'Syria File' unlikely to affect Assange embassy standoff

Julian Assange, founder of the WikiLeaks website, is interviewed in London on October 8, 2011.

Story highlights

  • Saturday is extradition date for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
  • Assange is refusing to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London
  • WikiLeaks has begun release of e-mails it says will show Western business links to Syria
  • It could be "a calculated move" by Assange to show he's in control, human rights lawyer says

July 7 -- Saturday -- is the deadline that Britain's Supreme Court set for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to be extradited to Sweden. Swedish authorities want to question him because two women have accused him of sexual assault. Assange has not been charged and has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Meanwhile, Assange has refused for more than a week to emerge from the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He has been bunking there, protected from arrest under international law, while the South American country considers his bid for asylum.

Of course there would be another twist in this story. There always is.

On Thursday, WikiLeaks began to release what it says will amount to more than 2.4 million e-mails to and from Syrian politicians, government officials and companies. All of the e-mails were not released. WikiLeaks had published 41 e-mails as of Friday afternoon but promised to leak the remaining material later with the help of media partners.

"This could be a calculated move on Assange's part -- that he's trying to send a signal that says, 'I'm still in control even though I'm in the embassy,'" said Jared Genser, a noted international human rights attorney who has extensive experience in asylum cases and recently helped win freedom for Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

"What could also be happening here is that the people who work with Assange simply believe that things are awful in Syria and this information should get out now when there is focused attention of the situation," Genser said.

So what about July 7? It doesn't mean anything will happen, at least legally, Genser said.

The deadline was imposed by the United Kingdom's highest court and there's been no movement -- at least as of Thursday afternoon -- to amend it.

Sweden has always maintained that while Assange is in Britain, he is under the jurisdiction of the UK legal system. It's unlikely Sweden would act before the embassy standoff is resolved, experts tell CNN.

Assange could stay in the embassy for as long as the Ecuadorians allow it. If he leaves the embassy, British police say, he'll be arrested. Last week the police sent a note inside the building asking that Assange turn himself in, a tactic that clearly didn't work.

On Thursday, Assange released a statement describing the "Syrian Files" as "embarrassing to Syria" but "also embarrassing to Syria's opponents." WikiLeaks says the material will "reveal how the West and Western companies say one thing and do another."

CNN has not been able to verify the authenticity of e-mails made public Thursday.

CNN looked at the e-mails released Friday, but it will take more time to fully comprehend what they mean. They appear to contain ongoing conversations involving various names, events and apparent business transactions. As a result, one must get the full e-mail thread going back to its origination to report accurately and fairly the context and meaning of each e-mail.

The e-mails also are in a range of languages, including Arabic and Russian.

WikiLeaks said that the e-mails were exchanged between August 2006 to March 2012.

"There are journalists who have the means and the staffing to look through this content, and use database filters to analyze it, searching for key words or repeated phrases." said Kelly McBride, a media analyst with the Poynter Institute.

"But 2 million e-mails is ridiculous," she said. "This won't be done in a day or a few weeks."

That hasn't prevented news organizations across the globe from reporting about the Syrian files. Many reported the fact of the release without delving much into the substance of the e-mails. Israeli newspaper Haaretz questioned whether the release could put Syrian dissidents in danger.

WikiLeaks has said in the past that it relies on Internet crowdsourcing to sift through the voluminous leaks it releases. But, mostly, journalists have been doing analysis on its leaks, McBride said.

"Maybe there will be some motivated citizens who will dig through this and provide a little more heft to the analysis," she said. "But that hasn't really happened with WikiLeaks' releases in the past."

The e-mails will be released over the next two months and published in partnership with various media organizations around the globe, WikiLeaks said.

While journalists were trying to comprehend the latest leak, carnage continued in Syria.

The United Nations estimates that more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began 16 months ago.

Click here for complete coverage of the Syrian conflict.


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