Glenn Greenwald Defends WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange’s Asylum Claim In Radio Debate
AlterNet Radio’s Joshua Holland recently invited Guardian columnist (and former constitutional lawyer) Glenn Greenwald onto his show to defend Ecuador’s granting asylum to Julian Assange.
The asylum was granted based on the belief that if the UK were to extradite Assange to Sweden for questioning on sexual assault claims, Sweden would promptly extradite him to the United States, where a grand jury investigation is underway with the goal of indicting him on Espionage charges.
Based on the torturous treatment (see here and here and here) of alleged whisteblower PFC Bradley Manning, who presently stands trial for passing state secrets to WikiLeaks, Assange supporters believe the U.S. government has every intention of persecuting Assange as a political prisoner.
Greenwald makes a compelling case here, in one of the best debates I’ve listened to yet on this issue. Here are some highlights of the partial transcript:
JH: We have an international incident, a standoff if you will. Assange is holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The Brits say they’re not going to give him safe passage. The Swedes are not going to give him a guarantee that he won’t be extradited to the United States. That’s the situation we’re looking at.
GG: The important thing about that is that’s the initial position of the parties. Typically, when there’s international standoffs and countries are unable to resolve their difference they get together and negotiate. Thus far the Brits and the Swedes have been unwilling to negotiate with the Ecuadorians, which is what made the Ecuadorian government conclude that there was something else going on her. It made them believe that Assange’s fear of political persecution was well-grounded.
Now that they’ve granted asylum there have been a couple of additional meetings. Whether the parties have softened their positions in an attempt to get closer together is something I don’t know, but generally that’s what has happened. So what you’ve laid out is generally a beginning gambit. That’s the reason there’s a standstill.
JH: I think he’s citing the threat of extradition to the US in order to avoid facing these charges. In one sense what he’s asking for from Sweden is a little difficult for them to grant. There has been no extradition request made of the Swedes, and there are no charges here in the United States as far as we know. There were certainly reports that there was a sealed indictment. Wouldn’t the Swedes have to kind of concede that they don’t have a good and independent judiciary in order to grant that request?
GG: I think there are two issues to note. One is that you’re right that there have been no extradition requests that we know of from the United States to Sweden, nor have there been any publicly disclosed indictments. I don’t really place much credence in the report you referenced — the Stratfor emails that were leaked when Anonymous hacked into them, that there’s a sealed indictment. There may or may not be, but I don’t consider some Stratfor employee to be dispositive. I guess if you’re Assange you look at that and take it seriously, but to me that’s very much up in the air.
What we do know, though, is that there is a very aggressive and active grand jury investigation based in a northern district of Virginia that has been subpoenaing people and investigating whether or not Assange should be indicted under the Espionage Act. We know that prominent people in the government, like Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, and Eric Holder, the attorney general, have to varying degrees made clear that he should be prosecuted, that they want to prosecute him and that they are actively looking to do so. I think it would be very irrational to discount the extremely genuine threat that he faces from prosecution in the United States, especially given that this administration has proven its unprecedented fixation on criminally punishing people who leak information. I think that threat is very real.
You’re right that it would be odd for the Swedish government to give some sort of ironclad guarantee that they will not extradite him to the United States under any circumstances without having seen any extradition request. The odd aspect of this case is that Ecuador, a real country, has now granted political asylum to Assange in order to protect him from political persecution, and there is a need there for Sweden to negotiate if they want to get ahold of him in Sweden. They need to satisfy the Ecuadorians that this is not a ruse to get him to the United States. That makes the situation somewhat odd. Even if you believe that Sweden can’t, or that it would be hard to, issue some kind of hard and fast guarantee now, I think it’s very debatable.
