feminists as a whole; we are being made into inadvertent pawns in the battle over freedom of information. And it seems to me that we're being expected to turn out against Assange--and by extension, against Wikileaks.

I've noted here before that condomless sex, while prosecutable, is not a jailing offence in Sweden; you pay a fine of a few hundred dollars, and that's it. But this case is strange, owing to the high international profile of the accused: the sex charges were pressed months ago, then dropped, and then reinstated. Awfully inconsistent prosecution for an offence generally remedied by a simple fine! And weirdest of all, why is the United States now looking to get involved, when none of the alleged offences happened on their soil? It seems obvious to me that this is all an effort to entrap the man who, for better or worse, is the public face of the Wikileaks organization.

But no, we feminists aren't supposed to remember all that, much less treat it as relevant to the case against Julian Assange. We're supposed to be righteously indignant at his obvious arrogance, and glad that Interpol was mobilized to catch an accused rapist, and deliver the douchebag to Sweden to be held without bail. Pending his extradition to the US, of course; the world's policeman and all-Amurrican good guy, natch.

But if this is how we're supposed to react as feminists, it is utterly ridiculous and an insult to our wits. As Naomi Wolf has humorously noted, this is a very strange and heavy-handed use of the legal remedies fought for--and, in Sweden, won by feminism:
I see that Julian Assange is accused of having consensual sex with two women, in one case using a condom that broke. I understand, from the alleged victims' complaints to the media, that Assange is also accused of texting and tweeting in the taxi on the way to one of the women's apartments while on a date, and, disgustingly enough, 'reading stories about himself online' in the cab. Both alleged victims are also upset that he began dating a second woman while still being in a relationship with the first. (Of course, as a feminist, I am also pleased that the alleged victims are using feminist-inspired rhetoric and law to assuage what appears to be personal injured feelings. That's what our brave suffragette foremothers intended!).
Well, poor Naomi Wolf--who is serious about issues of rape and withdrawn consent--just can't catch a break for mocking a few of the many absurdities of this case. Other feminists were quick to pile onto her, accusing her of "trivializing rape". Instead of looking at the peculiarities of the Wikileaks timeline and admitting that this is a disproportionate response to a charge formerly considered too weak even to prosecute, they accused her of smearing the alleged victim of one of the alleged attacks.

But what if the alleged victim is not so innocent? What if the alleged attack is part of an elaborate set-up?

We already know that the more prominent woman in question, Anna Ardin, has some very interesting CIA ties. And we know that just around the time the first alleged rape occurred, she tweeted enthusiastically about Assange:
I screen-capped those from here.

These tweets give no indication that anything untoward had happened. I ran them past my friend Anthony, who lives in Malmö, for a Swede's-eye view. Here's what he said:
The 8/14 tweet caught my attention; Anna wrote that Julian wanted to attend a crayfish party, so she wondered if there were any open seats that night or the following night. A few hours later, she wrote "Sitting outside at 2AM, freezing with the smartest people in the world, it's amazing!"
Ardin later deleted those tweets and locked down her blog.

But let's suppose for the sake of argument that you're convinced that Anna Ardin is just being smeared, and rape trivialized, and so on. The timing? Just a coincidence! The known CIA ties? How dare you play guilt-by-association! Rape is real, how dare "Naomi Effin' Wolf" make fun of it?

No one, least of all Naomi Wolf, is disputing that rape is real, or that victim-smearing is a dirty tactic, a re-victimization on no uncertain terms. What is being disputed here is the case against Julian Assange, which is pitifully weak and certainly doesn't warrant the involvement of Interpol. If it did, legions of human-rights abusers who used rape as a weapon of war would be behind bars by now, rotting deservedly away. You'd think Interpol could easily bust those bastards at Dyncorp, who openly bought child sex slaves in Bosnia and Afghanistan for the raping pleasure of their contractors. (That latter exposé, BTW, comes to the media courtesy of Wikileaks!)

Naomi Wolf was making fun not of rape, but of what is obviously an exceedingly stupid manhunt. And while her tone may be a bit too flip for some people's liking, she's not wrong to laugh at the transparent idiocy of it all. I do too, and so do plenty of other feminists who've been following the Wikileaks saga with interest. Oh, wouldn't it be lovely if Interpol DID chase down every dick who'd ever wronged us? I've got a couple of real lulus for them myself. Let's make a crayfish party out of this shit. You bring the wine, I'll bring the cheese. Share yer stories, girls!

And if that's not ludicrous enough, how about this? We are being asked to believe that two obviously strong women--Anna Ardin, a professed feminist who works for gender equity, and Sofia Wilen, with whom she banded together later to press charges, could not track down Julian Assange to ask him to get tested for STDs. So they were forced to press charges. They apparently had no trouble getting into his pants. So why would he suddenly be too difficult to simply meet for a coffee, like a civilized adult, to discuss blood tests? Gee, what a cad. Maybe he had something to hide?

