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Partner at Swedish law firm counseling WikiLeaks boss' accusers helped in CIA torture rendition
Best-selling spy thriller author Thomas Bodström ─ an attorney whose firm represents the two Swedish women making the notorious sex charges against WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange ─ knows better than most people that truth is stranger than fiction.
As Sweden’s Minister of Justice, Bodström helped his nation in 2001 secretly turn over to the Central Intelligence Agency two asylum-seekers suspected by the CIA of terror, according to materials recently researched via Google by my Justice Integrity Project and by the Legal Schnauzer blog of Roger Shuler. Shuler broke the story Jan. 11 on his blog, ”Lawyer for Assange Accusers Has Apparent Ties to CIA and Torture.”
The CIA flew the terror suspects to Egypt for torture as part of the decade’s rendition effort requiring secret, high-level Swedish cooperation. Assange is the subject of a recent global manhunt by the Swedes seeking him for sex questioning. The United States is investigating him intensely, but has not filed charges. But Assange can take only cold comfort that Sweden, under international pressure, eventually awarded the 2001 asylum seekers damages for torture.
On Jan. 11, Assange’s attorneys spoke of their fears that if Great Britain sends their client to Sweden for an inquiry on sex charges he could end up being sent by Sweden to the United States on spy charges. There, the defense lawyers said, Assange could face death or imprisonment at Guantanamo in Cuba, where the Bush and Obama administrations can hold so-called terrorists almost indefinitely with minimal due process.
As a parallel development, the Obama administration has used the disclosures as rationale for a wide-ranging crackdown not simply against WikiLeaks but against anyone in government or the media, particularly the web-based media, who might disclose secrets that the government regards as threatening national security. Our project summarized these developments this week in a column, “Whistleblower Says: Obama’s DoJ Declares War on Whistleblowers.”
Bodström is sometimes described as “the John Grisham of Sweden.” He left his parliament seat last year to move to the United States for six months, citing a need for family time and to write another book.
Is Bodström again cooperating with U.S. authorities in their all-out effort to save the United States, Sweden – and perhaps Bodström himself – from further embarrassment caused by cables WikiLeaks might release from its still-secret trove?
Or are Swedish authorities proceeding normally, as they claim, in launching a global Interpol manhunt to capture Assange to question him about precisely how and why he engaged in sex-without-a-condom last summer with two women who invited him separately to stay with them in their beds while he was on a speaking tour?
Whatever the case, the role of Bodström’s firm in helping initiate the sex claims -– which are not criminal charges -– inevitably bring scrutiny upon his motives, background and law partner Claes Borgström, a prominent feminist and, like Bodström, a former official in the Social Democratic Party and the primary advocate in the complaint initiated by the firm Borgström and Bodström.
Update: Borgström wrote me to stress that this column should reflect that he, not Bodström, represents the two women involved in the Assange matter. At least in the United States and with a small firm, a client is usually ascribed to a firm both in common parlance and for certain formal purposes, such as conflict-of-interest checks.
Lawyers for Assange made news Jan. 11 by saying their client could be “detained at Guantanamo Bay” or subject to the death penalty if he is extradited from Britain to Sweden, which could lead to extradition or “illegal rendition” to the U.S. The lawyers issued the statement, according to a Huffington Post report, as the WikiLeaks founder appeared in a U.K. court to schedule his extradition hearing for questioning in Sweden over alleged sex crimes.
It’s not just Assange and his attorneys who fear trumped-up charges against Assange. Critics in Sweden are saying that their government has been jeopardizing their country’s hard-won reputation for political neutrality and human rights. In November, Sweden’s parliament announced that it would probe U.S. embassy surveillance of Swedish citizens revealed by WikiLeaks and its media partners.
Political Prosecutions At Home and Abroad
The legal reform project I founded last year got its start investigating the kinds of political prosecutions that became notorious in the United States during the Bush administration in 2007 after revelations that the Justice Department had purged nine U.S. attorneys for political reasons the previous year. Digging deep in such cases, one often finds that some prosecutors use every possible tool to destroy a target under the guise of enforcing the law.
The conventional wisdom is that such prosecutions under Bush were a temporary aberration, perhaps encouraged by then-White House adviser Karl Rove out of partisan zeal before he resigned in mid-2007. But our research has concluded that political interference in the justice system is a serious, longstanding problem blighting both parties and largely ignored by such watchdog institutions as the traditional news media.
The probe of Assange on both sex and spy charges shows how political prosecutions dishonor other nations as well, and carry the potential for undermining web-based news distribution systems that currently provide one of best hopes for citizen oversight of government abuse of power.
Last week, our project published a Connecticut Watchdog column headlined, “Rove Suspected of Role In Swedish WikiLeaks Probe.” Rove has long advised Sweden’s governing Moderate Party and is well-positioned as a White House veteran of earlier rendition efforts to counsel leaders about the political and media dimensions on the capture of the nomadic Assange.
The column attracted widespread readership and follow-ups elsewhere because of Rove’s reputation. The column also attracted several conservative critics, who said Rove’s statement on his website bio that he has advised Sweden’s governing Moderate Party does not prove that he has specifically advised Prime Minister Fredric Reinfeldt or his administration about WikiLeaks.
Failing to receive a response from Rove for comment, I hosted one of his longtime friends, Timbro Media Institute Executive Director Roland P. Martinsson, on my “Washington Update” public affairs radio show Jan. 6. Martinsson, a leader of Scandinavia’s leading conservative, free-market think tank, called for Assange’s arrest and said there’s no evidence Rove is involved with Reinfeldt or WikiLeaks.
