If you had been near Westminster Magistrates recently, you might have seen a figure emerge from a taxi and scurry inside. Had you spoken to him, you might have found him world-weary and in resigned mood. This was because of what he had just read in the Times – a man had been accused of molesting two women in Sweden and another of arranging the contract killing of his newlywed wife in South Africa. His heart must have sank as he read those words, because that was his days workload. His name was Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle and he was due to have Julian Assange and Shrien Derwani before him that day and ended up having to make two decisions on bail; one for man known for his elusive, nomadic lifestyle who had talked recently of “seeking asylum in Switzerland” and the other a wealthy and successful pillar of the community in a major British city accused of the, apparently motiveless, contract killing of his wife in South Africa.
In the case of Assange it was probably for the best, although I appreciate this will be of no comfort to him, to be out of the public gaze right now. The events springing from the publication of a cache of US diplomatic correspondence have fast spiralled out of his control and are starting to have a far wider impact than he ever dreamed. He might like to reflect on the lesson of the Babel Fish in Douglas Adams, something that by effectively removing all barriers to communication between races became the single greatest cause of war and conflict in the entire history of the galaxy. The documents are now in the public domain and we have accept the reality of that, whilst at the same time hoping that nothing there breaks a sufficiently important confidence that it leads to conflict. I personally hope that it won’t come to that; in fact, I believe that the archive will become a key historical reference source for generations to come, a unique snapshot in time of the mundane day to day work of the diplomatic corps of a major power in the early 21st century and the impressions and intelligence they came across; to be pored over by future generations like Suetonius or Machiavelli are today.
That the content is not news to many in the West is because they have read most of it already in the press and in the blogosphere; and surely that it is the point – these aren’t secrets, they are mostly gleaned from local media and general political gossip. I’m prepared to be proved wrong if a future release uncovers something truly secret, but my strong suspicion is that the high level confidential stuff isn’t here at all, that’s all sent by a more secure route; unless that is the world of espionage is a deal less exciting and hi – tech than I’ve been led to believe by messrs Le Carre and Forsyth. As for the risk of him being extradited to America, that is unlikely to happen; they already have the true culprit, Bradley Manning, and can charge him with whichever crime they want up to and including whatever their equivalent of High Treason is.
Perhaps a stay in Sweden would be better for him then, as from what I’ve seen when I was there I would feel sure that the accommodation will be an improvement on the Segregation Unit of Wandsworth nick, banged up with a load of sex offenders. The food’s not bad either, try the Pyttipanna. For the record, I think of him as I do the other man who came before the court that day, Shrien Derwani –that each is an intelligent, yet surprisingly naïve man, and I am going to take a lot of convincing that either of them is rapist or a murderer – that is for the authorities to prove in either case and nobody envies the task of either the Swedish or South African judge there.
In fact, I can imagine that when a man of rock star celebrity with a healthy interest in women is suddenly brought into contact with an array of adoring Swedish females, it would take the forbearance of a Saint to resist. He might have spent some time, however, talking to Swedish men first; this is a land with the strictest laws against rape in the western world and where the most common joke among men is “never sleep with a Swedish woman without her written permission”. In those circumstances a modicum of self control can save an awful lot of grief later.
Similarly, whilst I’ve never been in South Africa, I have been in Nigeria. Changing a large amount of money on the street (the rate is far better than the banks) and hiring a car and a driver with cash (not too many Visa signs there) are not at all unusual, and neither is the other thing he asked for. But what whoever it was that briefed him should have said as well is “don’t even attempt it without local, preferably family, contacts to do all that stuff for you.” If on the other hand you were a newly arrived oyibo, who had done his research and was keen to appear savvy and did indeed try to do all that stuff alone on your first ever visit – then when you ask the inevitable “can I see the real Africa” you can end up getting carjacked and having your wife abducted, raped and murdered and then get accused of arranging the whole thing yourself whilst simultaneously being linked to every unsolved carjacking involving an Indian.
Let us all hope that the question “can I see the real governments secrets ?” doesn’t have such a tragic ending.
Copyright ©2010 Savereo John