According to the same Reuters account, Assange claims he had his cellphone turned off for fear that enemies would track him using its signal. Not an implausible reason, since he DOES have enemies in US intel circles, and if they can't track him through technology, ain't nobody can. But he was still in Sweden when the women were allegedly trying to reach him and just urge him to get tested. They could have waylaid him at his hotel, if it was really so urgent. How simple-minded do we have to be to believe that Anna Ardin's blogging about "thinking about some revenge over the last few days" can't be considered evidence that she was up to something more nefarious than simply trying to get him to a clinic?

Okay, you say, that does look bad, but that's still pretty weak. Her blog is now locked down, and it's very likely that she deleted any incriminating bits. Isn't there anything more definite? What about those alleged CIA ties you conspiracy kooks keep nattering on about?

Well, there we have a lot more to go on. A helluva lot.

Via Twitter, I found this article she'd written for the CIA-tied magazine she was working for. Here's Anthony again, translating:
GF's former columnist Anna Ardin has been in Cuba. Getting to know Cuba is a great political experience and the first thing I would say is that as a foreigner you are extremely discriminated against and constantly pressed for money.
Tourists should always use the hard currency convertible pesos, that is "dollars", which they are called to avoid misunderstandings. All trade with the U.S. dollar was banned in stores in November. A convertible peso is pegged to the dollar and worth 26 Cuban pesos.
Prevented to meet Cubans
You cannot go with the same cheap buses that Cubans use, but must take the tourist taxis, which can cost 20 dollars while the local bus for the same route costs 40 cents of a Cuban peso. Another example is that it is very difficult to live with friends, you always have to pay for hotels or bed and breakfast. The system is almost similar to apartheid!
I'm locked out of the Cuban world and the Cubans are excluded from foreigners - not just financially! Cubans are prevented in many different ways from even visiting the main tourist sites. Foreigners' cars have red registration plates instead of yellow and need not - as the Cubans - to stop and pick up hitchhikers to fill empty seats. In Cuba health care and education are free since the revolution and the Communist takeover in 1959; there are few or no one starving or living on the streets and virtually no need to worry about violence and robbery. But the wages are extremely low.
The salary for the best paid, the police, is $30, a doctor earns about 23, a garbage man 19 and a housekeeper earns seven dollars a month. A beer or a soda costs a dollar, a bottle of oil 2.50, internet for one hour 6, a sports bag 15 and a trip to a neighboring country costs several hundred pesos. Although the prices for most things - except for certain raw materials for food, bus transportation and little else - is in U.S. dollars (that is convertible pesos), the workers get salary in Cuban pesos, which is not always possible to switch.
To survive on these wages seem to be impossible (despite the very minimum required being relatively inexpensive). To save up for a pair of shoes could take half a year, not to mention buying a television or a car, yet many Cubans have this - how? Well, since 1993, it is allowed for Cubans to hold hard currency.
Want to change money
So by drinking or to work with private tourism differs more and more from the crowd. The ones that are excluded from the life you can only live if you have dollars. In that perspective, it is no wonder that in every street corner you are stopped by a so-called jinetero (riders). He asks where you come from, if you want to change money, buy cigars, follow them home to their backyard restaurant or have them as a personal guide to buy them food and clothing. As a woman, you notice nothing of the female counterpart to these, las jineteras, which might more literally ride their tourists for a few days or weeks in exchange for food, clothing and shoes. Or they run around them in their nice cars or pay, to the jinetera or directly to her jineteros - the pimps.
Sex tourism is increasing. Tourism combined with the money that exile Cubans send home accounts for well over half of the currency revenues of the treasury. That the country is so dependent on something that there is not enough of for the whole population, which excludes many and forces people to flee is not sustainable. Cuba needs a new policy. The question is what?
Between Castro or the U.S.
The Social Democratic opposition - Corriente Socialista Democrática Cubana - are trying to show that there is an alternative between the only two clearly presented options, the extremes: that Castro and his gang govern Cuba or the United States does. In a second article I will write more about what the Social Democrats in Cuba think will happen when the now 78-year-old dictator Fidel Castro dies.
Now, this is a load of crapaganda. If you can't smell the CIA's cheap cologne on that, you're hopeless.

Anyone who's really been to Cuba will tell you that it's not as bad as articles like this lead you to believe. The locals are not quarantined from you, or you from them, unless there's some good reason. Working for a CIA-connected crapaganda rag might well be a good reason for the authorities to confine you to your luxury tourist hotel room. But then, if poor Anna Ardin were really so confined, how would she "know" all those appalling details about how the poor oppressed Cubans really live? Unless, of course, she were simply being fed the dubious info by her CIA handlers, in which case she wouldn't even have to go to Cuba to "report" it; she could do it just as easily from home.

