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.
Glenn Greenwald Debates David Frum on Universal Jurisdiction Over Torturers & On U.S. Aid to Israel
There are few ideologies I find as confounding, disjointed, and brazenly dishonest as neo-conservatism. Former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum, who debates Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, is far from an idiot. I wish he were, because I like to believe every pundit — regardless of where he lies on the political spectrum — honestly thinks the arguments he puts forward are based upon facts.
We like to believe the people whom we disagree with are as sincere as we are in finding the truth.
But there is an unshakable feeling I get each time I read a column by a neo-con that the statements he/she makes are in spite of the facts they know to be true. That they are intentionally misleading their readers. They seem to spend a great deal of time and effort cherry-picking facts and inventing narratives (i.e. “They hate us for our freedoms” — which Frum reasserts in this debate as the impetus for terrorism).
I’ve dismantled Frum’s propagandizing posts in the past, but it’s a lot more entertaining to watch the masterful and articulate Glenn Greenwald do it live on video.
Here they debate Universal Jurisdiction over alleged torturers, and then they butt heads on Frum’s recent statements that the U.S. should increase military aid to Israel in light of increased instability in the region.
MSNBC Pundits Push False Narrative On WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange
On MSNBC’s Jansing & Co, host Chris Jansing, The Washington Post Editorial Page’s Jonathan Capehart, and former GOP Congresswoman Susan Molinari attempt to create a fictitious narrative for WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange. They claim he’s anti-American, anti-Capitalist, and a hypocrite on his transparency agenda, seeing as how he’s ‘on the run’ from his own personal transparency. They appear with Salon’s Glenn Greenwald — the only one there to contest their allegations — who incidentally gets dropped for most of the discussion.
Capehart begins with this bizarre statement on Julian Assange’s motives:
“Clearly this is a person who has a beef with the United States. Apparently there’s some reports he’s got some information on a major American bank that he’s threatening to drop at the beginning of the year. Why he’s doing these things, exactly, I don’t know.” […]
“Beef with the United States”? “Why he’s doing these things“? — Are we to infer that publishing leaks by whistle blowers runs counter to Capehart’s journalistic integrity? I could understand a statement like this coming from a White House Press Secretary, but a journalist?
Capehart should be WikiLeaks’ biggest cheerleader. How are WikiLeaks’ document dumps any different than what the New York Times, the Washington Post, and 17 other newspapers did when they published the Pentagon Papers — secretly leaked to them by whistle blower Daniel Ellsberg nearly 30 years ago?
You can see the ‘anti-American’ narrative slowly developing here, and it only gets worse. Next Chris Jansing turns the discussion to the fact Julian Assange’s whereabouts are presently unknown, and why that’s relevant:
… The whole point of WikiLeaks, at least in some of the interviews that Julian Assange has given in the past, is that they want to create transparency. And yet most of the time we don’t know where this guy is. At one point, during the eruption of the volcano, he was ‘holed up’ in a house apparently in Reykjavík, Iceland. […]
Malanari adds to the pile-on, weaving it all together:
Well, obviously he doesn’t think he himself fits into the whole question of transparency. I think one can only conclude, based on what we’ve seen that he is hugely anti-American, somewhat anti-Capitalistic, although obviously WikiLeaks enjoys the benefits of an open Capitalistic society where the media is allowed to engage in accessing these leaks and putting them on the front page and then disseminating them. […]
Here’s a man who is destructive, and who sets guidelines for the United States government, and clearly only the United States, by rules and regulations that he feels he himself doesn’t have to live by, particularly when he’s being looked at as a potential rapist.
At this point, Glenn Greenwald is FINALLY back on the show, and allowed to speak (albeit briefly, since Jansing cuts him off in mid-sentence).
Jansing asks Glenn whether Assange has an anti-American, anti-corporate agenda, and if he is ‘on the run’, to which Glenn unloads on her and the other two:
Well, I think it’s amazing to listen to someone — like journalists — use McCarthyite techniques to say he’s anti-American, when in reality what he’s actually devoted to is what’s called ‘transparency’, and shining light on what the world’s most powerful factions are doing, which of course is supposed to be the role of journalists.
But Mr. Capehart’s editorial page was one of the leading advocates and still is, for example, for the war in Iraq; which used this vast wall of secrecy to deceive the American people into believing something that wasn’t true.
Mrs. Malanari’s political party did the same. And so what you have is basically people who are in the political and media class in Washington, who have been exploiting this great wall of secrecy, where the government basically hides everything that it’s doing of any significance so it can manipulate the American public.
