(UPDATED)Swedish prosecutors today ramped up their pursuit of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange by authorizing Interpol to issue a so-called Red Notice, which asks foreign governments to arrest and extradite Assange to Sweden.
The prosecutors say he is wanted for questioning about accusations of sex crimes made against him by two women; he has not been charged with a crime. But the real peril here for Assange — whose whereabouts are unknown — is that if he ends up in the hands of Swedish authorities, the chances that he will be extradited to the United States rise significantly.
(Journalist Mark Leon Goldberg has a good explanation of what a Red Notice actually is. Assange is not on a “most wanted” list, as some headlines have put it.)
The Obama administration has made it clear that it wants very much to prosecute Assange for the disclosure of diplomatic cables — or for whatever other reason the Justice Department can think up. There has been talk of using the Espionage Act of 1917 to prosecute Assange, but legal experts told Salon this week that would be a difficult (and potentially dangerous) strategy.
CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin today speculated that U.S. prosecutors may have already obtained a sealed arrest warrant for Assange. So it’s not at all inconceivable that the Obama administration is applying pressure on the Swedish government to arrest Assange.
Finally, while it sometimes gets lost in the coverage, the Times today has a concise explanation of the accusations against Assange:
According to accounts the women gave to the police and friends, they each had consensual sexual encounters with Mr. Assange that became nonconsensual. One woman said that Mr. Assange had ignored her appeals to stop after a condom broke. The other woman said that she and Mr. Assange had begun a sexual encounter using a condom, but that Mr. Assange did not comply with her appeals to stop when it was no longer in use. Mr. Assange has questioned the veracity of those accounts.
That Sweden has turned to Interpol and a Red Notice to pursue Assange over these charges — and at this tense moment — is remarkable. A quick look through Interpol’s press release archives shows the use of Red Notices against those suspected of genocide, war crimes and terrorism.
UPDATE: As several commenters point out, Red Notices have in fact been used for alleged sex crimes in the past.