Prof. Brian Palmer of Uppsala University, a Reinfeldt biographer and one of my sources for Reinfeldt’s links to Rove, was the guest Jan. 13 on the show, which can be heard live at noon (ET) worldwide or by archive later on the My Technology Lawyer radio network. Listener and dial-in question information is available on the show’s website. I am thrilled also to be a guest discussing this next Sunday on Connecticut Watchdog’s radio show hosted by George Gombossy.
What follows are further reports drawn from the public record about irregularities in the Assange prosecutions. They paint a picture suspiciously like those of some of the more infamous political prosecutions in the United States of recent years, but as ever this is only a step along the way in investigating what really happened.
The Accusers’ Lawyer
Let’s start with a Wikipedia bio.
Thomas Lennart Bodström is a Swedish politician and member of the Swedish Social Democratic Party. He was the Swedish Minister for Justice in the two last succeeding governments of the Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson, from 2000 to 2006. Since October 2006 until October 2010 he was the chairman of the Riksdags committee for juridical issues….
Thomas Bodström is the son of Lennart Bodström, Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs 1982–1985 in the Olof Palme government. In his youth, however, Thomas Bodström was not involved in party politics. Instead, his first brush with media attention came as a football player… He took interest in international affairs and in 1999 he joined the board of the Swedish branch of the international organisation Lawyers Without Borders.
His role in the CIA rendition of two terror subjects in 2001 has become controversial in Sweden after United Nations and Swedish officials began issuing reports. For example, the Swedish news organization The Local reported in 2006, “Sweden broke torture ban during CIA deportation.”
Swedish officials just looked on while US agents mistreated Mohammad Alzery, along with fellow Eyptian Ahmed Agiza, at Stockholm’s Bromma Airport,” according to the news report. “This very serious indeed for Sweden,” said Anna Wigenmark, a lawyer at human rights group the Swedish Helsinki Committee, who represented Alzery at the UN.
Who’s To Blame?
Bodström has long minimized this role authorizing the 2001 rendition. He and former Prime Minister Göran Persson have said that decision-making was a group-effort, with the key choices made by then-Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, who was assassinated in 2003. Bodström said that he only became aware of CIA involvement Jan. 7, 2002 at a meeting with the then-head of the security police, Säpo.
But Lindh’s friend and former communications director, Eva Franchell, wrote “The Friend,” a 2009 book that implicated Bodström and Persson. According to press reports in 2009, Franchell wrote that Bodström learned about the rendition at the same time as her late boss, Dec. 17, the day before U.S. authorities flew the men to Egypt. Franchell’s book also said the United States had threatened Sweden with heavy trade sanctions unless the nation complied with the rendition.
Even accepting Bodström’s defense, his government’s overall cooperation with renditions undercuts claims by Sweden’s establishment that its justice system is immune from political pressure, including from the United States.
Instead, those who delve into those matters can see beneath the surface a pattern of human rights rhetoric that coexists with behind-the-scenes battles over whether the nation would live up to such aspirations. For example, a start-up group Stop NATO Sweden last year published a long white paper, ”From Neutrality to NATO.” It documented how leaders of major parties in Sweden have been supporting the U.S.-dominated North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in ways incompatible with Sweden’s neutrality traditions.
In December, a Swedish medical school professor and noted human rights advocate wrote a hard-hitting column headlined, “Assange Buried the Swedish Neutrality Myth.” Dr. Marcello Vittorio Ferrada-Noli wrote that Sweden can no longer enjoy the image “of a modern, independent, democratic and non-aligned country” because of WikiLeaks, and therefore is embarked on what he called “revenge.”
His next column Jan. 11 was headlined, “The Swedish political crusade against Assange and WikiLeaks.” It argued that Bodström and his law partner initiated the questionable sex charges that obscured Bodstrom’s dealings with U.S. authorities, as well as scandalous sellouts by officials since then of Swedish business interests.
The validity of Sweden’s sex crime investigation has been debated in many quarters and is conveniently framed by an exchange of open letters last month between filmmaker Michael Moore and a Swedish defender of its procedures.
The ending of this thriller is not in sight. Without the power of subpoena, scriveners can only advance the plot incrementally by bringing forward such “new” material about the pasts of such an important characters in this saga as those representing Assange’s accusers. Our project attempted to contact them for comment without success before publication. We shall continue, and provide updates here.
In the meantime, one has to wonder why the lawyer background isn’t more widely known, at least in the United States. This is particularly true of Bodström, who for so long was so prominent in government and elsewhere in such interesting ways. The background is all public. Bonnier AB, Sweden’s most important media company and also highly influential in government and diplomacy, has vast resources to connect the dots for its readers, for example. So do the major U.S. news organizations.
Is there something boring about a handsome, best-selling author, former football star like Bodström, who served as one of Europe’s top legal officials and is now embroiled in major international sex scandal and political intrigue? What if the scandal ultimately threatens to restrict the world’s whistleblowers, reporters and their readers from learning what’s in government documents?
Executive Director, Justice Integrity Project
Justice Integrity Project Executive Director Andrew Kreig has two decades experience as an attorney and non-profit executive in Washington, DC.
An author and longtime investigative reporter, his primary focus since 2008 has been exploring allegations of official corruption and other misconduct in federal agencies.
Last Updated (Thursday, 20 January 2011 12:11)