Julian Assange Of WikiLeaks Granted Bail; Swedish Prosecutors Appeal
Moments ago, a British Court decision granted WikiLeaks’ leader Julian Assange bail, inciting loud and exuberant cheers from a mob beyond the courthouse doors. The decision came with some strict conditions: £200,000 (approximately $315,900 US) in security, £40,000 (approx. $63,180 US) in surety from two people, ‘a curfew, daily reporting to police, and a surrender of his passport’.
Swedish prosecutors were given two hours to appeal the decision, and the Guardian is reporting that they have in fact opted to do so. As a result Assange heads back to his prison cell until the appeal is heard at the High Court. Assange’s attorney, Mark Stevens, added that the £200,000 could not be paid by check (as checks take seven days to clear). Therefore Assange was headed to jail regardless of the appeal, only so that he could find a way of producing the security in cash. To date, a total of £1 million in sureties have been pledged to support Assange’s bail application.
Stevens had this to say about the Swedish appeal:
“They [the Swedish authorities] clearly will not spare any expense to keep Mr Assange in jail.”
“This is really turning in to a show trial. We will be in court in the next 48 hours, they haven’t given us the courtesy to say when. It is an unfortunate state of affairs … but given their history of persecuting Mr Assange, it is perhaps not surprising.”
Sarah Ludford, the Liberal Democrat European justice and human rights spokeswoman, wrote a letter to the Guardian today asserting that Sweden is misusing the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) — using it for a fishing expedition — and thereby undermining the integrity of the EAW process. She states that:
“the EAW is restricted to ‘the purposes of conducting a criminal prosecution’, which must mean imminent charge followed by trial. If your reports are correct that the Swedish request for extradition of Assange under an EAW is ‘to face questioning’ or for ‘interview’, this would appear to conflict with the high court case of Asztaslos last February, which confirmed that it is not a legitimate purpose for an EAW to be used to conduct an investigation to see whether that person should be prosecuted.”
She goes on to say that for purposes of questioning — which is precisely the Swedish prosecutor’s stated reason for this EAW — national authorities should be using things like videoconferencing to conduct the interviews:
EU justice ministers last June called on national authorities not to misuse the EAW. Normal cross-border co-operation on collection of evidence or interrogation of suspects called “mutual legal assistance”, using for example videoconferencing or a summons for temporary transfer of a suspect, should be used when more appropriate.
Another of Assange’s attorneys, Jennifer Robinson, recently told DemocracyNow that before the EAWs were issued, Assange and his defense team had been rather aggressive about maintaining contact with the Swedish prosecutor. They repeatedly offered Assange’s full cooperation to interview with her, and each offer was rejected:
It’s important to note that Mr. Assange remained in Sweden for almost a month, in order to clear his name. While he was in Sweden, after the allegations came out, he was in touch with the prosecuting authorities and offered on numerous occasions to provide an interview in order to clear his name. Those offers were not taken up by the police.
He obviously has had to travel for work, and had meetings to attend, and in order to leave Sweden he sought specific permission of the prosecutor to leave on the grounds that there was an outstanding investigation, and she gave that permission. So he left Sweden lawfully, and without objection by the prosecuting authorities.
Since that time we have communicated through his Swedish counsel, on numerous occasions, offers to provide answers to the questions that she may have through other means — through teleconference, through video link, by attending an embassy here in the UK to provide that information, and all those offers were rejected.
It’s also important to remember that the prosecutor has not once issued a formal summons for his interrogation. So all of these communications have been informally, and in our view it’s disproportionate to seek an arrest warrant when voluntary cooperation has been offered.
Clearly, by demanding his extradition for mere questioning, the Swedish prosecutors are abusing the integrity of the EAW process. Considering they could have interviewed Assange at any given time leading up to the issuance of the EAWs, their entire motivation for the extradition request is called into question.
And shame on the UK for not rejecting the EAW on grounds that it is clearly being abused, according to its stated purpose. This entire legal proceeding is a farce.
It would appear that Sweden and the UK are merely buying time until the U.S. can put together its own frivolous extradition request.
War Crimes Catch Up With Israeli Officials: They Can No Longer Visit The UK
Ha’aretz is now confirming that the United Kingdom had in fact issued a warrant for former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s arrest — for alleged war crimes committed during Israel’s Gaza offensive, called ‘Operation Cast Lead’:
British sources reported late Monday that though a British court had issued an arrest warrant for Livni over war crimes allegedly committed in Gaza while she served as foreign minister, it annulled it upon discovering she was not in the U.K.
