By Andrew Kreig / Project Director
A distinguished European human rights advocate is relentlessly exposing abuses by mainstream Swedish news organizations covering the prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Dr. Marcello Ferrada de Noli is a medical school professor who splits his time between Sweden and Italy after surviving politically motivated torture decades ago in his native Chile. His recent columns show how Sweden’s major broadcasters and newspapers support their government’s campaign against Assange, most recently by a state-owned television documentary that blames the defendant, in effect, for shaming the nation’s legal system.
Ferrada-Noli, right, argues that massive irregularities by Swedish authorities and structural flaws within the nation’s legal system are the true cause of the global scrutiny of Sweden for due process violations in the heavy-handed Swedish investigation of Assange for potential rape charges under an expansive legal definition. Several of Ferrada-Noli’s latest columns examine the motives and sensationalistic tactics of state-owned Swedish National Television in its recent documentary. Similarly, he published April 18 a column concluding that a "scoop" last month by the country's right-wing tabloid Expessen was to obscure the close working relationship between it and authorities prosecuting Assange. Overall, the professor characterizes the news coverage as anti-Assange and pro-prosecution despite the broadcasters’ ostensible professional neutrality. Meanwhile, cables released by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks are creating worldwide headlines as the week begins. The cables show that the United States has been secretly funding anti-government efforts in Syria for years, helping threaten the current government.
Our Justice Integrity Project has cooperated with the professor's efforts by sharing our columns, and he cites our work at the top of his April 18 column. Like others, however, our Project focuses upon the due process and other such fairness considerations in the Assange case, and not on the largely extra-legal considerations as his general character and work. For these reasons, we report today on the new book Inside WikiLeaks by Assange’s former close advisor Daniel Domschelt-Berg, which alleges a number of serious flaws by Assange that led to their break.
The former WikiLeaks communications director is at right in the photo with Assange, provided via Creative Commons. Whatever the author's own motivations in the book and in setting up a rival organization called OpenLeaks, his book is congruent with other efforts on both sides of the Atlantic to portray Assange as a dangerous person. A corrollary is that those who might defend his rights are naïve, unpatriotic or both.
In view of that, let me share my own perspective, which is not reliant upon Assange’s behavior or politics but instead on the process. My views were shaped by beginning my career for 14 years as a reporter at America’s oldest newspaper still in business, the Hartford Courant in Connecticut. Its pioneering publishers Barzillai Hudson and George Goodwin helped foster the American Revolution and a distinctly American language (by publishing their one-time reporter Noah Webster's best-selling spelling book). Even more relevantly, they helped establish through their personal legal ordeals the important American legal principle that criminal charges must be based on written law. The federal indictment against them for seditious libel arose because they dared criticize a United States president, Thomas Jefferson. They found themselves federally convicted and sentenced to prison until a closely divided Supreme Court years later in 1813 established the above-noted legal principle, which deserves to endure.
Similarly, the first publisher I knew personally, Col. John Reitemeyer, vigorously advocated for the right of the lecturer-singer-actor Paul Robeson to perform in Hartford despite public protests and despite the ultra-conservative publisher's own personal contempt for Robeson's communist politics. “The real issue,” the publisher intoned in an editorial, “is the right of the people to know and the right of the press to tell them. It is part of the fight for freedom of information throughout the world.”
Such words are not easily forgotten. Let’s examine how they might apply to the situation in Sweden, which is clearly a global human rights case even though many powerful voices (including within the media) want to make it seem like a local sex crime case.
To recap, a Swedish political group invited the nomadic WikiLeaks leader to lecture there last August just as he was seeking a haven and about to unveil another cache of secret U.S. diplomatic cables, including some that are highly embarrassing to Swedish officials because they show them in secret dealings with the United States hidden from Parliament. Two women invited Assange to stay with them in success. He gave his lecture, and later was accused of sex misconduct by the women. He lingered in the country for five weeks as authorities went back and forth on whether the allegations constituted a crime for which he should be questioned and prosecuted. He departed. Sweden then used Interpol to announce a manhunt to question him. Branded worldwide as a suspected sex criminal, Assange turned himself in to authorities in the United Kingdom.
At Sweden’s request, the United Kingdom has required Assange’s confinement for months to the home of a friend. He is appealing a UK extradition order to answer questions about his purported sex without consent – potentially rape in Swedish parlance – with the two complainants, who hosted him in their beds and had voluntary sex with him before accusing him of conduct later potentially unlawful in Sweden.
In his series on Professors Blogg, Ferrada-Noli points out several Swedish justice system characteristics little-known elsewhere, particularly in Anglo-American cultures that have different procedures to foster due process. For example, he notes that Sweden appoints judges via a straightforward political, does not permit pre-trial bond, and holds secret trials. While any system has benefits and detriments, he argues that Sweden’s procedures are particularly abusive when a suspect must defend against a sex prosecution that appears to be politically motivated.
Ferrada-Noli’s extensive columns on these topics have drawn several times on the work of the Justice Integrity Project. The first time was our revelation in December in cooperation with Alabama legal affairs commentator Roger Shuler that Karl Rove lists himself as an advisor to Sweden’s governing Moderate Party, which has its roots in the nation’s conservative movement. Rove also has prominent ties within Sweden’s communications sector (including its leading public relations company and think tank) and called for Assange’s execution on Aug. 7 on Fox News, shortly before Assange’s trip to Sweden.