Let’s assume that they couldn’t. Then what you do is sit down with Assange’s lawyers and the Ecuadorian government representatives and you say you can’t give him a guarantee, but you can make a public statement saying that we think that any attempt to prosecute Assange for Wikileaks’ disclosures would be a political crime. A political crime is not something under our extradition treaty that we can extradite for. So you take this position in advance that you consider this a political crime, but you still reserve the right to analyze the extradition request if and when it comes in.
Now will that be enough to assuage the Ecuadorians to withdraw their asylum or to Assange to go to Sweden? I don’t know, but I certainly think it’s worth the negotiation effort, and the fact that it hasn’t happened yet is why there is a lot of suspicion.
JH: There were a number of stories a few months back about the grand jury. They were also accompanied by various legal scholars expressing the opinion that it would be very difficult to charge Assange, given that the New York Times worked with him in publishing the cable leaks. How do you charge Assange without at least exposing the New York Times to the same charge, and if you do that you’d have a very tough First Amendment hurdle to overcome.
I’m not convinced the United States is actively trying to prosecute him because it’s a very tricky case to prosecute, and Assange is not the whistleblower or leaker. If anything he’s a publisher; he’s basically a journalist. Obviously Bradley Manning is accused of leaking documents, leaking classified information. It’s different to be the leaker and the acceptor of those leaks, isn’t it?
GG: Sure. I think you’re making an argument from a very legalist perspective, and it’s one that I wholeheartedly agree with. It would be an incredibly violent breech of the First Amendement guarantee of freedom of the press for Assange to be prosecuted for doing what media outlets do all the time, which is receive classified information from government sources, and then publish it in the public interest. As you pointed out, the New York Times published many of these same documents. They’ve not only done that, but they’ve published far more secrets than Julian Assange has ever dreamed of publishing, including top-secret information. The New York Times has published all kinds of top-secret designations, whereas Wikileaks never has. None of the documents leaked from the Iraq War and Afghanistan war logs or the diplomatic cables were top-secret. They were either classified or confidential, a much lower designation of secrecy.
From a strictly legal perspective you’re right. Nonetheless if you look at what the United States government has done over the past 10 years, the fact that something is legally dubious or difficult seems to be no bar from them doing it. This is the same government that’s assassinating its own citizens without due process of any kind, putting people in cages in Guantanamo without a whiff of due process. The prior administration got away with declaring torture as something other than torture. We see the constant manipulation of law for the benefit of the United States government. When you add on to that the very deferential posture of the federal courts when it comes to claims about national security — where all kinds of Muslims have been prosecuted for what looks to all kinds of scholars to be nothing other than First Amendment activity, like advocating for groups and putting YouTube clips on the Internet — I think it’s a lot easier to say in some abstract legal sense that it would be a difficult prosecution, but that’s far from the same thing as saying that it won’t happen and that it won’t be successful.
The other thing I would add is that the Justice Department doesn’t convene grand juries for fun. They do it only when they’re serious about prosecuting. They didn’t convene a grand jury during the Wall Street financial crisis because they weren’t serious about prosecuting. They didn’t convene one to investigate Bush’s torture crimes or eavesdropping crimes because they weren’t serious about prosecuting. They’ve convened a grand jury, they’ve had testimony, they’ve filed motions, and have been very active in this process leading to the very rational conclusion that they are serious. Whether they will go through with it or not nobody knows. It would be incredibly foolish for someone in Julian Assange’s position to blithely assume that it won’t happen, or that if it did happen it would succeed given the success of the United States in its court system over the last decade.
One argument I hear over and over again by Assange critics is “If the U.S. planned to request his extradition, why wouldn’t they just make that request to the UK? What would be the advantage of waiting until he is in Sweden?” Greenwald gives a couple reasons, but I believe this one in particular, to be very significant:
GG: […] The other aspect is that everything that would be done in Britain would be very transparent and public. We saw this with the Swedish extradition over the last year and a half. It’s all done in open court and all the proceedings are public. Sweden has a very unusual judicial system in that it has all kinds of levels of secrecy to their proceedings, especially in the pretrial stage that most Western nations would not even recognize as a justice system, let alone accept. There’s all kinds of condemnations of it, even from the US State Department. I don’t mean to suggest that they’re some tyrannical regime, but it is the case that this secrecy in their judicial system has always led Assange to fear that whatever the United States and Sweden did it would be away from the scrutiny of the public. It would be much easier than in Britain.
