Federal courthouse in Eastern District of Virginia where grand jury investigating WikiLeaks has convened | Flickr photo by dctim1

How do supporters of WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange make the leap that he is more likely to be extradited to the United States from Sweden than the United Kingdom? That is a common question and, certainly, a key question for anyone who remains skeptical of whether Assange should have been granted asylum by Ecuador.

The answer is Sweden is pursuing a legal case against Assange, a case that has not been pursued entirely in a reasonable manner. For example, Mark Weisbrot noted in his Guardian article yesterday former Stockholm chief district prosecutor Sven-Erik Alhem “made it clear that the Swedish government had no legitimate reason to seek Assange’s extradition when he testified that the decision of the Swedish government to extradite Assange is ‘unreasonable and unprofessional, as well as unfair and disproportionate,’ because he could be easily questioned in the UK.” If the US government were to announce a request to extradite Assange, it would be interfering with an astounding legal matter that Swedish authorities would have to decide whether to suspend or not.

Another bigger question is why Assange continues to claim the US has plans or intentions to “persecute” or, to use a term that is more neutral, prosecute him. Snide commentators, sneering correspondents, and elite-minded former government officials discount any suggestion that the US might extradite Assange from Sweden. They do not even bother to take into account the existence of an empaneled grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, in the Eastern District that is investigating anyone who can be connected to the WikiLeaks organization.

Now, The Saturday Age, based in Australia, has published a report that features some critical details on the United States government’s plans for Assange. It describes Australian Foreign Affairs Department documents that were obtained under freedom of information laws and show the Australian diplomatic service “takes seriously the likelihood that Assange will eventually be extradited to the US on charges arising from WikiLeaks obtaining leaked US military and diplomatic documents.” Australia’s ambassador to the US Kim Beazley sought “high-level US advice on ‘the direction and likely outcome of the investigation’ and “reiterated’ an Australian government request for “early advice of any decision to indict or seek extradition” of Assange.

The diplomatic cables identify “a wide range of criminal charges the US could bring against Assange, including espionage, conspiracy, unlawful access to classified information and computer fraud.” They indicate “Australian diplomats expect that any charges against Assange would be carefully drawn in an effort to avoid conflict with the First Amendment free speech provisions of the US constitution.”

Additionally, Australian diplomats have apparently been informed of “several connections between Manning and WikiLeaks,” which prosecutors have uncovered that would form the “basis of a conspiracy charge.” The diplomats have found any investigation would “target” the “founders, owners or managers of WikiLeaks” for espionage.

The diplomats were not able to confirm whether the “sealed indictment” Stratfor had was authentic, but suggested what the US private intelligence company might have had in possession was a “draft indictment used by prosecutors to ‘game out’ possible charges.”

Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Michael Ratner, who is a member of the WikiLeaks legal team, considers the details to be “pretty extraordinary revelations.” It shows Australian government officials to be “hypocrites if not liars” because they have claimed “they don’t know anything about a US prosecution or extradition.”

It affirms Assange’s fears, along with what Ratner has been saying all along, by showing the US is seeking Assange’s prosecution and extradition.

“It confirms that the seeking of asylum is about the prosecution he is faced with in the United States,” Ratner told Firedoglake. “It has nothing to do with Sweden. This is about the US persecuting him and going after him for extradition and this confirms in cables that the Australian government knew about it, dissembled about it and is not protecting one of its own citizens.”

Yesterday, in a typical demonstration of the imperial delusions which the United States government operates under, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland was asked during a press briefing whether Assange “could face persecution” if he “was to come to the United States under whatever circumstances.” The reporter asked, “Do you find that that’s a credible argument? Does anyone face unwarranted or illegal government persecution in the United States?”

Nuland reflexively said no. When the reporter inquiringly said, “No?” She bluntly said “no” again. As the reporter continued to press her, she dropped a major hint, “If you’re asking me whether there was any intention to persecute rather than prosecute, the answer is no. Okay?”

The reporter caught her and said, “Okay. Well, wait. Well, hold on a second. So you’re saying that he would face prosecution?” To which she said, “We were in a situation where he was not headed to the United States; he was headed elsewhere.” But that doesn’t mean he would not, at some point in the future, be reeled into the clutches of US justice (which, according to Nuland, would never in present-day America “persecute” anyone—women, immigrants, people of color, gays, Muslims, etc—no one).

The new information uncovered by an Australian media organization makes it highly doubtful that the issue of asylum is only a matter between Ecuador, Sweden and the UK.

“The US is clearly the hand that’s behind this,” Ratner suggested. “There’s no doubt about it in my mind. And this confirms that they’ve been after him, according to these cables, for a year and a half if not more.” Ratner said it is “utterly bogus” to say “the US isn’t involved.”

What is occurring in the shadows between Australia, Ecuador, Sweden, the UK and the US is the kind of activity which Pfc. Bradley Manning likely sought to reveal when he allegedly released US diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. Based on the letter Ecuador was given that threatened the country’s London embassy with a possible invasion if Assange was not handed over for extradition to Sweden, it is evident the kind of coercion and underhanded diplomacy WikiLeaks uncovered continues to occur. Bullying or pressure is intended to prevent Assange from reaching Ecuador.

The grand jury is not some conjured conspiracy theory made up to suit Assange’s desire to escape legal processes in Sweden. It exists. It is part of a wide criminal investigation into Assange and others connected to WikiLeaks that is intended to produce indictments that could be acted upon. The US Justice Department would not be investing resources into a case like this if it had no intention of eventually putting people on trial in the United States.

Furthermore, the US government is in the midst of a court martial against Manning. They understand Manning must be convicted successfully before they can bring in Assange. Sweden’s desire to question Assange over sexual allegations is just the sideshow that must continue to unfold to keep Assange in a country whose government will cooperate with an extradition request when the US government is finally ready to make a meticulously prepared prosecution public to the world. Failing to ensure the UK maintains their position and does not allow Assange safe passage to Ecuador is necessary to preventing complications that would likely be experienced if he was in Ecuador when it came time to exact what Assange’s lawyer on matters related to asylum, Baltasar Garzon, has called “political revenge.”