To grant asylum, Ecuador would need to be convinced that the allegations in Sweden are part of a conspiracy to have Assange tried for treason in the United States.
What's in it for the US in getting him over there? There's only revenge to play for to set against the millions it will cost.
UNITED STATES prosecutors have drawn up secret charges against the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, according to a confidential email obtained from the private US intelligence company Stratfor.
In an internal email to Stratfor analysts on January 26 last year, the vice-president of intelligence, Fred Burton, responded to a media report concerning US investigations targeting WikiLeaks with the comment: ''We have a sealed indictment on Assange.''
"What this latest move by Mr Assange shows is that he has no confidence in the willingness of the Australian Government to step in and protect him from prosecution by the US."
~ Greens Senator Scott Ludlam
Wednesday, Jun 20, 2012 05:40 AM +1000
Assange asks Ecuador for asylum
By Glenn Greenwald
The WikiLeaks founder is motivated by one thing: a desire to avoid extradition to the U.S. Can anyone blame him?
Julian Assange was scheduled within days to turn himself over to British authorities for extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning in connection with a sexual assault case in which he has never been charged. Instead, Assange earlier today went to the Embassy of Ecuador in London and sought asylum from that country under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Ecuadorian Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patino, issued a statement indicating that his government is “evaluating the request” and that Assange will remain under protection at the Embassy pending a decision.
Ecuador may seem like a random choice but it’s actually quite rational. In 2010, a top official from that country offered Assange residency (though the Ecuadorian President backtracked after controversy ensued). Earlier this month, Assange interviewed that nation’s left-wing President, Rafael Correa, for his television program on RT. Among other things, Correa praised the transparency brought about by WikiLeaks’ release of diplomatic cables as being beneficial for Ecuador (“We have nothing to hide. If anything, the WikiLeaks [releases] have made us stronger”). President Correa also was quite critical of the U.S., explaining the reason he closed the American base in his country this way: “Would you accept a foreign military base in your country? It’s so simple, as I said that at the time, there is no problem in having a U.S. military base in Ecuador but ok, perfect - we can give permission for the intelligence base only if they allow us to install an Ecuadorian base in the United States, a military base. That’s it, no more problem.”
Assange has been fighting extradition to Sweden for a year-and-a-half now, during which time he has been under house arrest. He has never been charged with any crime in Sweden, but a prosecutor from that country is seeking his extradition to question him. After the British High Court ruled against him by a 5-2 vote earlier this month, and then refused to re-hear the case last week, his appeals in Britain contesting the extradition are exhausted.
Assange’s resolve to avoid extradition to Sweden has nothing to do with a reluctance to face possible sex assault charges there. His concern all along has been that once he’s in Swedish custody, he will far more easily be extradited to the U.S.
In general, small countries are more easily coerced and bullied by the U.S., and Sweden in particular has a demonstrated history of aceeding to U.S. demands when it comes to individuals accused of harming American national security. In December, 2001, Sweden handed over two asylum-seekers to the CIA, which then rendered them to be tortured in Egypt. A ruling from the U.N. Human Rights Committee found Sweden in violation of the global ban on torture for its role in that rendition (the two individuals later received a substantial settlement from the Swedish government). The fact that Sweden has unusually oppressive pre-trial procedures — allowing for extreme levels of secrecy in its judicial proceedings — only heightens Assange’s concern about what will happen to him vis-a-vis the U.S. if he ends up in Swedish custody.
Can anyone claim that Assange’s fear of ending up in American custody is anything other than supremely reasonable and rational? Just look at what has happened to people — especially foreign nationals — over the last decade who have been accused of harming the national security of the United States.
They’re imprisoned — still — without a whiff of due process, and President Obama just last year signed a new indefinite detention bill into law.
Moreover, Assange need merely look at what the U.S. has done to Bradley Manning, accused of leaking documents and other materials to WikiLeaks: the Army Private was held for almost a year in solitary confinement conditions which a formal U.N. investigation found were “cruel, inhuman and degrading,” and he now faces life in prison, charged with a capital offense of aiding Al Qaeda.
Beyond that, the Obama administration has been uniquely obsessed with punishing whistleblowers and stopping leaks. Worse still, the American federal judiciary has been staggeringly subservient to the U.S. Government when it comes to national security cases, rendering defendants accused of harming national security with almost no chance for acquittal. Would you have any confidence in obtaining justice if you were accused of harming U.S. national security and came into the clutches of the American justice system?
Over the past two years, I’ve spoken with numerous individuals who were once associated with WikiLeaks or who still are. Of those who no longer are, many have said that they stopped even though they believe as much as ever in WikiLeaks’ transparency cause, and did so out of fear: not fear that they would be charged with a crime by their own government (they trust the judicial system of their government and are confident they would not be convicted), but out of fear that they would be turned over to the United States. That’s the fear people have: ending up in the warped travesty known as the judicial system of the Land of the Free. That is what has motivated Assange to resist extradition to Sweden, and it’s what has undoubtedly motivated him to seek asylum from Ecuador.
