A murky situation ... Julian Assange outside a police station this week in Britain, where he is on bail. Photo: Reuters
Whatever prompted Naomi Wolf to defend Julian Assange by penning a satirical article for The Huffington Post titled ''Julian Assange Captured by World's Dating Police'', one assumes she is now regretting it. Ditto Michael Moore's ex cathedra statements on whether the sex crime allegations made against the WikiLeaks founder constituted rape or not: ''His condom broke during consensual sex. This is all a bunch of hooey as far as I'm concerned.''
Two weeks ago, when he was on remand in Wandsworth prison, it was broadly accepted that the man responsible for humiliating and challenging great powers across the world had been railroaded by a series of accusations relying on scorned female fury.
But now people more critical of the ethereal 39-year-old former hacker have hit back, as tabloid articles and a long piece in The Guardian detail the allegations against him blow by blow. The tabloid pieces in Sweden's Expressen and Britain's Mail on Sunday seemed more interested in his sexual encounters that were unquestionably consensual than in the criminal accusations. It is the report from The Guardian, one of WikiLeaks' publishing partners, that may do him more damage. Yet even this assessment is more interesting for what it left out - stories of influence, tampering, shadowy establishments and hidden agendas that leave the late Stieg Larsson out in the cold.
Alleged victims ... Anna Ardin, left, and Sofia Wilen.
The story begins in early August, with the first complainant, Miss A, a woman now universally acknowledged as Anna Ardin, a rising star in the Social Democratic Party and an organiser of Assange's speaking engagement in Stockholm. Ardin had put up Assange in her apartment and organised a crayfish party for him, a traditional Swedish summer get-together attended by journalists and the leaders of Sweden's libertarian anti-censorship Pirate Party.
Assange and Ardin had begun a sexual relationship but, according to Nick Davies in The Guardian report, Ardin had told two friends that the sex had been ''violent''; Assange had pinned down her arm to prevent her applying a condom. She had let him stay in her apartment, but not her bed.
Unbeknown to her, Assange was also seeing Sofia Wilen, a photographer who, by her own account to police, had become a little obsessed with Assange after seeing him on TV. Though she had told him she never had unsafe sex, she said she had woken to find him having sex with her without a condom. According to her account to prosecutors, they joked about pregnancy, had breakfast and returned to Stockholm by train, with Wilen paying for the tickets - as she had paid days earlier for the cinema, the meal and the train out.
On the Wednesday, August 18, Wilen rang Ardin, whom she did not know, to find out where Assange was. They compared notes and, on Friday, August 20, went to Klara police station to inquire how they could force Assange to take a test for sexually transmitted infections. Fifteen minutes into the interview the police decided to ask the duty prosecutor to open a rape investigation.
Though it would be months before it began to be adjudicated in The Huffington Post, the case became murky and mysterious from the get-go. Wilen's experience had been the basis for the rape accusation, Ardin's for two misdemeanour accusations. The senior prosecutor threw out the rape accusation, leaving a case barely worth pursuing.
But then Claes Borgstrom entered the scene. Battered and feisty, a real-life Kurt Wallander, Borgstrom is both a celebrity lawyer and a major figure in the Social Democratic Party, its gender equality spokesman. He petitioned the appeals prosecutor, Marianne Ny, to revive the accusations. When she did, in early September, there were four accusations, not three, the most serious being a new one - that of violent sexual coercion of Ardin.
The new accusation created a substantial difference between the first and later account of events to the police. It was at this time that material began to disappear from the internet. Two tweets were removed from Ardin's Twitter feed in early September - one saying ''Julian wants to go to a crayfish party, anyone around'' and another from the crayfish party Ardin organised for him that night ''2am - sitting outside with the most exciting, interesting people in the world'', both tweets sent in the 24 hours after the alleged violent sexual encounter took place.
Simultaneously, two items disappeared from blogs written or co-written by Ardin: a record of events making no mention of a violent sexual encounter, and a ''7-step guide to revenge'' on ex-lovers. All four deleted items were retrieved from internet caches by Swedish bloggers.
One of those who retrieved the deleted material was Goran Rudling, an activist involved in a campaign to revise Sweden's 2005 Sex Crimes Act, which he believes has rendered the law unworkable. No fan of Assange, whom he describes as a ''villain - he wants to make himself more important by saying there is a conspiracy to get him'', Rudling nevertheless points out that the investigation of his case has been hamstrung by a routine disregard for the proper procedures.
''There is, for example, no full record of the first interviews, written or audio/video. So we don't know what questions were asked, or how they were answered,'' Rudling says. ''The arrest warrant was issued before the interview proper had even begun, and one of the complainants was only interviewed the next day, by telephone.''
Why was a warrant for a serious allegation issued so quickly? One possibility is so that it could be leaked in time for the afternoon news, especially to the right-wing tabloid Expressen, which painted such a harsh picture of Assange that it prompted Ardin to give an interview to the rival paper Aftonbladet the next day, in which she said that ''Assange is not violent and we do not fear him … this is about someone who has problems with women''.
It is this quote that has become a headache for Borgstrom, since it contradicts Ardin's later claims. Questioned about this by reporters, Borgstrom replied that said the women ''weren't jurists - they don't know what rape is''. This claim was shaky. As gender equality officer at Uppsala University, Ardin had issued a new edition of the student union's gender equality procedures, including a guide to legal recourse.
