Julian Assange Arrested and Facing US Charge Related to Chelsea Manning Leaks

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been arrested in London. Earlier today, British police forcibly removed Assange from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he has been living since 2012. London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement that Assange was arrested on behalf of the United States authorities. The U.S. has charged Assange with helping Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning hack a government computer. The indictment was unsealed shortly after his arrest. We speak to Renata Ávila, a member of Assange’s legal team, as well as British human rights attorney Geoffrey Robertson, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald and former Justice Department attorney Jesselyn Radack.

Transcript

NERMEEN SHAIKH: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been arrested in London. Just hours ago, British police forcibly removed Assange from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he has been living since 2012. Video shows Assange saying the U.K. must resist, as he was being arrested.

JULIAN ASSANGE: The U.K. has not surrendered. … They must resist! U.K. will resist! Resistance [inaudible] fight the Trump administration!

NERMEEN SHAIKH: London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement that Assange was, quote, “arrested on behalf of the United States authorities.” WikiLeaks reported via Twitter that British police entered the embassy at the invitation of the Ecuadorean ambassador, and says that Ecuador terminated his political asylum in violation of international law. Ecuador quickly denied the claim of an imminent expulsion, accusing WikiLeaks of, quote, “an attempt to stain the dignity of the country.”

Julian Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in 2012, fearing possible extradition by British authorities to the U.S., where he could face prosecution under the Espionage Act. One of Assange’s attorneys, Jennifer Robinson, tweeted this morning, quote, “Just confirmed: #Assange has been arrested not just for breach of bail conditions but also in relation to a US extradition request,” she wrote. Press freedom advocates condemned Assange’s arrest

AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange’s U.S. attorney, Barry Pollack, said, quote, “It is bitterly disappointing that a country would allow someone to whom it has extended citizenship and asylum to be arrested in its embassy. First and foremost, we hope that the UK will now give Mr. Assange access to proper health care, which he has been denied for seven years. Once his health care needs have been addressed, the UK courts will need to resolve what appears to be an unprecedented effort by the United States seeking to extradite a foreign journalist to face criminal charges for publishing truthful information,” Barry Pollack wrote. That’s Julian Assange’s U.S. attorney.

Christophe Deloire, the head of Reporters Without Borders, tweeted, “Targeting Assange because of Wikileaks’ provision of information to journalists that was in the public interest would be a punitive measure and would set a dangerous precedent for journalists or their sources that the US may wish to pursue in future,” unquote.

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted, “Images of Ecuador’s ambassador inviting the UK’s secret police into the embassy to drag a publisher of — like it or not — award-winning journalism out of the building are going to end up in the history books. Assange’s critics may cheer, but this is a dark moment for press freedom.” That is the tweet of Edward Snowden.

We begin today’s show with Renata Ávila, a member of Julian Assange’s legal team.

Renata, thank you so much for joining us. This has just taken place, the arrest, the dragging out of Julian Assange from the Ecuadorean Embassy by the Metropolitan Police in Britain. Can you tell us what you understand are the grounds for his arrest and why the Ecuadorean Embassy allowed the British police into the embassy to do it?

RENATA ÁVILA: Well, thank you for having me, Amy, and thank you for all the solidarity that you’re showing as a journalist. Unlike you — I’m outraged, like on top of all of this going on, I have seen the lack of class solidarity from journalists all over the world, and that is making the situation worse.

First, the arrest, it breaches international law at so many levels. And as a Latin American, I can say that I’m ashamed of this blatant disregard for the most — one of the — which is a tradition of Latin America of providing and defending the institution of asylum. What happened next, it is what we suspected since Michael Ratner was leading the defense of Julian Assange back in 2010, that this was what we predicted, and it happened as we predicted it.

The Swedish case was nothing else but an excuse to secure the arrest of a journalist in a Western democracy — so-called democracy. So, it was confirmed by Scotland Yard that his arrest is not connected with a bail breach; it is connected with the extradition request. And Swedish authorities had just now a press conference in Sweden, in Stockholm, and they confirmed. It was not consulted with them. It is not related to the Swedish case. It is an extradition requested by the U.S. Justice Department.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Renata, can you explain: Is it in any way legally justified or legal at all for Ecuador to rescind his asylum in this way?

RENATA ÁVILA: It is completely illegal. And on top, adding insult to injury, Julian was granted Ecuadorean nationality. So, it is not only illegal before international law, it’s not constitutional before constitutional law in Ecuador. So, it is a multiple, multilayer violation of human rights and constitutional rights of Julian.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald is joining us on the phone. Renata Ávila is joining us from Belgrade right now. She is one of Julian Assange’s lawyers. Glenn Greenwald, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, one of the founding editors of The Intercept. Glenn, your response to the arrest of Julian Assange, his being dragged out of the Ecuadorean Embassy by British police today?

GLENN GREENWALD: I think the most important fact is that the arrest warrant, according to Assange’s longtime lawyer Jennifer Robinson, is based on allegations that Assange conspired or collaborated with Chelsea Manning with regard to the 2010 leaks of Iraq and Afghanistan war logs and diplomatic cables — a theory that the Obama Justice Department tried for a long time to pursue, but found no evidence for, in order to be able to justify prosecuting Assange and not face the accusation that they were endangering press freedoms by prosecuting Assange for something The New York Times and The Guardian and every other media outlet in the world routinely does, which is publish classified information.

