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December 08, 2010


Kay Tie

I just see something stinking in Sweden.

The fact that the two alleged victims met and made their allegations several days after the alleged crime, that the alleged crime is so ridiculous (sexual assault by broken condom) and that these claims were dismissed by an independent prosecutor only for them to be resurrected by jurisdiction hopping only makes one more suspicious that this is not the normal run of justice in Sweden (although it bears a striking resemblance to the justice system as depicted by Stieg Larsson).

Luis Enrique

I think Cath's post you cite approvingly was dreadful.

There is no "cognitive bias", no left-male selling out of women, involved in pointing out that Assange has the US government gunning for him (an organization not exactly averse to dirty tricks) and that media reporting of the story ("Assagne wanted on rape charge") did not exactly correspond with the charges against him **as known at time of writing** (things have since changed - see Banditry blog) and there was a prima facie case for being suspicious of proceedings. You have no basis for attributing that to "not wanting to believe a hero is guilty" other than your own confirmation bias towards seeing everything as confirmation of your favoured theories.

Phil Ruse

Excellent post, though I agree with an earlier comment with regard to the quality of Cath Elliott's post.

Paul Sagar

"It is, surely, only bad thinking, reinforced by sham pop history and culture, that cause us to think our heroes must be all good and our villains all bad."

Certainly not.

It's an upshot of our hard-wired mental tendency to sympathise (in the technical Humean sense) with other Humean beings. Sympathy makes us social animals, but in turn it fudges our passions so that we love the characters of those who are useful to us and whose actions bring us joy. Overall it's a useful psychological mechanism - it allows us to live socially and interact well - but it creates funny things like the ones you describe.

Point is: the process is deep and complex, not merely the glib outcome of sloppy thinking and bad historical narratives.


Hmm..there are certainly a lot of potential questions:

1) What really happened in Sweden, around these events?

2) Was there a scheme to get back at Assange (evidence in Google cache suggest so)?

3) Why did the original prosecution get dropped in August 2010?

4) Why has this been revived? To what end and by whom?

5) Is this merely a prelude to Assange's deportation to the US?

6) What role has the Wikileaks material had in this matter? Are we to believe none? which seems unlikely.

John Terry's Mum

Poor article compared to the usual standard.

There are no meaningful correlations between the Polanski and Assange cases.

You might as well have mentioned Robin van Persie.


@ Luis - of course, the Americans are gunning for Assange. But this is, I'd have thought, orthogonal to the question of his moral character.
@ Paul - you're right. Cognitive biases are not merely errors. In very many cases, they emerge precisely because they are useful and often correct. I think I made this point in my day job when I talked about mental accounting:
Like many behavioural economists, I am sometimes guilty of forgetting it.

Luis Enrique

yes and his moral character was also orthogonal to the post Cath was writing about.

as far as I'm concerned an unbiased feminist could have look at the known facts at that point and have written substantially the same post as John. There is nothing about feminism which precludes looking at the Assange situation, as was known then, and drawing same conclusions. If you want to find exemplars of cognitive biases look no further than Cath's post itself.


You are over thinking things. Many of us are just curious / afraid / appalled that he may have been set up.


Spot on - the hypocrisy of those on the left who are trying to smear and discredit these women, ahead of any trial, is staggering, They appear to believe Assange ought to be above the law simply because they happen to like his website: http://bit.ly/h64Yxr. As for Jemima Khan and her 'human right to freedom of information' malarkey, she used to employ Carter Ruck to guard her privacy: http://bit.ly/eGQCgi


My first thought when I heard that he had gone to a police station for questioning was that, with so many gunning for him, he felt safer in custody than out on the streets.

Niklas Smith

Excellent post. I find the automatic assumption that Assange is an angel equally annoying as the way that some critics of Wikileaks use the rape/sexual assault allegations to say "I told you so" before he's even come to trial.

@Kay Tie and modernity:

You find it suspicious that the initial decision not to prosecute was overturned on appeal. I find the principle of being able to appeal a public prosecutor's decision a rather good one - in England, if the CPS decides not to prosecute someone (like that police thug Simon Harwood[1]) there is virtually nothing you can do to get justice. Equally, if they decide to prosecute someone for taking their terminally ill wife/husband to Dignitas then the prosecution must go ahead.

On point 2), it is certainly conceivable that he was set up. But the court should manage to find that out. In any case, that is hardly a reason to criticise the *Swedish* police (as opposed to the CIA or whoever) since they have to investigate such allegations and he has not yet given his side of the story beyond issuing a denial.

On 3) and 4), political interference in the conduct of ANY public body except the Foreign Ministry is unconstitutional in Sweden* and would be a very high-risk strategy for any politician. So I think it is unlikely that the resumption of the prosecution can be explained by anything underhand.

On 5), the US authorities cannot prove that Assange broke US law because he didn't: Wikileaks' activities are completely legal in the US.[2] So they could hardly persuade a Swedish court to extradite him. And in any case, if they do try against all reason to extradite him on a capital charge they will fail because no European country can extradite anyone to a country where they may be executed.

I'm perfectly prepared to wait and see what happens in court. And whether Assange is convicted or freed will not change my view on Wikileaks as an institution.

[1] http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2010/07/simon-harwood-ian-tomlinson-and.html
[2] http://www.lasisblog.com/2010/11/12/wikileaks-has-committed-no-crime/

*Ministers in Sweden are not allowed to implement policy. Ministries make policy, and independent government agencies implement it. This is very different from the British system.



