What passes for justice


Julian Assange's fate is inevitable. It started with his attempted kidnapping by the Swedish state. No matter that under Sweden's enthusiastic rape laws it seems that even if your sexual activity is consensual, you can be put in the slammer should you forget to give your partner a twenty-minute talk on the fundamentals of human reproduction, or neglect to make a nice cup of tea afterwards. No matter that Assange's lawyers insist that he has given every cooperation to the Swedish police in their investigations. It's just that Assange likes to move around for his own security, while the Swedish authorities find it more convenient to have him in one place while investigations continue.

Well now he is rooted to one place, thanks to the wonders of GPS technology and Robert Peel's finest. Which also makes it much easier for any other country with a grudge to slap and extradition order on him. Luckily for the United States, it couldn't be easier to extradite someone from the UK. Under a post-9/11 agreement between the UK and US, terrorist suspects can be 'fast tracked' to America. It took the US Congress some time to reciprocate and consent to send people the other way (and they did that only when it looked as if Parliament might actually renege on the one-sided agreement), and to agree to actually provide some grounds for suspicion before they demanded British residents should be hauled off to US jurisdiction. But let that pass. The fast-track system has been used many times – almost always to extradite businesspeople, like the NatWest Three, whom the US has suspected of fraud, even if the offence was not committed in the US.

Once you are hauled off through this judicial imperialism, you are sunk. You will be held in custody, and your bank accounts frozen, so you can't even mount a defence. You will be hit with the most severe charges the US can muster, such as 'racketeering', originally designed to get mafia members jailed for thirty years and more, but commonly used as a threat so that you will avoid the risk of being convicted plead guilty to some lesser charge, notching up a 'success' for the prosecutor. This is what passes for justice in the US.

Assange may be extradited – no, inevitably will be extradited – to the US on some charge like conspiracy to steal secret documents. But once on US soil, the full might of America's anti-terrorist laws will be thrown against him. Maybe that is right, since his actions – like publishing lists of sensitive potential terrorist targets – put US lives at risk; but some people might think there's a big difference between that and actually blowing up skyscrapers full of people. Whatever the rights and wrongs, the UK authorities will meekly hand him over. They would do the same for you and me. But this is what passes for justice in the UK.