Livni served as foreign minister alongside Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak during the Israel Defense Forces offensive in Gaza. The three figures comprised the “troika” of top decision-makers who charted the course of the war.
The Guardian points out the significance of this arrest warrant, and goes on to explain that former Israeli leaders (no longer serving) lose their diplomatic immunity granted under the State Immunity Act:
The warrant marks the first time an Israeli minister or former minister has faced arrest in the UK and is evidence of a growing effort to pursue war crimes allegations under “universal jurisidiction”. Israel rejects these efforts as politically motivated, saying it acted in self-defence against Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza. […]
It is the second time in less than three months that lawyers have gone to Westminster magistrates court asking for a warrant for the arrest of an Israeli politician. In September the court was asked to issue one for the arrest of Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, under the 1988 Criminal Justice Act, which gives courts in England and Wales universal jurisdiction in war crimes cases.
Barak, who was attending a meeting at the Labour party conference in Brighton, escaped arrest after the Foreign Office told the court that he was a serving minister who would be meeting his British counterparts. The court ruled he enjoyed immunity under the State Immunity Act 1978.
According to Israeli sources, ministers who wish to visit the UK in a personal capacity have begun asking the Israeli embassy in London to arrange meetings with British officials. These offer legal protection against arrest.
Livni, crucially, cannot enjoy any such immunity as she is an ex-minister. Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister, is in the same position.
The Associated Press recalls how this universal jurisdiction concept was cited by Spain in arresting Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, and how this precedent has given activists in other countries inspiration to petition international courts to try officials for alleged war crimes. Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, tells the AP:
“This pleases those who believe that Israeli leaders long have violated international norms with impunity. […] We cannot talk tough on terrorism and be weak on war crimes,” Doyle said. “So I think the use of universal jurisdiction in these cases is a good thing. Parties in Israel must realize there is a consequence to their behavior. For decades they’ve violated Security Council resolutions and international law with little or no consequence,” he said.
Other Israeli officals have also been forced to cancel their trips to the United Kingdom after being tipped off of possible war crimes arrest warrants:
In 2005 a retired Israeli general, Doron Almog, returned to Israel immediately after landing in London because he was tipped off that British police planned to arrest him. The warrant against Almog — who oversaw the 2002 bombing of a Gaza home in which 14 people were killed along with a leading Palestinian militant — was later canceled.
Other Israeli leaders, including former military chief Moshe Yaalon and ex-internal security chief Avi Dichter, have canceled trips to Britain in recent years for the same reason.
The Guardian now reports that Israel is responding to Tzipi Livni’s war crimes warrant by imposing an Israeli government travel ‘ban’:
Israel hit back at Britain today over the arrest warrant issued for former foreign minister Tzipi Livni for alleged war crimes, warning that until the matter was resolved senior officials would not be visiting the UK.
Israelis prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, called the warrant absurd, the Ynet website reported.
The British ambassador, Tom Phillips, was summoned to the foreign ministry in Jerusalem where a senior Israeli official told him the row over Livni meant that Britain’s ability to play a role in the Middle East peace process had been damaged.
Perhaps Israel would be better served by taking the advice of its own Deputy Prime Minister, who told Ha’aretz:
Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor thinks Israel should establish its own independent committee to investigate Israel Defense Forces activity in the Gaza Strip during last winter’s Operation Cast Lead.
“I have faith in the army and it is my duty to protect it, its commanders and its soldiers – and the most effective tool for this is serious self-examination,” Meridor said in a recent interview with Haaretz. “A state that examines itself [protects itself from] harassment. Today, with the development of international law, one of the best means of defense is for a state to investigate itself.”
Which is exactly what Richard Goldstone has been saying, all along:
“I certainly hope that there will be sufficient drive within Israel, within the government and in the general public to force the Israeli government to set up an independent, open inquiry. And it can do it. It’s got a wonderful legal system, its got a great judicial system, its got retired judges who certainly, in my book, would earn the respect of the overwhelming number of people around the world, including the Arab world, who, if they held open, good faith inquiries, would put an end to this.”
Countries which consider themselves to be intrinsically ‘exceptional’ — immune from obeying international laws, and thumb their noses at allegations as serious as war crimes — will naturally become viewed as pariah states.
Now if we could just get someone to investigate Bush Administration war crimes …