And Julian Assange is one of the very few people who is actually fulfilling the role that journalists and members of Congress are supposed to fulfill, but haven’t, which is bringing transparency … [Jansing, with a mortified look on her face, quickly cuts Glenn off]
Jansing switches back to Capehart to rekindle the narrative she’s so clearly intent on pushing forward. Capehart then makes the astonishing claim that nothing has actually been revealed by WikiLeaks. Again, here’s a guy who writes for the Washington Post, telling viewers that all the information provided by WikiLeaks, in each of their dumps, was already known, and had already been reported. Jansing cuts Glenn off from rebutting Capehart’s untruthful statement, and ensures Capehart gets this final word in:
To continue with Susan Malinari’s point in terms of transparency, you notice that in the report on Julian Assange, it said that he gave an interview calling on Secretary Clinton to resign … from a secret location! Not terribly transparent.
In response to Capehart’s ridiculous claim that WikiLeaks hasn’t provided any new information, Greenwald listed on Salon just a small sample of the MAJOR revelations yielded by WikiLeaks:
(1) the U.S. military formally adopted a policy of turning a blind eye to systematic, pervasive torture and other abuses by Iraqi forces;
(2) the State Department threatened Germany not to criminally investigate the CIA’s kidnapping of one of its citizens who turned out to be completely innocent;
(3) the State Department under Bush and Obama applied continuous pressure on the Spanish Government to suppress investigations of the CIA’s torture of its citizens and the 2003 killing of a Spanish photojournalist when the U.S. military fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad (see The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Will Bunch today about this: “The day Barack Obama Lied to me”);
(4) the British Government privately promised to shield Bush officials from embarrassment as part of its Iraq War “investigation”;
(5) there were at least 15,000 people killed in Iraq that were previously uncounted;
(6) “American leaders lied, knowingly, to the American public, to American troops, and to the world” about the Iraq war as it was prosecuted, a conclusion the Post’s own former Baghdad Bureau Chief wrote was proven by the WikiLeaks documents;
(7) the U.S.’s own Ambassador concluded that the July, 2009 removal of the Honduran President was illegal — a coup — but the State Department did not want to conclude that and thus ignored it until it was too late to matter;
(8) U.S. and British officials colluded to allow the U.S. to keep cluster bombs on British soil even though Britain had signed the treaty banning such weapons, and,
(9) Hillary Clinton’s State Department ordered diplomats to collect passwords, emails, and biometric data on U.N. and other foreign officials, almost certainly in violation of the Vienna Treaty of 1961.
It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say we’ve learned more about the true workings of our government from a couple WikiLeaks dumps than we did from The Washington Post, Capehart’s employer, over the entire last decade. Which could explain Capehart’s apparent ‘beef’ with WikiLeaks.
As for Julian Assange’s unknown whereabouts and accessibility — which seemed to be the entire basis of Jensing, Capehart, and Molinari’s attack on Assange’s credibility as a champion for transparency — his UK attorney Jennifer Robinson addressed the issue yesterday on DemocracyNow!:
The authorities certainly know how to contact [Assange] via his lawyers. And, I must — I’m sorry — correct you, that he’s not in hiding, evading any Interpol arrest warrant. He has genuine concerns for his personal safety as a result of numerous very public calls for his assassination. And he’s obviously incredibly busy with WikiLeaks current works, and the attacks on their systems. […]
… An Interpol red notice is not actually an arrest warrant. It is considered by states who are member states of Interpol as a valid provisional arrest notice. So the authorities can take action. Though what we do know and has been reported today is that if a European arrest warrant was issued the authorities would be obliged to arrest my client.
Reports today have suggested that a European arrest warrant was communicated to the authorities here in the UK, but that was returned on the grounds of an administrative error, and we’re seeking confirmation at the moment of what that problem was. In our view, the Interpol arrest warrant — there are serious issues with it on grounds of due process concerns arising in the Swedish proceedings, and also indeed for the need for it, given our client’s voluntary offers of cooperation that were rejected by the Swedish prosecuting authorities.
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.
Chris Jansing, Jonathan Capehart, and Susan Molinari were blatantly pushing a false narrative in an attempt to malign the messenger, and based entirely on conjecture: “How could his underlying motivation for WikiLeaks be about creating transparency, when he is clearly ‘on the run’ from his own personal transparency? Clearly he’s just anti-American.”
What an embarrassingly pathetic excuse for ‘news’ punditry — most definitely on par with Fox News propagandizing.