Finally, although the British government is very accommodating when it comes to the United States they have a very independent judiciary that has repeatedly ruled against the government and expressed disapproval of the United States in the war on terror. A lot of this would go through that court system. Sweden has a history of having the government just bypass its legislature, bypass the judiciary in order to comply with the requests of the United States — including in instances where the UN found that it’s lawless. He perceives that the transparency of the more established judiciary, and public opinion, would be much bigger hurdles to overcome if he were in Britain than if he were in Sweden where it could just be out of the public eye.
EU: France Is Engaging In Ethnic Cleansing
The European Union is considering taking legal action against France for violating EU’s discriminatory laws. President Nicolas Sarkozy’s right-winged government has been engaged in a massive deportation of Roma — also commonly referred to as ‘Gypsies’. This group has a long history of persecution in Europe. Like Jews, Roma gypsies were targeted for annihilation by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
According to France24:
There are between 10 million and 12 million Gypsies in the EU, most living in dire circumstances, victims of poverty, discrimination, violence, unemployment, poverty and bad housing. An estimated 1.5 million of them live in Romania, a country of 22 million, which has the largest population of Gypsies in Europe.
The group originates from Romania and Bulgaria — both members of the EU — and are therefore entitled by law to live in any member state of the EU, including France. But President Sarkozy contends that they are responsible for much of the country’s crime. France24 reports that he has called “the camps in which some of them live, sources of trafficking, exploitation of children and prostitution.” His Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux recently claimed that “over the past 18 months crime committed by Roma people has increased by 259 percent in Paris alone.”
It was reported that over 1,000 Roma had been deported in the month of June this year, alone. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso responded, at the time, with a veiled threat directed to the French President:
“Everyone in Europe must respect the law, and the governments must respect human rights, including those of minorities,” Barroso said in a speech to the European Parliament.
“Racism and xenophobia have no place in Europe. On such sensitive issues, when a problem arises, we must all act with responsibility,” he said.
But the call had little effect on the French government, which continued unabated with thousands of more Roma expulsions. In August, President Sarkozy announced “a raft of new draconian security measures, including plans to dismantle 300 unauthorised campsites within three months.” Opinon polls in August “showed that 79 percent of [French] voters approved of measures to dismantle the camps, and similar majorities backing other aspects of his law and order policy.”
Yesterday, Canadian TV disclosed that in the most “recent weeks, French authorities have dismantled more than 100 illegal camps and deported more than 1,000 Gypsies.” In response, the EU finally decided to escalate its efforts in forcing France into complying with EU laws:
EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said she was appalled by the expulsions, “which gave that impression that people are being removed from a member state of the European Union just because they belong to an ethnic minority.”
This “is a situation that I had thought that Europe would not have to witness again after the second World War,” she told a news conference, adding “the commission will have no choice but to initiate infringement procedures against France.”
France could ultimately be slapped with a fine by the European Court of Justice if its expulsions are found to have breached EU law. […]
“After 11 years of experience on the commission, I even go further: This is a disgrace,” she said. “Discrimination on the basis or ethnic origin or race has no place in Europe.“
She also harshly criticized French authorities for telling the EU commission that it was not discriminating against Roma — a claim apparently contradicted by news reports of a government letter ordering regional officials to speed up a crackdown on illegal Roma camps.
“It is my deepest regret that political assurances given by two French ministers is now openly contradicted,” Reding said.
