Wikileaks tool wanted in Sweden on rape charge; Update: Prosecutors withdraw warrant; Update: One charge remains

Shouldn’t be hard for the cops to find him. Just follow the trail of slime.

The founder of the controversial whistleblower website WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, is wanted in Sweden where he has been accused of rape, the prosecutor’s office said Saturday.

“Julian Assange is wanted for two different issues, one of them is that he’s suspected of rape in Sweden,” the director of communications Karin Rosander told AFP.

He was unable to say what the other accusation was or whether the search warrant was international.

As it turns out, the other charge is “molestation,” which, interestingly, carries no jail time in Sweden. More details from Swedish paper The Local:

A source close to the case told the newspaper that two women in their twenties went to the police in Stockholm on Friday to speak about their recent encounters with Assange…

Assange spent time with one of the women at an apartment in Södermalm in Stockholm on Saturday night, while he met the other women in the nearby town of Enköping, according to Expressen. The prosecution authority said Assange was suspected of rape in the Enköping case and molestation in Stockholm…

Hrafnsson said Assange was still in Sweden and would “go to the police very quickly.”

Both women went to the police on the same day, but their interactions with him weren’t related? Hmmm. Still more from the Daily Beast:

“I want to believe this is some sort of trick against Julian,” said one of Assange’s closest supporters in Europe, clearly alarmed by the allegations and unwilling to allow his name to be used because “if this is a trick, I don’t want to be the next target.”…

The criminal charges in Sweden would appear to threaten the existence of WikiLeaks if only because the five-year-old whistleblowing website is so closely controlled by Assange personally. While Assange has boasted that he has a large network of supporters around the world, relatively few of his supporters have ever been identified publicly, creating suspicion among his many critics that WikiLeaks is largely a one-man operation and that if Assange disappeared, so would WikiLeaks. Assange, who leads a nomadic existence, mostly living in the homes of friends and supporters in several countries, communicates directly with news organizations and the public through the social-networking site Twitter, and he took to Twitter Saturday to defend himself…

The allegations come only weeks before Assange had planned to release another batch of leaked classified reports from the Pentagon, reportedly involving the American war in Afghanistan.

Coincidentally, the Journal’s out with a story this morning about how Pentagon lawyers are looking at ways to prosecute Wikileaks and perhaps Assange himself for publishing their secret documents. Which means the narrative lines on this story should fall neatly into two camps: The Wikileaks critics will believe that this cretin is guilty as sin and the Wikileaks supporters will insist it’s a U.S. op aimed at discrediting the guy to take down his site. I’ll give you one argument for each side. If it’s some sort of government dirty trick (which of course is what Wikileaks itself believes), a rape charge would seem to be an odd vehicle for it, no? Rape cases are hard to prove even under the best of circumstances, and if Assange walks due to lack of evidence, most people probably will end up assuming that this was an inept attempt to frame him. When it comes to sinister smear jobs, surely the feds can do better than that. As for the possibility that he did it, I don’t know how rapists’ minds work but to the extent that self-preservation enters into the equation, you would think this would be a moment when Assange would be keeping to himself, not out attacking women. He knows that the U.S. government is looking for him; the last thing he’d want to do right now is give Swedish police a reason to hunt him down. But as I say, that theory depends on the assumption that rapists act rationally in their planning to some degree and not strictly out of rage/impulse, so maybe it doesn’t work.

One other possibility on the “dirty trick” front: The U.S. does have an extradition treaty with Sweden (several, in fact), so the theory could be that they simply want to give the Swedes a pretext to haul Assange in and hold him until the Pentagon can file charges and ask that he be handed over. I won’t even pretend to guess how the Swedish foreign ministry and criminal justice system would handle a request like that when Assange hasn’t been convicted of anything yet. But if there’s even a slight possibility of it happening, presumably he won’t turn himself in after all and is already on his way out of the country.

Update: A total clusterfark.

The warrant for the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been withdrawn, the Swedish prosecutor’s office has confirmed, after chief prosecutor Eva Finné ruled that there were no grounds to suspect that he had committed rape.

That’s all there is right now. Note well: The claim that he was wanted for rape wasn’t based on anonymous sources or mere tabloid rumor. Scroll up and you’ll see that the prosecutor’s own spokesman was confirming it on the record. Why on earth would they go to the press with this before the D.A. had signed off on probable cause?

Update: Stranger and stranger.

“I don’t think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape,” chief prosecutor Eva Finne said, in announcing the withdrawal of the warrant. She did not address the status of the molestation case, a less serious charge that would not lead to an arrest warrant.

But Karin Rosander, a spokeswoman for the Swedish Prosecution Authority, told NBC News that the allegation of molestation remains. However, Rosander said that after a new prosecutor looked at the allegations, the arrest warrant was withdrawn because the severity of the case does not require an arrest at this stage.

Two different women came forward on the same day, and one of them turns out to be making a bogus charge but maybe not the other? Hmmmmmmm.