Additionally, our Project broke the story that one of two name partners in the law firm seeking to question Assange is a former Swedish minister of justice who was implicated in Sweden’s 2001 cooperation with CIA-orchestrated rendition of two asylum-seekers from Sweden to their native Egypt for torture. Most recently, Ferrada-Noli is recirculating our column last month about how the complaint against Assange was originally filed with a policewoman who was a friend of one of the complainants stemming from their political work together.
Far beyond our contributions, Ferrada-Noli has republished and otherwise defended the work of the best-selling American author Naomi Wolf, who has been attacked in certain Swedish and feminist circles for raising questions about political motivations for Assange’s prosecution. Portrayed at left in a photo via Creative Commons, Wolf has written, for example, that she has never seen during her lifelong pro-feminist efforts any parallel to Sweden’s all-out investigation of such suspicions. Those suspicions have not yet resulted in any formal charges despite the vast expense to all involved and Assange’s fears that his work and perhaps life are endangered.
In response to her columns, attacks on Wolf have included an unknown person’s creation of a phony Twitter account in her name sending out crackpot messages to inflame passions against her. In one of the latest iterations, Swedish National Television used her as an example of unfair international criticism of Sweden by the human rights community, but never interviewed her. Ferrada de Noli is seeking to arrange such an interview by someone prominent within Sweden’s media who would dare go beyond what he calls its “Duck Pond” traditions of insularity and complacency.
Few of us really know what Assange did at this point and whether it ultimately deserves punishment. We’ll quote extensively below from the Washington Post’s review by law professor Jeffrey Rosen, the legal affairs editor of the New Republic, about the new book about Assange by his former colleague:
Domscheit-Berg attributes WikiLeaks's increasing brazenness to Assange, who was more interested in attracting publicity (and women) than in making careful determinations about newsworthiness. Although he praises Assange for being “imaginative” and “energetic,” he ultimately finds him “so paranoid, so power-hungry, so megalomaniac” that he adopted the cultish secrecy, financial opacity and self-promoting marketing strategies of the people he fought against.
With the media rife with this kind of disparagement on both sides of the Atlantic, we know that Swedish authorities have undertaken an all-out prosecution threatening the defendant’s reputation, work and freedom, but have not filed charges. We see evidence also that the trans-Atlantic campaign against WikiLeaks-type disclosures is not just by governments but also by also by traditional media threatened by increased public access to unfiltered source documents.
Those on the outside can only raise questions about due process procedures and other normal professional standards in law and journalism. Ultimately, however, human rights in Sweden requires its own professionals to take the lead as exemplified by Ferrada-Noli and several news publications (primarily web-based) that are most sensitive to human rights concerns
Professors blogg, The affair Irmeli Krans in the case of Sweden against Assange…Expressens "scoop" an alibi, Dr. Marcello Ferrada-Noli, April 18, 2011. The Swedish newspaper Expressen -- a right-wing tabloid of the Swedish establishment's press - convinced the world in March it had a “scoop” of breaking-news in the Assange case. The paper reported that the police officer Irmeli Krans who interrogated one of the Assange-accusers was a friend of the main accuser-instigator Anna Ardin. But this fact was already known by everybody who cared to read the proceedings of the police investigation. So it was simply one of the many irregularities in the case ignored by the mainstream Swedish media, much like the continuing cover-up of the rigged documentary about Julian Assange broadcast the State-owned National Television, SvT 1. Expressen's so called scoop was to create an alibi, an exception, within an overall cover-up that otherwise is performed by the Swedish mainstream media in regard to the affair Assange.
Washington Post, No secret is safe, even for WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange, Jeffrey Rosen, April 17, 2011. For an organization devoted to exposing the secrets of others, WikiLeaks, under the leadership of Julian Assange, has been aggressively protective of its own secrets. Now Daniel Domscheit-Berg has pulled back the curtain with a memoir about his three years as Assange’s spokesman. Although he began as an idealistic supporter of WikiLeaks’s whistle-blowing mission, Domscheit-Berg left the organization because he was dismayed by Assange’s paranoid resistance to transparency, lack of political neutrality, and addiction to concentrating power in his own hands — anti-democratic vices that WikiLeaks was founded to oppose.
Weekly Standard, When Daniel Met Julian: The rise and fall of WikiLeaks, Jonathan V. Last, April 25, 2011. During a span of 22 months the website WikiLeaks.org morphed from a digital anarchist demonstration project into a semisuccessful international campaign against the American government.
Professors blogg, Rigged documentary on Julian Assange in the Swedish National Television, Dr. Marcello Ferrada-Noli, April 15, 2011. See also recent relevant columns (in reverse chronological order) published on his site.
By Naomi Wolf
- “Sweden's Serial Negligence in Prosecuting Rape Further Highlights the Politics Behind Julian Assange's Arrest”
By Marcello Ferrada de Noli:
- Part 3: “Rigged documentary in the Swedish National Television: Men are animals"
- Part 2: “Rigged documentary in the Swedish National Television: Men that hate women”
- Part 1: “Rigged documentary in the Swedish National Television: The Political Agenda and Dirty Tricks”