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Glenn Greenwald Defends WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange’s Asylum Claim In Radio Debate

by on Friday, September 21, 2012 at 1:28 pm EDT in Europe, Politics, WikiLeaks, World

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.

I highly recommend listening to/reading the entire debate. The radio podcast can be found HERE at the 39 minute, and the rest of the partial transcript can be found HERE.

Julian Assange Of WikiLeaks Granted Bail; Swedish Prosecutors Appeal

by on Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 2:29 pm EDT in Politics, WikiLeaks

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.

Ha’aretz: E.U. Presidency Document Calls For Division Of Jerusalem & Return To 1967 Borders

by on Tuesday, December 1, 2009 at 5:34 pm EDT in Middle East, World

The pressure continues to mount on the far-right Likudnik government in Israel.  Ha’aretz has just obtained a copy of a document, drafted by the European Union Presidency, which effectively backs a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood, based on the 1967 borders.  The document follows:



The world is clearly getting sick and tired of Netanyahu’s refusal to abandon his expansionist/ethnic cleansing policies.  Just last week U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Special Envoy George J. Mitchell simultaneously responded to Netanyahu’s claim that he had suspended new settlements in Judea and Sumeria, by conveying it was not enough, and then evoking the 1967 lines as the legal borders:

They did not bless the Israeli non-freeze, explaining it fell short and that they expected more, and that “America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. […]”

But the new language came in Secretary Clinton’s description of what American expects the outcome of negotiations to be – for an “independent and viable [Palestinian] state based on the 1967 lines”. Senator Mitchell quoted Clinton in repeating the call for a Palestinian state “based on the 67 lines.”

Every conflict and every situation has its own lingua franca. In the Israeli-Palestinian context, a state based on the 67 lines is the dog-whistle for what constitutes a real, no-B.S. two-state outcome. It is also language that the US has conspicuously avoided using – avoided that is until today.

I have to wonder if these calls — first by the U.S. and then by the E.U. — for two independent states along the 1967 borders (with East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital), wasn’t coordinated so that it would be received by the Netanyahu government as a subtle threat that the tide is turning against his Zionist vision of a greater Israel.  Let’s hope the pressure continues …