Color me surprised, because events in the Julian Assange extradition saga are moving more quickly than I’d anticipated. This week we’ve already learned that most of the likely contenders to be the next British Prime Minister aren’t opposed to extraditing Assange and may allow the process to take place without intervention. (Assuming a court agrees, of course.) But when writing about that event, I pointed out that Sweden might have first dibs on collecting the Wikileaks founder and putting him on trial for rape.

I don’t know if someone from the White House has been putting a bug in the Swedes’ ears, but they are reportedly backing down on their claim now and passing on extraditing him themselves. (Associated Press)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should not be extradited to Sweden for a revived rape investigation, but should still be questioned in the case while he is imprisoned in Britain, a Swedish court ruled Monday,

The ruling by the Uppsala District Court doesn’t mean the preliminary investigation must be abandoned, only that Assange doesn’t face extradition to Sweden any time soon.

Eva-Marie Persson, Sweden’s deputy director of public prosecutions, said she has not decided whether to appeal.

That strikes me as more than a little confusing. The prosecutors in Sweden want to reserve the right to question Assange in England, presumably in relation to the rape charges. But what benefit do they receive from questioning him if they’re ruling out bringing him back to stand trial? I suppose they could convict him in absentia and just wait to see what the United States does with him, but that’s probably not going to provide much consolation to the victim.

In any event, that’s Sweden’s business and I suppose we should leave them to handle the case as they see fit. In the meantime, their decision clears yet another major hurdle in terms of getting our hands on Assange, bringing him to Quantico and putting him on trial. That’s not a done deal, however, because a Britsh court will still have to go along with the plan and Assange will be fighting extradition every step of the way.

To complicate matters, as we’ve discussed here previously, the clock is still ticking in terms of the statute of limitations. The five-year limit for most federal crimes has already expired. But as Andrew McCarthy reported back in April, there is one exception to that rule found in Section 2332b of the penal code, that pushes the deadline out to eight years in cases of “acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries.”

Even under the eight-year standard, we’re still cutting it close. But if the Brits can manage to get things wrapped up efficiently, we might still have a shot at him. And then all of the people in the United States who are insisting Assange is a journalist and thereby protected from prosecution will start an entirely new chapter in this debate.