She was speaking about France’s immigration minister, Eric Besson, and its European affairs minister, Pierre Lellouche. Besson on Monday denied any knowledge of the reported Interior Ministry letter and did not speak to reporters Tuesday at a Brussels meeting on asylum issues. […]
Amnesty International had recently accused the EU of “turning a blind eye” to France’s ethnic cleansing:
Amnesty said the EU should penalize countries that have persistently failed to uphold the human rights of Roma. Among the harshest measures applicable under the charter of fundamental rights that came into force with the Lisbon treaty last year is the withdrawal of voting rights, or even expulsion from the union.
“The EU under the Lisbon Treaty…has the responsibility to address human rights within the 27 member states,” said Amnesty’s executive officer for legal affairs in the European Union, Susanna Mehtonen.
The Guardian reports recent Roma expulsions have been occurring in other parts of the EU, including Denmark, Belgium, Italy, and Germany. Acts of discrimination and physical violence against the Roma have been reported in Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria.
Here’s Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! discussing these recent developments with András Biró:
Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize Speech Incites Neo-Con Cartwheels
President Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize Speech, in my opinion, was an attempt to somehow mesh Candidate Obama — the principled, compassionate, mindful leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize — to President Obama — torch bearer of the neo-con commitment to open-ended warring.
He started off on a semi-defensive tone, giving something of a broad justification for embarking on an indefinite commitment to more killing and dying in occupied Afghanistan. He then transformed into the more thoughtful, sensible, Candidate Obama persona — the one that artfully taps into secular humanistic sensibilities. A little something for everyone, I guess …
In all fairness to Obama, he never should have been awarded this honor, and he somewhat acknowledged that fact. So it was by no fault of his own that he had to somehow overcome this uncomfortable, somewhat vicarious predicament. And from the favorable reception this speech has been getting from both the Left and Right, it’s safe to conclude he pulled it off — politically-speaking. You know you are the rhetorical master when you deliver a speech that:
It was as if Obama was saying: even THIS president doesn’t do canapés and champagne with European peaceniks! Hoo-ah! After the speech, Karl Rove was crowing, if you can crow by Twitter. “Tweeted that Gerson and Thiessen had gone to work at the Obama White House,” he e-mailed me—Gerson and Thiessen being the two neo-con wordsmiths in the Bush shop.
and also garners support from left-of-center columnists like Joe Klein of Time:
“How does a rookie President, having been granted the Nobel Peace Prize, go about earning it? Well, he can start by giving the sort of Nobel lecture that Barack Obama just did, an intellectually rigorous and morally lucid speech that balanced the rationale for going to war against the need to build a more peaceful and equitable world.”
Here are a couple things from the speech that managed to exorcise my ire:
1. The beginning of Obama’s speech, where he resorted to exaggerated, simplistic notions — i.e. ‘neo-con speak’ — to try to justify his Afghanistan decision:
“For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms.”
This part really disappointed me — that he would resort to this kind of charged-up demagoguery. He has never been one to shy away from complexity in making his case to the American people. His sudden fallback on words like “evil,” and conjuring up images of Adolph Hitler to justify his decision in Afghanistan, will lead many discerning viewers to question his underlying sincerity; especially after eight years of George W. Bush misleading us into wars, committing war crimes, and trampling upon our Constitutional rights — all under the guise of that same simplistic imagery. It’s as if Obama himself has come to recognize that his own substantive case for war is somehow unconvincing on its own merits.
Yes, we are all keenly aware that there’s a small band of loosely connected thugs (al Qaeda), which poses a threat — on some level — to American security. But don’t even try and muddy that threat with Adolph Hitler imagery — a dictator of an industrial nation that had one of the most powerful militaries in the world; one who bombed and invaded country after country, committing genocide against Jews and other innocents, and who ultimately left over 65 million dead in his wake. It’s a disingenuous comparison. The world faces no equivalent threat to Nazi Germany, and this kind of demagoguery has been used far too often — as of late — by disingenuous leaders seeking to justify unnecessary wars.