By now, however, attention had turned to Borgstrom and the passion with which he was pursuing the case. His decision to take the case had been met with bemusement by many as his party was on the verge of contesting the September general election, one it lost badly.
When the Social Democrats were last in power, Borgstrom had helped draft the 2005 Sex Crime Act, which had made it possible to charge people with what has become known as ''sex by surprise''. Since losing power in 2006, his party has claimed that the ruling centre-right coalition has done nothing to give the new laws any force. Opponents of the law contended that it was unworkable, prompting investigations into matters that would be reduced to two conflicting stories in court and open to misuse for reputation damage and revenge.
Crucially, the 2005 law had gone beyond simple notion of consent and elaborated the idea of ''violation of sexual integrity'' and non-financial ''sexual exploitation'' - that is, psychological or situational manipulation. It thus became possible to charge someone with a sex crime even if consent was present throughout, a feature of at least two, and possibly all four, of the accusations against Assange.
The accusations against him occurred at a highly charged time, as the centre-right government received an exhaustive review of the law. The review had been prompted by bitter struggle between those who said it was unworkable - people drawn from the left and right - and those on the centre-left, feminists and greens who argued that the justice system should be further transformed to overcome the low conviction rate it achieved.
One of the players in the debate had been Gothenburg's crime development unit, a department of the prosecutor's office responsible for exploring new modes for the development of sex crime legislation, and headed by the appeals prosecutor Marianne Ny.
Does this add up to a possible hidden agenda? Yes and no. Unlike the experience of Larsson's character Lisbeth Salander, Sweden has less explicit corruption than a lot of countries. What it does have is a suffocatingly tight political elite, much of it grouped around the Social Democratic Party, which has huge cultural power even in opposition.
Some, such as the law blogger Marten Schultz, are impatient with Assange's repeated claims of especially bad treatment, arguing that the most surprising decision from the prosecutors was the second one, stating that Assange was not a suspect - without carrying out any investigation.
Others, such as Christian Engstrom, a Pirate Party member of the European Parliament, suggest that it would be difficult for Assange to get a fair trial in Sweden, as the judge and ''lay examiners'' who assess each case are appointed by the political parties in proportion to their numbers in parliament. ''Usually Swedish justice works well,'' he argues. ''But in cases like Julian's everything goes strange.''
His chief of staff, Henrik Alexandersson, is more forthright, saying that as Assange has antagonised all major parties ''there is no chance of him getting a fair trial''.
Few cases in recent times have been so argued about on the basis of so much misinformation. Even Davies's account in The Guardian has been criticised as one-sided by a WikiLeaks associate in Sweden who was one of several people who tried to mediate between Assange and Ardin, before she went to the police. ''I would say that it is simply the case for the prosecution,'' he says. ''The police record contains Assange's early interview with the police on the 'misconduct' [accusations], yet none of that has been included.''
Assange has at no time been charged with any crime. His arrest warrant was issued in relation to questions the prosecutors' office wishes him to answer regarding the accusations. Assange is next due in court in Britain on January 11 for the beginning of his extradition hearing.
The WikiLeaks associate suggests the case may never come to trial, noting that ''one of the complainants has refused to sign off on her statement''. Even if that proves to be the case, Julian Assange has entered history, though it remains to be seen whether in triumph or tragedy.
August 20 Julian Assange is accused of the rape and sexual assault of Sofia Wilen and of ofredande (''unfreedom'' - a misdemeanour crime under Swedish law) in relation to Anna Ardin. The accusations are leaked to the tabloid Espressen.
August 21 Stockholm's chief prosecutor withdraws the arrest warrant for Assange, saying she sees no description of rape or assault. An investigation into the ofredande accusation stands.
August 31 Police in Stockholm question Assange and formally tell him of the allegation against him. He denies the accusations.
September 1 Marianne Ny, an appeals prosecutor, reopens an investigation into rape in relation to Ardin.
November 18 An arrest warrant is issued in Sweden for Assange to answer questions from the prosecutor.
November 30 Interpol issues a ''red notice'' for Assange's detention.
December 6 A European arrest warrant is issued.
December 7 Assange gives himself up to British police. The Crown Prosecution Service reads out four accusations: rape: that Assange had held Ardin down, forcibly parted her legs and had sex with her; ofredande: that Assange had unsafe sex with Ardin, thereby violating her sexual integrity; ofredande: that Assange had pushed his erect penis into Ardin's back, thereby violating her sexual integrity; sexual assault: that Assange had had unsafe sex with Wilen while she was sleeping.
December 16 Assange is released on bail of £200,000 ($308,000) plus several sureties. An initial extradition hearing is set for January 11. The substantive hearing will begin in early February.
Victim? First he puts himself on the internet as someone who likes "criminal
conspiracies" and that he is an 87% s.L.u.T. , who wants children into the
bargain, and then after he forces two women to have unprotected sex, when they
only consented to protected sex, he thinks, their fears of having got HIV from
him, or got an STD from him, as being "a tizzy".
He lives in his own world where he justifies his own criminality and leaves behind a trail of evidence that is guaranteed to put him in jail.
Once the snow clears at Heathrow, he will be extradited to Sweden and most probably spend time in jail before he is deported, directly or indirectly via the USA to his final destination, Australia with a criminal record.