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Julian Assange freed on bail

Analysis: Assange's lawyer seems ideally suited to the task.

WikiLeaks Julian Assange
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange gestures inside a prison van with red windows as he leaves a London court on Dec. 14, 2010. Assange, represented by Geoffrey Robertson, was granted bail, but remained in police custody pending an appeal by Swedish prosecutors. (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

[Editor's note: Britain's high court granted bail to Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder wanted in Sweden for questioning over allegations of rape. Justice Duncan Ouseley on Thursday agreed with a decision by a senior district judge earlier in the week to release Assange on strict conditions: a 200,000 British pound ($312,000) cash deposit, plus 40,000 pounds more guaranteed and strict conditions on his movement, The Guardian newspaper reported. Despite being granted bail Tuesday, Assange had remained in Wandsworth prison as prosecutors gave notice they would appeal. Assange is fighting attempts to extradite him to Sweden for questioning over allegations of sexual misconduct including rape made by two female WikiLeaks volunteers, which he denies.]

When it comes to publicity and matters of principle, Julian Assange might well have met his match in Geoffrey Robertson.

Australians of a certain age will certainly appreciate Assange's choice of attorney to defend him against extradition to Sweden on rape charges, and possible prosecution in the United States on perhaps even graver grounds.

On the face of it, Robertson, an Australian who made a name for himself in Britain as a high-profile attorney, author and human rights defender, seems ideally suited to the task.

He is, in equal parts, a tough adversary of governments and their agents (he prosecuted the Malawian dictator Hastings Banda, defended dissidents detained by Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore and served as a judge on the United Nations war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone) and a celebrity in his own right (having defended such high-profile clients as Salman Rushdie, The Guardian newspaper and, for those who can remember, Oz magazine).

It seems a natural fit, knowing what the public does about the secretive, and by all accounts very peculiar, WikiLeaks founder. Assange, the man behind the recent public releases of thousands of damning diplomatic cables, is nothing if not dissenting. He is also a self-described human rights activist, an unapologetic publicity hound (though he told The New Yorker in an interview his insistence on presenting the sole public face of WikiLeaks was to protect his collaborators), and one of the most-mentioned names in the news cycle of late.

But Robertson's appearance to defend Assange at the Old Bailey on Tuesday will have more than a few of their compatriots wondering: did plain old nostalgia play a part in this high-voltage legal match-up?

Watch Assange speak after being released from jail:

In Australia, the Sydney born and bred Robertson is perhaps best known as the host of the once wildly-popular TV show "Hypotheticals." The program, first aired in the late 1980s, pitted Robertson against those of notable Australians from politics, sports and entertainment, requiring them to discuss contemporary issues by assuming imagined identities in hypothetical situations.

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Just as Americans of a certain generation gathered around their television sets to catch "60 Minutes," "Hypotheticals" was required weekly viewing in many a middle-class Australian households.

Chances are that Assange — who grew up on sleepy Magnetic Island in Australia's northeast and reportedly a precocious intellect with a social justice bent — was familiar with the program. Perhaps, like most of us, he was even admiring Robertson's formidable legal mind, astoundingly broad frame of reference, razor-sharp wit and take-no-prisoners approach to debate on tough issues of the day.

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Ellingham Hall, the country retreat of Vaughan Smith, where Julian Assange will reportedly stay upon being released on bail. Smith is a friend and supporter of Assange and founder of London’s Frontline Club.