LONDON, Dec. 7, 2010 -- A British judge today ordered WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange held without bail today on four charges related to a Swedish sex crimes investigation. Whether Assange will be held to account for the release of confidential U.S. documents is yet to be seen.
Assange, an Australian hacker, drew the ire of the United States and some in the international community after his organizaton released over 250,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables. Some of them were embarrassing to U.S. and foreign officials; others related to sensitive sites vital to America's national security.
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The Magistrate's Court judge in London ordered him held on the international arrest warrant, saying that Assange has the means and the cause to fail to surrender. The decision prompted an audible gasp in the courtroom. Assange's lawyers had expressed confidence that he would be granted bail, even offering conditions including wearing an electronic tag.
Seated in the court's dock enclosed in thick glass, a smiling Assange waved to his supporters in the gallery, the first time he has appeared in public in 31 days. Assange was hesitant to reveal his address, publicly offering only an address in Victoria, Australia. Assange's lawyers told the judge that he will provide a U.K. address, but only in private for his safety and privacy.
Assange listened as prosecutors read charges, detailing the accusations from two Swedish women that include rape, sexual molestation and coercion.
One woman, identified as Miss A, claims that on Aug. 14, Assange "forcibly parted her legs, preventing her from moving," "then had intercourse without a condom" despite her protests. On Aug 18, he allegedly coerced her again.
A second woman, labeled Miss W, said on Aug. 17 that Assange had unprotected sex with her while she was asleep.
Assange has denied the sex crimes charges and after his arrest, Assange's lawyer, Mark Stephens, told ABC News Assange is ready "to vindicate himself and clear his good name."
Assange, 39, told the judge he would fight extradition to Sweden. British legal experts tell ABC News that what would normally be a straightforward extradition under British law could be complicated by the prospect of an eventual extradition to the U.S. from Sweden to face charges related to WikiLeaks.
Judge: Case Not About WikiLeaks
Supporters, including heiress Jemima Khan and writer John Pilger, had offered to post bond of $150,000 but the judge brushed that aside.
Some in the courtroom smiled as the judge said the case is "not about Wikipedia," failing to correct his mistake. "It's about serious sexual offenses on three separate occasions, involving two separate victims," the judge said. "Extremely serious allegations."
Unless lawyers work out an agreement behind closed doors, Assange will next appear in court on Dec. 14 to argue again for release on bail.
Today's arrest will not stop the release of documents through WikiLeaks, a spokesman for the organization said.
"WikiLeaks is operational. We are continuing on the same track as laid out before," Kristinn Hrafnsson, spokesman for the group, told The Associated Press. "Any development with regards to Julian Assange will not change the plans we have with regards to the releases today and in the coming days."
Assange had previously warned that if he were detained, he would release so-called "doomsday files" allegedly containing classified information that could threaten American national security, though WikiLeaks said that today's detention will not trigger that release.
"We have over a long period of time distributed encrypted backups of material we have yet to release. All we have to do is release the password to that material, and it is instantly available," Assange told the London Sunday Times before his arrest.
The arrest came after Assange agreed Monday to be interviewed by British police.
Outside the courthouse today, Assange's supporters held signs claiming that today's arrest was politically motivated. It's a charge his accusers' lawyer in Sweden called nonsense.
"Julian Assange knows that what has happened in Stockholm and in the other city with my two clients has nothing whatsoever to do with WikiLeaks or the CIA or the United States or anything like that," said Claes Borgstron, a lawyer for the accusers.
Cables Target U.S. National Security Interests
The latest cable leak to anger U.S. authorities includes a list of installations vital to America's national security and interests.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in remarks to reporters Tuesday from Afghanistan, said Assange's arrest is "good news."
U.S. government officials say that the diplomatic leaks have already had an effect on relationships with individuals and governments around the world.
"We have gotten indications that there is at least some change in how individuals and governments cooperate with us, and share information," said Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan, without providing any details. There's a vague "sense that there has been some pulling back because of these revelations."
Speaking a press conference Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the leak could "create potential dangers for our friends and partners."
In a February 2009 cable, American envoys were asked to identify sensitive places "whose loss could critically impact the public health, economic security, and/or national and homeland security of the United States."
Diplomats responded with a list of installations from all over the world, including a mine located in the Congolese jungle, where cobalt is produced to make jet engines and medical scanners; the largest crude oil processing plant in the world located at Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia; a marine engineering firm in Edinburgh, Scotland "critical" for nuclear submarines; and a Canadian power plant that supplies the northeastern United States.
Clinton said she would not comment on "any specific cable," but said the theft of the cables was "deeply distressing."
Clinton then called on "countries around the world and businesses to assist us in preventing any of the consequences that could either endanger individuals or other interests internationally."
State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley told ABC News Monday that "for someone to release that kind of information is tantamount to sending a group like al Qaeda a prospective targeting list."
In a statement to ABC News, Hrafnsson said the cables offer additional proof that American diplomats were asked to engage in intelligence gathering, an allegation the State Department denies.
"The latest release from the embassy cables reveals U.S. embassies were asked to gather information on key infrastructure and resources without the knowledge of, or consultation with, their host governments," Hrafnsson told ABCNews.com.
"This further undermines claims made by the U.S. government that its embassy officials do not play an intelligence gathering role," he said.
Though Assange has not been arrested on charges relating to the released cables, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the release of the documents had put the United States at risk and said he authorized a criminal investigation into Assange.
"The national security of the United States has been put at risk; the lives of people who work for the American people has been put at risk; the American people themselves have been put at risk by these actions that are, I believe, arrogant, misguided and ultimately not helpful in any way. We are doing everything that we can," Holder said.
"We have a very serious, active, ongoing investigation that is criminal in nature. I authorized just last week a number of things to be done so that we can hopefully get to the bottom of this and hold people accountable, as they -- as they should be."