It has been well-documented that the United States government routinely intervenes in other countries’ criminal investigations and legal proceedings when its own leaders’ interests hang in the balance. The Obama Administration actually threatened the British government not to allow its High Courts to reveal Bush Administration crimes. And as WikiLeaks recently disclosed, the US also intervened in Germany and Spain’s legal proceedings, thereby squashing criminal investigations of the CIA, who kidnapped and tortured their citizens.
Any credible journalist would have to at least consider — due to the timing of the warrants coinciding with the latest WikiLeaks dump — the plausibility that Sweden is being pressured by the US to issue warrants for Assange’s arrests, only to then extradite him to the US, where he could be detained indefinitely without trial.
And not a single mention by these three pundits on the rather obvious point made by Assange’s attorney: His life has been threatened repeatedly in the public arena — both in the United States and in Canada — with calls for his assassination. Considering that these calls have been made by many of these pundits’ very own political and media cronies, it’s hard to believe they weren’t aware of them.
Julian Assange just completed a LIVE Q&A session at the Guardian. You can view the transcript HERE.
From the Q&A on ‘Free Press’:
Western governments lay claim to moral authority in part from having legal guarantees for a free press. Threats of legal sanction against Wikileaks and yourself seem to weaken this claim.
(What press needs to be protected except that which is unpopular to the State? If being state-sanctioned is the test for being a media organization, and therefore able to claim rights to press freedom, the situation appears to be the same in authoritarian regimes and the west.)
Do you agree that western governments risk losing moral authority by attacking Wikileaks? Do you believe western goverments have any moral authority to begin with?
A. Julian Assange:
The west has fiscalised its basic power relationships through a web of contracts, loans, shareholdings, bank holdings and so on. In such an environment it is easy for speech to be “free” because a change in political will rarely leads to any change in these basic instruments. Western speech, as something that rarely has any effect on power, is, like badgers and birds, free.
In states like China, there is pervasive censorship, because speech still has power and power is scared of it. We should always look at censorship as an economic signal that reveals the potential power of speech in that jurisdiction. The attacks against us by the US point to a great hope, speech powerful enough to break the fiscal blockade.
Watch: How Obama Lost His Grass Roots Supporters – In A Nutshell
Here is a CAN’T MISS discussion between Dylan Ratigan, Glenn Greenwald and Cenk Uygur on the contentious divisions which now exist between Progressives and the President (and the Democratic Party). The three identify Obama’s ultimate betrayal — which underlies a series of more easily identifiable ones, including his deliberate undermining of meaningful health care reform, […]
Watch: WikiLeaks Debate: Glenn Greenwald VS WikiLeaks critic James Joyner
Here’s a great 20+ minute video debate on Al Jazeera between Salon blogger, Glenn Greenwald, Italian investigative journalist Stefania Maurizi, and WikiLeaks critic James Joyner. As always, Glenn completely obliterates the underlying rational of his adversary’s position. Enjoy! WATCH:
With No Exit Polls, The “Why?” For Dem. Coakley’s Senate Defeat Gets Spun
One of the most vexing revelations to come from last night’s Senatorial contest in Massachusetts was the fact there were NO EXIT POLLS. NONE! Not a single news organization conducted exit polls to ascertain a “why?” for such a huge, significant upset. Surely, the networks knew the significance of last night’s election before a single […]
Health Care Reform: WTF Just Happened? The Left Weighs In
The reaction to Obama’s Health Care Reform fiasco is getting rather explosive on the Left. There seems to be somewhat of a prevailing sentiment that Obama’s Administration bears the lions’ share of the blame for Lieberman and Blue Dog intransigence. Here’s some of the reactions: Labor Unions: Sam Stein from the Huffington Post is reporting […]
The Paul-Grayson Amendment To Audit The Fed Passes With Bipartisan Support
Yesterday, the Paul-Grayson Amendment “was approved by the House Finance Committee with an overwhelming and bipartisan 43-26 vote on Thursday afternoon despite harried last-minute lobbying from top Fed officials and the surprise opposition of Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who had previously been a supporter.” As reported by Ryan Grim @ Huffington Post: The measure, cosponsored […]
Bill Moyers & Glenn Greenwald Discuss Gov’t Secrecy, The Beltway Elite, Afghanistan
My favorite news man, Bill Moyer at PBS, interviews my favorite blogger, Glenn Greenwald at Salon, in a web-exclusive video. It’s a fascinating discussion that covers a number of different topics. Part I: Moyers and Greenwald discuss how the Obama Administration has actually embraced Bush-era justifications for secrecy and indefinite detention: Part II: Moyers and […]