WikiLetters: Pollitt on Assange
I was delighted with Katha Pollitt’s “The Case of Julian Assange” [“Subject to Debate,” Jan. 10/17]. She dared to challenge the consensus view of the left media, namely, that because Assange leaked information that the public has a right to know, he must also be innocent of rape. Pollitt not only decisively proved her point, she also shook her finger at fellow progressives, including Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn. She has renewed my faith in The Nation’s editorial policy.
Maple Glen, Pa.
Being attacked by Katha Pollitt is an honor, but she misrepresents me and the points I made regarding the dubious sex charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Pollitt accuses me of making light of rape in my article—specifically of the Swedish charges against Assange. In fact, as I wrote, I take the charge of rape, including date rape, very seriously, but Sweden isn’t charging Assange with rape.
Pollitt repeatedly makes the journalistically inexcusable error of talking about Assange as if he is guilty, as when she says, “It’s been known for some time that Assange was accused of using his body weight to force sex on one woman.” That’s pretty slippery wording—not saying it’s “known” that he did such a thing, just that it’s “known” that he’s been accused of it. But Pollitt goes on to say he penetrated a second woman without a condom while she was asleep, conveying the clear impression that it is a fact. It is not a fact; it is an allegation by the alleged victim.
Furthermore, this woman said the alleged (a word Pollitt doesn’t seem to like using) act happened not while she was asleep but while she was “half-asleep.” Initiating intercourse with a sleeping woman might be offensive and perhaps criminal. But what the hell does “half-asleep” mean? Could a guy know whether he’s hearing yes or no? What if Assange was “half-asleep” too? Is anyone culpable? Remember, this is two adults in bed who had already had consensual sex, making it all the more likely that Assange might have misunderstood his “half-asleep” partner’s level of enthusiasm.
As for “sex by surprise” (not my terminology), which referred to the other alleged victim’s claims that Assange deliberately sabotaged a condom and continued having sex after it “broke”: on what basis does she know he deliberately damaged it, and how would she know he knew it broke? These are two pretty sorry cases of “rape.” In fact, the leader of Women Against Rape, a British feminist organization, ridicules the charges (I quoted her). I also made the point, ignored by Pollitt, that my investigation of Interpol’s records showed Sweden had sought only two Interpol red alerts for detention of people on sex charges in all of 2010. One was a Swedish national facing multiple charges of child sex. The other was Assange, wanted only for questioning on the two women’s complaints. Calling in Interpol was a remarkable case of overkill and raises questions of political motivation, particularly given the US government’s venomous antipathy toward Assange.