UPDATE: Just to address some media chatter I’m seeing around: Assange has not “fled” anything, is not a fugitive, and did not concoct some new and exotic procedure to evade legal process. Everyone knows exactly where he is: at Ecuador’s Embassy in London. Seeking asylum based on claims of human rights violations (such as unjust extradition) is a widely recognized and long-standing right, as Foreign Policy documented during the recent Chen Guangcheng drama. It’s a right that Assange, like everyone else, is entitled to invoke. If Ecuador refuses his asylum request, then he’ll be right back in the hands of British authorities and presumably extradited to Sweden without delay. He has a lot at stake, and — like anyone else accused of serious crimes (though he’s not been charged with anything) — he has every right to invoke all legal procedures available to him.
UPDATE II [Wed.]: This is one of those cases where, unless you include caveats in every other sentence about what you are not arguing, then people feel free to attribute to you arguments you plainly are not making. Here is what I wrote all the way back in December, 2010 about the accusations against Assange in Sweden:
I think it’s deeply irresponsible either to assume his guilt or to assume his innocence until the case plays out. I genuinely have no opinion of the validity of those allegations.
Nothing has changed my view of that since then. It’s really not that complicated: (1) Assange, like everyone else, is entitled to a presumption of innocence before he’s charged, let alone convicted of anything; (2) the accusations against him are serious and they should be accorded a fair resolution within a proper legal framework; and (3) until then, he has every right — just like everyone else does — to invoke any and all available legal protections and to have their validity decided upon.
UPDATE III [Wed.]: I have an Op-Ed in The Guardian today elaborating on some of these points, adding others, and responding to media discussions of this issue over the past day.
UPDATE IV [Wed.]: Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh this morning conducted an excellent interview on all of this with Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who has represented Assange in the U.S. A transcript will be posted here shortly, but it’s well worth watching:
Assange breaks silence from within embassy
Updated June 22, 2012 07:35:17/ABC News
Video: Julian Assange talks to Fran Kelly (ABC News)
Related Story: Assange faces arrest for breaching bail conditions
Related Story: 'Desperate' Assange seeks asylum in Ecuador
"We had heard that the Ecuadorians were sympathetic in relation to my struggles and the struggles of the organisation with the United States, and the ability to exercise that option was at an effective end."
~ Julian Assange
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has told the ABC he still does not know how long it will be before Ecuador decides whether to grant him asylum.
Mr Assange was speaking to Radio National's Fran Kelly this morning from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been holed up since Tuesday.
It is the first time he has spoken out since his dramatic bid to seek refuge in the South American country and avoid extradition to Sweden.
He accused the US ambassador to Australia and Prime Minister Julia Gillard of using "slimy rhetoric" in his case, and dismissed repeated Australian Government claims that he has been receiving ongoing consular assistance.
"I haven't met with anyone from the Australian High Commission since December 2010," he said, adding that his contact since then had been limited to text messages asking "Does Mr Assange have any concerns".
He says he was forced to make the move because Swedish authorities indicated he would spend more time behind bars there without a conviction.
"We had heard that the Ecuadorians were sympathetic in relation to my struggles and the struggles of the organisation with the United States, and the ability to exercise that option was at an effective end," he said.
Police remain stationed outside the embassy and Scotland Yard says it will arrest Mr Assange for breaching his bail conditions as soon as he leaves.
Friends say Mr Assange is working with his lawyers on what has been a complicated legal process.
Ecuador's president Rafael Correa says his government will take its time in deciding whether to grant asylum to the Australian anti-secrecy campaigner.
Wikileaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said reports quoting Ecuador's deputy foreign minister Marco Albuja as saying that Mr Correa would give his instructions within 24 hours were "based on a misunderstanding by Australian media".
Mr Albuja had told the ABC's AM program on Thursday morning that: "The president will give us his instructions tomorrow".
"It could take hours, it could take days. I have no idea. I assume that if asylum is not granted then he will leave the embassy and will be arrested," Mr Hrafnsson said.
"The request is being processed by the Ecuadorian authorities. They are waiting for information from the UK, the US and the Swedish authorities. He will stay until this matter is settled." ...<cont>
In his own words: Julian Assange
Updated June 22, 2012 14:22:14/ABC News
Video: Julian Assange speaks to Radio National (ABC News)
Related Story: Assange breaks silence from within embassy
Map: United Kingdom
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has spoken exclusively to ABC Radio National from inside Ecuador's London embassy.
Mr Assange, who sought asylum at the embassy earlier this week, said he would remain there until his bid was resolved, but he was unsure when that would be.
Audio: Listen to his interview with Fran Kelly (ABC News)
The 40-year-old said his dramatic bid for asylum in Ecuador was aimed in part at raising awareness of what he says is a US plot to extradite him.
Here's what Mr Assange had to say:
He took interviewer Fran Kelly through the steps that led to him seeking asylum in Ecuador:
Quote:" This issue is about a very serious matter in the United States.
An announcement was made by the Swedish government that I would be detained, without charge, in Sweden, immediately on extradition.
They tried to cancel the 14 days that I had here to apply to appeal the matter at the European Court of Human Rights.
So my opportunity to exercise my asylum rights in the United States was at an end."
