Rape victims, according to the BBC, are “legally entitled to anonymity for life.” One can be arrested in the United Kingdom for naming rape victims in tweets. There is an understandable and generally accepted rule in not just the British media, but also in the United States media that one does not name rape victims because of the humiliation it could bring to victims. And so, when whistleblower and former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray went on the BBC program Newsnight to discuss Julian Assange on the night of August 20, there was great disgust from the guest who appeared alongside him and the host.
This is what was said:
JOAN SMITH: My problem with this is how insulting it is that all these men—and it is mainly men on the left—are queuing up to cast aspersions on two women, who are making very serious allegations of sexual wrongdoing and those women are as entitled to Assange. They have human rights too. They are entitled to have him answer the case that they have made.
HOST: They’re entitled to hear him answer the case.
CRAIG MURRAY: Let’s look at the conduct of these women…
SMITH: How do you know about these women?
MURRAY: Anna Ardin—I know about the conduct of these women the same way you do.
SMITH: No, no, no, I’m not claiming that I do. I am not an expert on the criminal justice system and neither are you.
MURRAY: I’m going to say—I’m going to say some things that I know to be true. Anna Ardin, who’s the one who claims…
SMITH: I’m sorry. You should not be naming alleged rape victim.
HOST: [talking over guests] You should not be naming potential rape victim.
MURRAY: …Everybody listening…
HOST: And they can look it at it on the Internet but please don’t name a potential rape victim…
SMITH:…Why would you do that?…
HOST:…Please do not name a potential rape victim…
MURRAY: Because everybody knows it and there’s no point…
SMITH: No, I don’t think everybody does…
MURRAY: …And there is…
SMITH: Do you see how little respect this man has for women who’ve made serious allegations?
Now, at this point, it would have probably been good to concede the point that rape victims (actual or potential) are to be left anonymous, but Smith had not been the most friendly guest during the previous part of the segment. Murray felt a need to defend his decision to name the accuser, which really only made the situation worse:
MURRAY: That is absolute nonsense. I would like to say I’m married to a rape victim and I take the charge of anything to do with rape extremely seriously.
HOST: There is a great difference between you talking about something to do with your wife, presumably with her consent, and you talking about someone who has no rights because she’s not here. So, if you want to make a point, make the point and do it anonymously.
MURRAY: My point is the lady, the night after she claimed was a physically coerced rape, took Julian Assange with her to a crayfish party. She turned down…
SMITH [host talking]:…What that’s got to do with anything?
MURRAY:[host talking] …She chaired a meeting at which she spoke. She chaired a meeting at which he spoke. The next day she went to dinner with him again.
SMITH: These should be tested by the investigating authorities in Sweden who have experience in the area of sexual abuse and rape. We know very well that a lot of women who have suffered some kind of sexual assault take a while to process the fact of what’s happened them. Rape victims don’t always go straight to the authorities. Sometimes they’re in a state of shock.
How the host and guest reacted is perfectly acceptable and reasonable. There is this understanding that alleged rape victims are not supposed to be named on shows, whether the names are known on the Internet or not. It seems that legally and ethically the BBC program had an obligation to step in and inform Murray that he needed to talk about the accuser without using her name. [I, myself, until today, had never typed her name in a post and published it. I have always referred to the accusers as just "women."]
Yes, it is true the names of both the women, who have accused Assange of sexual assault, are known. For example, here are Swedish police reports (translated). That does not necessarily mean I or anyone else should go on a news program and say the name of alleged rape victims—even if they are victims in cases that are believed to be cooked-up.
