Monday, December 05, 2011

A PR strategy for fighting rape accusations (by Suzie)

Accused rapist and men's rights activist Julian Assange got permission today to delay justice longer. (Please stay with me -- the issue is broader than Assange.)

Two high-court judges in London, who ruled earlier that he should be sent to Sweden, will let him raise an issue with Britain's Supreme Court. Assange contends that police and prosecutors should not be allowed to issue European arrest warrants. The judges disagreed, but said they felt "constrained" to let him proceed. Why? Perhaps because he has rich and powerful backers.

Wired reports:
Assange has 14 days to submit a written petition to the Supreme Court. If the court refuses to hear his appeal, he has no more avenue for redress and will be extradited to Sweden. If he is granted an appeal hearing, that appeal will likely take place at the Supreme Court around May next year.
The longer he fights, the longer his two accusers live in limbo. Of course, they are not the only women who have accused a man of sexual assault, only to have hatred heaped on them while they wait for justice. Assange and his outraged fanboys have smeared them, and details of their private lives have been published on the Internet. They have kept a low profile, in part, I'm guessing, for their own safety.

He has crowdsourced witness intimidation.

I have seen no evidence that any media in the U.S. or U.K. has tried to interview them or their attorney, with the exception of a few sentences from the lawyer now and then. Instead, Assange and his global team of lawyers frame the case in their own way. In fact, he has just hired a PR firm in Sweden to handle the media there.

In Sweden, his case will be a test of men's rights to women's bodies, as in the frat-boy chant of "no means yes, yes means anal." His lawyers have argued that, if a woman agrees to sex with a condom, it isn't a crime if the man has unprotected sex with her without her consent. His lawyers also have said it's no crime for a man to use physical force to try to penetrate a woman if she quits struggling and goes along with it. British courts have disagreed.

Earlier, one of his former British attorneys said Assange wasn't wanted for rape, but rather "sex by surprise," a minor charge found nowhere but Sweden. That wasn't true, but it did plenty of damage. Did the lawyer intend to mislead the public, or was he unable to contact his counterpart in Sweden and ascertain the truth?

If/when Assange finally goes to Sweden, I hope courts will consider the credibility of someone that acclaimed journalist Nick Davies called "extraordinarily dishonest."

Although he and his flock have viciously attacked former colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg for writing a book on WikiLeaks, I haven't heard anyone dispute D-B's assertion that he and Assange "grotesquely exaggerated" how many volunteers WL had, wrote under different pseudonyms to make it seem like more people were involved, and misled people on the extent of their technology. D-B said this was done to intimidate enemies as well as gain support from potential allies. It also may have led whistleblowers to think that WL really could protect them.

In the early days, D-B writes, Assange was very interested in marketing WL. "From the media we tried to learn how to manipulate public opinion. ... For us, the important thing was not how something really was, but how one sold it."

Here's a rundown of Assange's misinformation campaign against the sex-crime allegations:

When the accusations were leaked in August 2010, Assange said he didn't know who the women were. That was not true, of course. He suggested elsewhere that the Pentagon was playing dirty tricks. Holocaust denier Israel Shamir, who has been paid by WikiLeaks, published a story suggesting one accuser worked for the CIA. Assange's British lawyer called the case a honeytrap.

Then the spin changed. The lawyer said he had been misquoted, and WL Central said Assange never suggested his accusers did anything wrong. My best guess is that this was done to avoid a libel suit.

But it also fits with a common marketing strategy: A company unveils a sexist ad, or the ad gets "leaked" to YouTube. Feminists and others are outraged. The company pulls the ad, apologizes and says it never meant to offend or the ad wasn't authorized. Meanwhile, the company gets a lot of publicity with a targeted audience -- men who like to put women down.

Some people don't like victim blaming. So, Assange assures them he isn't doing that. Meanwhile, many of his fans continue to bash the women, and we are supposed to believe that he cannot stop them.

I bet he starts attacking the women's credibility again once he's in Sweden, which has much more liberal laws on libel. By then, he may give up his bizarre contention that Sweden is more of a banana republic than a civilized country. (His former lawyer in Sweden, Bjorn Hurtig, said recently that the Swedish judicial system "generally holds a very high standard.")

Assange once thought so highly of Sweden that he sought permission to live and work there. Two days later, two women went to police, who determined that their statements amounted to sexual molestation and rape. A prosecutor dismissed the idea of rape, but Assange was still under investigation for molestation. The women's attorney, Claes Borgstrom, appealed to a higher-ranking prosecutor, Marianne Ny, who put rape back into the mix.

Assange has insisted that this was improper. But both Swedish and British law lets higher-ranking prosecutors overrule subordinates, said Senior District Judge Howard Riddle in his rejection of Assange's appeal in February 2011. (Cryptome has a transcript.)

After Ny took the case Sept. 1, Hurtig claimed, she made no attempt to interview Assange before he left for London at the end of September. Actually, Ny had contacted Hurtig, who later said he couldn't find Assange. Riddle said Hurtig corrected his evidence at the last minute, but in such a low-key way as to be misleading:
I do not accept that this was a genuine mistake. It cannot have slipped his mind. For over a week he was attempting (he says without success) to contact a very important client about a very important matter. The statement was a deliberate attempt to mislead the court.
Later, the Swedish Bar Association issued a warning to Hurtig, who Assange has since replaced.

There was discussion that Assange might return to Sweden in October. Instead, he released the Iraq documents -- some say prematurely. A Swedish court issued an arrest warrant for him in November, and Assange then released the U.S. diplomatic cables. He sold himself as a freedom-of-information martyr.

By claiming falsely that Swedish prosecutors had not tried to interview him earlier, Assange made it appear that they had little interest in the sex-crime allegations until he released sensational documents.

This also lent more credence to his claim that Sweden was trying to extradite him so that he could be turned over to U.S. authorities, who would imprison him in Guantanamo, torture and execute him.

But his lawyers never presented any evidence, and his own defense witness -- a former Chief District Prosecutor in Stockholm -- said that scenario couldn't happen. Riddle noted that it's easier to extradite someone from the U.K. to the U.S., and that, if Assange is extradited to Sweden, and the U.S. then wants him, Sweden would not only have to approve the extradition, but it also would need the approval of the British Secretary of State.

His lawyers complained that Assange hasn't been formally charged with any crime; they haven't seen all the evidence against him; if he returned to Sweden, he would languish incommunicado in jail; the trial would be held behind closed doors; and he would not be tried by a jury of his peers.

After listening to testimony disputing this, Riddle said he believed that Sweden intends to prosecute Assange, but that Ny is required to interview Assange and finish her investigation before bringing formal charges. Prosecutors are not required to give the defense all of their evidence beforehand. In jail, Assange might not be allowed communication with the outside world. But once someone is jailed pending trial in Sweden, the trial follows quickly, usually in two weeks. In sex-crime cases, accusers can choose to have testimony heard in private. Cases are decided by judges and those they appoint as lay judges.

Assange may not like the Swedish system, but it's similar to procedures in other European countries, Riddle said.

"TRUTH WILL OUT!" screams a hoodie peddled on a WL site to raise money. We can only hope.