And that second-last bit really leapt out at me, too. Interesting focus on sex there for our sex-crimes complainant. Very typical CIA glurge, designed specifically to tweak our most sensitive feminist nerves: Look what that mean old dictator Fidel Castro is making those poor women do! Still more interesting is the lack of hard figures. She claims that prostitution revenues and remittances from "exiles" counts for more than half of the cash in the Cuban treasury. But without numbers and verifiable references to prove it, that all don't mean nuttin', honey.

Of course, it being a CIA rag, hard proof is not really required. Sensationalism is. And the article has that in spades. Just look at the language: "The system is almost similar to apartheid!"--the sky is falling! Oh noes!

Gee, you don't suppose someone who'd write such ghastly goop would have an ulterior motive regarding Julian Assange--whose organization just so happens to have uncovered a lot of embarrassing stuff from US embassies linked to various putsches in various countries allied to Cuba?

Nahhhh. Don't let's connect those dots. Let's just stick to our simple-minded pre-gummed narratives and be good, outraged little bourgeois féministes, huffing at the hacker boogyman and hoping The Hague locks him up for war crimes. Let's accuse those who find odd dirt on Anna Ardin of smearing her, when in fact she seems to have done a fair job of muddying herself. No, no, we can't allow that; let's just view her as a plain and simple victim. And pretend all the Wikileaks stuff is what's extraneous, and that it's not, perhaps, Julian Assange who's really being smeared.

But this feminist can't pretend, and certainly can't ignore the blindingly obvious.

Wikileaks is shining an uncomfortably bright light on things the US doesn't want us to see, and how they are being perpetrated. It's shown incriminating footage of US helicopters firing on innocent Iraqis in Baghdad. It's exposed the way US embassies lie to the citizens of the countries where they are posted, and lie about them as well. Is it really so far-fetched to surmise that Anna Ardin, who lied about Cuba in a CIA rag, just might have been sent by the same CIA to take Julian Assange down, by whatever means necessary? Is it really a smear to demonstrate--not suggest, not insinuate, but DEMONSTRATE--that she is more than a little bit connected to them, just as they are connected to every US diplomatic installation and quite a few seemingly private corporations?

Again, let's look at the timeline.

The first big bombshell Wikileaks dropped was Collateral Murder; this went down on April 5. On July 6, Bradley Manning was charged with leaking the video to Wikileaks. Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilen slept with Julian Assange on August 14 and 17, respectively, while the latter, undoubtedly feeling the heat from the US, was hoping to gain residency and whistleblower protection in Sweden. The encounters were consensual according to both women, and uneventful except for the respective alleged condom disputes. Later, both allegedly sought him out, being worried about catching a sexually-transmitted disease. They couldn't find him because his cellphone was turned off. Then they turned to the authorities to press charges, only to be told it was too hard to prove, and saw the charges dropped. Only to have them reinstated now, of all times. While Bradley Manning, surely by malign coincidence, is also already jailed and awaiting trial--facing 52 years of hard time in the federal pen. He is suspected of leaking the Cablegate documents, as well, although he has not been charged with that.

Would this case have gone anywhere if the man in question were anyone other than Julian Assange, who just happened to have humiliated the US government that spring with that ghastly video release? And would he have been sought for prosecution if he hadn't just gone public with the first of many expected Cablegate releases?

The Swedish prosecutors deny that any pressure was brought to bear on them by the US. Yet just last week, the Swedish government was mortified by the revelation that Sweden is no longer neutral. Who announced it? Wikileaks, via Cablegate. The local US embassy had the gall to write as much to Washington! And I reiterate: The US authorities are now looking to extradite Assange from Sweden. Even with no charges of their own against him. They are looking for a way to do it, some hook to hang those charges on. Doesn't matter if it's as flimsy as the anti-Castro tripe Anna Ardin used to write. It doesn't have to be true. It just has to be sensational enough to get public opinion on side...

Yeah, tell me it doesn't all hang together. Denial, river in Egypt. Cleo, you're up the creek!

It's much easier to go into a "good feminist" (or full-on conspiracy nut) tizzy, I grant you, than to follow complex international developments in a more intelligent manner. It's also safer than to do another smart thing: dovetail one's feminism and freedom-of-information advocacy for the common, global good. Unfortunately, it's also the perfect way to divorce feminism from the much larger international issues that we ignore at our peril. It makes us feminists all look like laughingstocks or Limbaughian feminazis. We inadvertently contribute to our own continued alienation from our sisters in the global south if we fall for that narrative. We also end up setting back our own progress, and theirs.

But we don't have to. This radical, left-wing feminist agrees wholeheartedly with Gloria Steinem: The truth will set us all free. But first, it will piss us off.
Let it.