And this is not a matter of onwards extradition from Sweden to the United States. The situation for me here in the UK has been extremely precarious and the refusal by the Swedish prosecutor to come to the UK for the past 18 months - despite that being absolutely normal procedure - and the refusal of her to explain it in any manner whatsoever to the British courts, has kept me trapped in the United Kingdom, while the United States has prepared its case against me.
He acknowledged that the US had indicated that it would not seek to extradite him, but said officials were "being very careful with their words":
Quote:"They now have a 48,135-page FBI file, there's official statements made in court... saying that the founders and managers of Wikileaks are among the subjects of the grand jury proceedings, which have now been going since 2010.
Their careful statements reflect that the [US] Department of Justice is not able to formally confirm or deny the existence of the grand jury - it's a policy with all grand juries. But there are subpoenas everywhere, there are witnesses who have come out on public record.
We have received subpoenas - the subpoenas mention my name. In the past month, two people have been detained at the US airport by US officials, interrogated by the FBI. They ask questions about me and my organisation, ask [them] to become informers.
This is a hot, ongoing, active investigation."
He disputes Nicola Roxon's statement that there are no indications the US government is about to take legal action against him:
Quote:"They are taking legal action, the evidence is everywhere ... it's a matter of public record. We have been fighting a legal case in the legal record in relation to the Twitter subpoenas for over a year now.
So they're playing word games here. The games that they're playing is that the grand jury needs to conclude. On the conclusion of the grand jury process - the grand jury is a judicial device, and not seen to be part of the executive - and so they can say they are not about to indict because the grand jury has not yet concluded.
On the conclusion of the grand jury, the Department of Justice will take the indictments of the grand jury and pursue the matter.
They're certainly spending a vast amount of resources. Just today it was discovered that [there's] a contract, put out by the Department of Justice for $1 million to $2 million to maintain the Wikileaks computer system that the Department of Justice is running .... contracted to [security contractor] Man Tech. As a matter of public record, just discovered today."
Asked if he felt cornered by the British police, he said the real question was why he did not feel safe seeking help from the Australian embassy:
Quote:"That's the real question ... this is an effective declaration of abandonment. There's not a single matter of concern under which the Australian Government as represented by the Attorney-General would ask other governments to be reasonable or just in this case.
There is no matter like this, everyone knows that ... The Australian Government simply does not support its people. There's a journalist, Austin Mackell, who's trapped in Egypt and he also has exactly the same complaints that I have.
These are empty words, when you hear the words consular assistance. I haven't met with anyone from the Australian High Commission since December 2010. What are they talking about?
They send SMS messages - 'Does Mr Assange have any concerns?' So we know what this is for. This is so they can tick off a box. And yes, we formally put our concerns to the Attorney-General, and the response was dismissal in every single area.
We have formally put requests to Nicola Roxon and DFAT to ask that the United States - I can't remember the exact request but for instance, the prisoner transfer arrangements and so on - and she rejected this in every single area."
In relation to this sort of clever rhetoric that's been used at the moment, when they say that we have not received evidence from the United States that they plan to extradite, of course not. At the moment the matter is before the grand jury and until it comes out of the grand jury, there will be no such evidence afforded.
We hope that what I am doing now will simply draw attention to the underlying issues. In a case where the truth is on your side, what is most against you is lack of scrutiny.
Good journalists are also showing that there are issues here and they are being hidden by the slimy rhetoric coming out of the US ambassador to Australia by Gillard and by the Foreign Minister. And that needs to stop."
He was also asked if he is ready for a life in Ecuador, if he is granted asylum:
Quote:"A life in Ecuador - these are friendly, generous people - is much better than a life behind bars in the United States ... under Guantanamo Bay-like restrictions which they routinely apply to people accused of espionage. You can't speak, can't communicate, because I might communicate some password or something. And this is a routine matter that is applied in these sorts of circumstances.
[Ecuador's] free speech issues are certainly no worse than the ones in the UK - and this is a country with hundreds of secret gag orders, so let's keep things in perspective. But I would enjoy campaigning for the rights of journalists in Ecuador.
There's been a lot of tussles between the US and Ecuador, which is one of the reasons why Ecuador, I presume, would be happy to grant me asylum because they understand the difficulties when you square off with the United States."
An announcement was made by the Swedish government that I would be detained, without charge, in Sweden, immediately on extradition.
Mr Assange said he has not had any contact with consular officials since December 2010.
But Ms Gillard says consular officials are in constant contact with his legal team and he is receiving the same amount of assistance as any other Australian.
Ms Gillard says Mr Assange has not had any recent face-to-face meetings with officials because has not requested them.
...The (Indonesian) president is understood to have been swayed by appeals made by former foreign minister Kevin Rudd and Prime Minister Julia Gillard when she met Dr Yudhoyono in Bali in November.
The case was also recently discussed between Australia’s new Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr and his Indonesian counterpart, Marty Natalegawa.
This evening, Senator Carr issued a statement noting that Indonesian authorities had confirmed that President Yudhoyono had granted a five-year reduction in Ms Corby's prison sentence.