Even if it were true that Assange collaborated with Manning — and, again, the Justice Department of President Obama looked everywhere and found no evidence of that — it would still be a grave threat to press freedoms, because journalists all the time work with their sources in order to obtain classified information so that they can report on it. It’s the criminalization of journalism by the Trump Justice Department and the gravest threat to press freedom, by far, under the Trump presidency, infinitely worse than having Donald Trump tweet mean things about various reporters at CNN or NBC. And every journalist in the world should be raising their voice as loudly as possible to protest and denounce this.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you explain, Glenn, exactly what you understand, why it is that the Ecuadorean Embassy has revoked the asylum, allowing the British authorities to come inside, what’s going on with President Moreno and his charges that Julian Assange was involved in releasing photos, which Assange has vehemently denied?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, I interviewed former President Rafael Correa late last year. And he, of course, did something quite extraordinary, which was for six years stood up for Ecuadorean sovereignty and for international law and refused to be bullied by the U.S. and the U.K., which tried everything it could to coerce him or threaten him to withdraw the asylum protection for Assange. He was a very unusual leader of a small country, who famously said, for example, “If the U.S. wants to have military bases in Ecuador, they have to allow us to have military bases in Miami.” He was against imperialism and allowing Ecuador to be a vassal state of the U.S. and the U.K.

And his successor, President Moreno, is exactly the opposite. So, the Trump administration, the CIA, the U.K. and Spain — which is really angry about WikiLeaks’s denunciations of their abuses of protesters during the Catalonian debate — have spent the last year and a half doing everything they can, threatening Ecuador, offering rewards to Ecuador, doing everything they could to coerce Ecuador, under President Moreno, to do something that President Correa refused to do, which is violate international law, withdraw Julian Assange’s asylum. And, of course, he needed to concoct an excuse to do it, so he doesn’t look like what he is, which is a very weak and submissive leader, to his population, so they made up a bunch of excuses. But the reality is, they did it because the U.S. and the U.K. demanded that they do it.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let’s go to Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno when he announced Assange’s arrest Thursday. And he said Britain has guaranteed he will not be extradited, Assange will not be extradited, to a country that has the death penalty.

PRESIDENT LENÍN MORENO: [translated] Today, I announce that the discourteous and aggressive behavior of Mr. Julian Assange, the hostile and threatening declarations of its allied organization, against Ecuador, and especially, the transgression of international treaties, have led the situation to a point where the asylum of Mr. Assange is unsustainable and no longer viable. … In line with our strong commitment to human rights and international law, I requested Great Britain to guarantee that Mr. Assange would not be extradited to a country where he could face torture or the death penalty. The British government has confirmed it in writing, in accordance with its own rules.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, that’s Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno speaking just a few hours ago today. So, Renata Ávila, could you respond to what Moreno said and whether you think it’s likely that Assange will not be extradited, as he said?

RENATA ÁVILA: Well, this is the same — he’s repeating the same things that we have been fighting against. What is the difference between a death penalty and life in solitary confinement in a supermax prison in the U.S.? What we are discussing here is not the seriousness of the penalty of a journalist being prosecuted because of the act of publishing, but whether a journalist should be prosecuted or not because of the act of publishing. So, that’s what the — that is really terrible. And it is so sad to see a Latin American leader abdicating to a superpower and throwing even constitutional principles out of the trash can in this case.

And it will be — I mean, I cannot alert enough journalists, not only in the U.S., but any journalists reporting about the U.S., of the seriousness of this case. If we do not rally, if we do not take this battle as a central battle for our freedom of expression, we will be in serious trouble. So, the hearing is taking place this afternoon, the first hearing for Julian, and we really hope to get as much solidarity as possible and attention and coherence with your principles and basically empathy, because he is the first journalist facing this, but he might not be the last. You might be the next one, anyone hearing this show. So, it is a — the free press is key for democracy, and this is what is at risk at the moment.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Glenn Greenwald, I want to ask you. The American Civil Liberties Union has just issued a statement, Ben Wizner saying that the prosecution of Assange is especially troubling because “prosecuting a foreign publisher for violating U.S. secrecy laws would set an especially dangerous precedent for U.S. journalists, who routinely violate foreign secrecy laws to deliver information vital to the public’s interest.” Glenn Greenwald, can you respond to that, I mean, what U.S. journalists do and regarding this foreign secrecy laws?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, I think that is one of the remarkable aspects of this, is that Julian Assange is not an American citizen. I think he visited the U.S. once for about three days. WikiLeaks is a foreign-based media organization. So, the idea that the U.S. government can just extend its reach to any news outlet anywhere in the world and criminalize publication of documents or working with sources is extremely chilling. That would mean, for example, that China or North Korea or Iran could do the same thing if a U.S. news outlet published its secrets, which sometimes they do. It would mean that Iran would have the ability, or China, to issue an international arrest warrant and demand that the reporters who work for the U.S. news outlets be extradited to those countries.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to our discussion. This latest news, Julian Assange has been arrested by the British police, taken out of the Ecuadorean Embassy at the invitation of the president of Ecuador. He will appear in court, there are reports, later today, also reports the home secretary will address the House of Commons. We’ve been speaking with Renata Ávila in Belgrade, Serbia, a member of Julian Assange’s legal team, a human rights lawyer; also Glenn Greenwald, on the phone with us, joining us from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. And when we come back, we’ll also be joined by Jesselyn Radack, attorney for whistleblowers, former Justice Department attorney, serves as director of the Whistleblower and Source Protection at ExposeFacts. This is Democracy Now! Stay with us.