The decision to name the accuser should frustrate supporters of Assange, because this is an excellent sound bite that now will be difficult for supporters to highlight because all opponents of Assange will just want to condemn or joke about how disgusting it is that Murray named an accuser:
MURRAY: Let me talk about four people, all of whom I know personally. James Yee, chaplin at Guantanamo, blew the whistle on torture in Guantanamo Bay, was charged with adultery and pornography on a government computer. Janis Karpinski, brigadier general at Abu Ghraib, blew the whistle on Donald Rumsfeld’s sanctioning of torture at Abu Ghraib, was immediately charged with shoplifting. Scott Ritter, UN weapons inspector, entrapped by a honey trap. I was charged myself with sexual coercion of visa applicants after I blew the whistle on extraordinary rendition…
HOST: [interrupting]… That’s a very clear point…
MURRAY: …Everybody knows that whistleblowers are charged with non-whistleblowing related offenses.
HOST: Indeed, and everybody also knows that women sometimes get raped by people who may otherwise perform a public service…
This is a very strong point he made. He also made this point yesterday in his speech in support of Assange. It makes it clear that suggesting there is a possibility that the sexual allegations are a cooked-up offense being pushed by the Swedish authorities is not some outlandish thing to claim. It happens. The state targets people in ways that will not only lead them to be convicted of crimes but will also potentially wreck their reputation entirely.
Murray has experience that makes it possible for him to offer great insight into diplomacy, international relations and the Assange situation. It is not my opinion that Murray’s decision to name an accuser here should neutralize all the other things he said and make them taboo to discuss. He could have made his points about the women without naming an accuser (maybe—if the host and Smith let him).
Now, to Smith’s suggestion throughout the show that Assange expects “special treatment,” he’s “no different than anybody else” and there is a “moral and legal duty to comply” with authorities. First off, Assange has not failed to comply with authorities to date. Secondly, seeking asylum is something legally available to all individuals. If one contends they are being politically persecuted, they can go to an embassy and apply for asylum. Of course, the authorities are then going to suggest that person is trying to avoid due process. Of course, the authorities and people who believe he should face the crime will argue that the person is running away. But, these opinions will be symptomatic of the fact that they do not believe the person is being politically persecuted, that they believe the person’s fears are entirely unjustified. That is the case here. Smith and others fed up with Assange apologists do not buy the “conspiracy theories” that the United States has some criminal investigation into him and is likely to pursue extradition in the near feature and he should be wary of the countries which he goes to because they might cooperate with an extradition over a political offense—the publishing of previously classified documents via WikiLeaks.
There is a polarization happening here between those who have developed an utter distaste for Assange and those who see Assange as a whistleblower and valiant hero. There are sharp views and they make it incredibly difficult to discuss the sexual allegations aspect of all this soberly and objectively. One’s character can easily be assassinated for defending Assange and suggesting he is the victim of Swedish prosecutors, who have cooked-up charges to tie him up and make it hard for him to run WikiLeaks. This is because one immediately finds his or herself being told they are sexist and not properly considering the rights of the alleged rape victims. On the other hand, one can find their character assassinated for defending the alleged rape victims and not think the sexual allegations are part of the political persecution he is facing. This is because one this view immediately finds his or herself being told they are filled with prejudice and supportive of rogue power.
Upon intense examination of the investigations against Assange (there are at least two), here is what can be accepted as true all at once without being in conflict:
- The alleged rape victims deserve to be respected, not named on television and Assange should have to face the sexual allegations.
- State powers go after whistleblowers and dissidents by cooking up non-whistleblower related offenses so there is a possibility that these allegations are being pushed by the Swedish Prosecuting Authority for political purposes.
- Assange has a legal right to pursue asylum and make a case that he is being politically persecuted.
- Ecuador has a sovereign right to grant diplomatic asylum to an individual like Assange if they believe that the person’s fears are valid and if they believe the person is indeed being targeted for political offenses and could be abused or potentially put to death if taken into custody for these offenses.
- The United States has an open criminal investigation into WikiLeaks. A federal grand jury has been empaneled to investigate. It has been meeting. A case against Assange and other WikiLeaks managers, staffers and individuals connected is being put together with resources and the support of the US Justice Department.
- The Swedish authorities could question Assange in London but have refused. They also will not publicly assure Assange that he would not be extradited to the United States. This makes it easier for Assange to justifiably claim he is being politically persecuted.