The world was shocked, and it was up to the US to choose how to react. They could opt for contrition, or they could discredit and shoot the messenger.
Contrition would be humiliating but could save democracy by giving it a fresh start. On the other hand, pursuing Assange — as they did bin Laden — would play well at home, but elsewhere might make the US seem like an international thug that uses human rights as a smokescreen for its totalitarian behaviour and its disregard for the lives of the ordinary citizens of Afghanistan and Iraq.
There is little doubt that they have chosen the latter. They are confident they will get Assange in the end as they got bin Laden, and they are waiting patiently for the pieces to fall into place.
The US pursuit of Assange is being played out with what is largely the cooperation of other western democracies. Last week the legal system in the UK rejected his appeal against extradition to Sweden.
Guardian columnist Amy Goodman pointed out that the UK government could overrule the court if it wanted to. It did this when it intervened in the 1998 Pinochet extradition case when it allowed the former dictator to return home to Chile. It looks as if they did a favour for Pinochet that they won't for Assange. Are crimes against humanity more forgivable than the allegations without charges that Assange is facing in Sweden?
Rightfully Australia should have no small part to play in the fate of one of its own. But do we ourselves care whether Assange ends up with a lengthy jail sentence or possibly the death penalty for his whistle blowing?
Some do. Last December former prime minister Malcolm Fraser and several dozen public figures called on then Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd to ensure Assange is protected from 'rendition' to the US. The signers expressed concern that 'the chances of Mr Assange receiving a fair trial in the United States appear remote'.
Unfortunately Rudd's initial support for Assange was not sustained, and on Thursday his successor Bob Carr almost laughably reduced the issue to quantifying the support Assange has received, insisting that 'there's been no Australian who's received more consular support in a comparable period than Mr Assange'.
As if Carr, as a self-professed man of letters, cannot see the broader implications of Assange's plight for the future of democracy.