Well, here's someone who thinks the WikiLeaks have done us a favour but is also prepared to accept that Assange may well be guilty of what he's been accused of...

"There is a long history of the CIA viciously smearing people who dare to cross the US state machinery. There is a strong chance this is another case of it. But there is also a long history of otherwise admirable men turning out to be rapists, and there's a strong chance this is another case of it."


It is conceivable that Assange has been set up in some way, but it is not credible. If security agencies wish to stitch somebody up, they will use prosecution witnesses who hold to their stories. A witness will have a nice clean history and will not have published (a now retracted) essay on how to make like difficult for a spurned lover. The prosecuting authorities will be acting in unison rather than dithering. The stitch up will provide little opportunity for a not guilty verdict.

I find it very strange that people who consider the 9/11 Truthers to be at least misguided have proclaimed these allegations as a conspiracy. Perhaps muddle, indecision, press misreporting, inaccurately filed arrest warrants etc are a distraction technique to deflect conspiracy identifiers. Or more likely, they are evidence of human failings on the prosecution side combined with Assange's obstreperousness.

Chris might also wish to consider whether police managerialism might have added confusion. "Doing it by the book" would be how investigators conduct an alleged sex crime by Jo Smith. But if police are investigating an individual in the public eye, they should not stick to the book. Clarification: handling an investigation sensitively does not mean that laws/procedures can be skipped or that interviews/searches are less thorough; sensitivity simply means that investigators think a bit harder to ensure that their behaviour can be explained in inspections that will be more rigorous than a normal court case.


To pre judge any legal proceedings is always a
unwise policy.

My take on the issue is that feminism should be defined as it was by J S Mill as being the belief in the " legal and Social equality of men and Women ". This is not the same as merely thinking that men are all bastards. Which is how post 1960s feminists seem to define it.

Also it raises the issue of the wisdom of trying to control all human conduct by criminal Laws. Sex is an irrational act often taking place in the context of sudden lust by both parties. People can and do get embarrassed after the event and perceive rape as a by product. Hence the reluctance of Juries to convict in these sort of case.

Adding extradition as well for trial in a another state increases the oppressiveness of the trial situation. A belief in equality should allow the possibility of sympathy for the defendent. And the limited scope for challenge under the Euro arrest warrent raises issues of due process. So there are numerous reasons to find the detention of Mr. Assange dubious merely on the face of the public facts.


Niklas Smith,

Ok, let's say I am cynical concerning the actions of Governments.

But let's have a wager, and Chris could keep a tally.

Would you like to bet that Assange will either be in US custody or dead within a year?

I think given the range of powerful people that he's annoyed that is a high probability, but if you or the other posters don't believe that could happen then please say so.

Please, what is Assange's likely fate in a year's time?

Be bold, speculate.


Would the Clinton/Lewinsky saga be a better comparison here? Especially given the left-wing men/feminist 'split'? Until Clinton 'fessed up, no-one was quite sure exactly what had happened between him and Lewinsky, but that didn't stop the Republicans using her as a means of trying to get him impeached, confirming Hillary Clinton's accusations of a vast right-wing conspiracy to take down the President. (See also the letter from Women Against Rape in today's Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/dec/08/wikileaks-rape-allegations-freedom-of-speech)

PS: The 'cognitive bias' on both sides (Band's and Elliott's as well as others) was so evident over at LibCon it was a very good reason for not posting on the threads at all if you were prepared to wait for the outcomes while fearing that the US would still find a way of shutting down Assange and/or Wikileaks.


That link again:


You seem to think that people are sincere in their discussion about wikileaks and assange case. But most of the time they are not. They haven't researched anything and just vocalize what they prefer as an outcome

john Terry's Mum

Seems to me there are four biases intermingling here.

Assange is a dangerous info-terrorist.
Asaange is a cyber freedom-fighter.
Asaange is a manipulator abuser of women.
Asaange is a playboy and seducer.

Seems to me that all 4 could be correct.


"a bellicose bigoted fool recognized the Nazi threat before anyone else"

Bellicose: not the wrong response to the Nazis, wouldn't you say? Better than "Disarm and at the same time fight" or "Peace with honour"?

Bigoted: reference whom? De Gaulle, Roosevelt?

Fool: of course. After all, he got it right about Hitler and Stalin when so many liberal-minded correctly-thinking well-informed persons didn't. Guilty as charged.

From some 19th-century political crisis, can't remember which:

"What all the damned fools always said would happen has happened, and what all the wise men said was impossible has come to pass. And yet the fools are still damned fools, and the wise men are still incomparably wise."


It is conceivable that Assange has been set up in some way, but it is not credible. If security agencies wish to stitch somebody up, they will use prosecution witnesses who hold to their stories.

Because surely, if there's one thing we've all learned from the last sixty years, it's that when the CIA carries out a dirty tricks operation, it never, never screws up in any way. I was saying the same thing just the other day to President Batista.


"The fact is that it’s perfectly possible for men who are good, even heroic, in some respects to fall short in others."

Yes, but they still deserve bail.

"In truth, some leftists mightn’t like Assange’s politics, which only reinforces my broader point."

What's your broader point? That "lefties" put politics aside when they feel one held on allegations deserves bail?

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