World War II was a necessary war, but Iraq was not — something he acknowledged, if only by its omission from his speech. But a continued military escalation in Afghanistan is also unnecessary. The tragic consequences of neo-con warmongering has all but ensured that exaggerated threats leveled as a run-up to military escalation is only going to fall on deaf ears, and his doing so only undermines America’s ‘new and improved’ image abroad.
2. Obama’s speech then pivoted to a more idealistic discussion on world responsibility — one where all countries are subjected to the same standards:
To begin with, I believe that all nations — strong and weak alike — must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. I — like any head of state — reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation. Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don’t. […]
Furthermore, America — in fact, no nation — can insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves. For when we don’t, our actions appear arbitrary and undercut the legitimacy of future interventions, no matter how justified. […]
Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America’s commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. (Applause.) And we honor — we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it’s easy, but when it is hard. […]
Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted.
This one almost made me laugh. Mr. President, clearly this rings hollow to anyone who’s been following your continued cover up of Bush Administration war crimes and your continuation of indefinite detention. Hell — let’s put your predecessor’s illegalities (and your cover up and perpetuation of them) aside for a second. You extend this same “exceptionalism” — this same exemption from international law — to another country: Israel. Richard Goldstone’s UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict produced a credible, scathing report documenting Israeli and Hamas war crimes. You, your administration, and the U.S. Congress immediately discarded it outright using flimsy, ridiculous, unsupportable excuses, as if international laws shouldn’t apply to Israel either.
It appears that much of his speech’s positive feedback from the Left has been directed at his placing recognition on the historic role of war in helping to actually foster peace. He brought up the Balkans as an example. It’s a legitimate point; there are times when war is absolutely necessary in preserving or restoring peace. And yes, the U.S. has willfully assumed a great deal of the world’s burden on this front, paying dearly in American lives and treasure.
There are very few who would look back on history and contend that the U.S. should have stayed out of the 2nd World War, or shouldn’t have intervened — the embarrassingly few times we actually did — to stop genocide. The problem I have is he’s obviously attempting to conflate these noble causes of war with something unrelated: Afghanistan.
Obama is not sending 30,000 additional troops to Darfur or to the Congo to save millions of civilian lives. We’re sending young Americans to prop up a corrupt and illegitimate regime in Afghanistan that has its hands deep into the world’s heroin industry. And this is supposedly vital to U.S. security interests, only because there are fewer than 100 cave-dwelling al Qaeda operatives somewhere between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Obama is a master orator — I give him that.
Having said all this, the entirety of Obama’s speech was not utterly deplorable — in fact, he’s incapable of delivering a bad speech. But overall, it rang hollow to me, leaving me with the following impressions:
- He knew, as we all did, that he had NO BUSINESS being in Oslo, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. (He cannot be blamed for this.)
- In using neo-con, war-mongering rhetoric overseas, he slightly diminished America’s ‘new’ standing in the world, as well as his own image, while simultaneously giving the now-ridiculed neo-cons a HUGE moral victory; a big ‘told you so’. It felt like he somehow substantiated their despicable and dishonest methods by exhibiting lines from their very own playbook, word for word, to reach a similar ends. How appalling, after all the calamity they inflicted upon this country and this world.
Have we finally seen the real Obama?
Court Listens To Serbian Leader Phone Tap: Talks Of Exterminating Muslims
Radovan Karadzic, the Serbian leader believed to be the mastermind of the Serbian-Bosnian conflict — which resulted in the death of over 100,000 people — has refused to leave his prison cell at The Hague, effectively boycotting his own trial. Karadizic is charged with two acts of genocide and nine other war crimes, and […]
Is the World Dumping the American Dollar as its Global Currency?
Robert Fisk of the Independent is reporting today: In the most profound financial change in recent Middle East history, Gulf Arabs are planning – along with China, Russia, Japan and France – to end dollar dealings for oil, moving instead to a basket of currencies including the Japanese yen and Chinese yuan, the euro, gold […]