(updated below - Update II)
Every major media outlet blared overnight headlines that Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, had been criminally charged with rape and molestation in Sweden and arrested in abstentia. This morning, however, we find this:
Sweden Rescinds Warrant for WikiLeaks Founder
STOCKHOLM (AP) -- Swedish prosecutors have withdrawn an arrest warrant for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, saying the rape suspicions against him are unfounded.
In a brief statement Saturday, chief prosecutor Eva Finne says: ''I don't think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape.''
Swedish prosecutors on Saturday withdrew an arrest warrant for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, saying a rape allegation it was based on is unfounded.
The accusation was labeled a dirty trick by Julian Assange and his group, who are preparing to release a fresh batch of classified U.S. documents from the Afghan war.
Swedish prosecutors had urged Assange -- a nomadic 39-year-old Australian whose whereabouts were unclear -- to turn himself in to police to face questioning in one case involving suspicions of rape and another based on an accusation of molestation.
"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. . . 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 However, Rosander said that after a new prosecutor looked at the allegations, the arrest warrant was withdrawn because the severity of the case does not require an arrest at this stage.
There are a lot of lessons here, most of them obvious. In 2003, the ex-Marine and U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter -- who had become one of the most persuasive opponents of the attack on Iraq, repeatedly and presciently insisting that there was no evidence of WMD -- was the subject of a media smear campaign, accusing him of having engaged in criminal sex acts with adolescents. That led to commentary like this from the nation's sleaziest bottom-feeders:
A THEORY [Jonah Goldberg]
Maybe this has already been discussed. But it seems to me this Scott Ritter kiddie-sex bust might explain Ritter's sudden and inexplicable 180 on Iraq. Maybe they set him up in a sting? That sort of thing was standard op for the KGB. Just a thought.
Maybe one day we'll learn that an accusation is not proof of guilt. And the Swedish authorities who validated these charges and trumpeted them to the world -- only for them to be withdrawn less than 12 hours later -- ought to be investigated.
UPDATE: Speaking of unfounded smears, compare this, from Reuters, July 30 . . . .
"Mr. Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing," [Adm. Mike] Mullen said. "But the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family."
. . . . to this, from The Washington Post, August 11:
"We have yet to see any harm come to anyone in Afghanistan that we can directly tie to exposure in the WikiLeaks documents," [Pentagon spokesman Geoff] Morrell said.
And, for good meausre, add in this to the "blood on their hands" smear, from The New York Times, August 14:
There is a "fair chance" that a NATO jet inadvertently killed five Afghan civilians during a shootout with Taliban fighters in a village in southern Afghanistan earlier this week, an American official said Saturday.
And from The Los Angeles Times, today:
Three Afghan policemen were killed in an apparently errant coalition airstrike in Jowzjan province, in Afghanistan's north, NATO's International Security Assistance Force said. In Farah province, in western Afghanistan, a woman and two children were killed in an airstrike that was aimed at insurgents, it said, and expressed regret over the civilian deaths.
On an unrelated note, the claim that Scott Ritter's legal troubles in 2010 somehow contradict anything I wrote here is false; see this description of events from 2003 to understand why that was a smear campaign; see also: my comment here.
UPDATE II: Al Jazeera conducted an interview with Karin Rosanger, the spokeswoman for the Swedish Prosecution Authority, that is really quite bizarre, and raises still more questions about what happened here and why: