WikiLeaks founder’s Attorney Michael Ratner explains how the US, UK, and Sweden share responsibility for Assange’s inability to leave.
ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore. And welcome to another edition of The Ratner Report.
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Now joining us is Michael Ratner. Michael is president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a board member of The Real News Network and a regular contributor.
Thanks for joining us, Michael.
MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: It’s always good to be with The Real News.
WORONCZUK: So, Michael, I understand it’s now the second anniversary of Julian Assange’s stay in the Ecuadorian Embassy.
RATNER: Yes. June 19 is the actual two-year anniversary of when Julian Assange walked into the embassy and requested political asylum. As I’m sure our viewers know, he’s the publisher of WikiLeaks and he was forced to take refuge in the Ecuador embassy and ask for that asylum, which he did receive from Ecuador. But despite receiving that asylum, he remains in the embassy.
I, as one of his lawyers, find it completely outrageous that this man, Julian Assange, and WikiLeaks, which has brought us so much, has really started and began the revelations that have come out from Chelsea Manning, Jeremy Hammond, Edward Snowden, that he winds up having to spend that time in the embassy, unable to leave, an embassy surrounded by British cops, a small embassy, no outdoor space, difficult circumstances. But, of course, Julian is prevailing, continuing to work and continuing to operate.
I want our listeners or our viewers to recall why he went into the embassy and why he is still there. Two years ago or a little more, he was ordered extradited to Sweden from the United Kingdom regarding allegations of sexual misconduct in Sweden. And you have to remember it’s allegations, not charges, and it’s very relevant to what has happened since that time. He knew then, as his lawyers advised him, that going to Sweden for those allegations would wind up as a one-way ticket to the United States. Yes, he might stand trial in Sweden for that, he might or might not the acquitted, he might or might not have served some insignificant time, but in the end what forced him into that embassy was the view, his view in his lawyers’ view, that he was going to be forced to go to the United States on extradition warrant. And it was the time, and you can recall, when Chelsea Manning had been treated so badly, conditions that amounted to cruel and inhuman treatment, torture, and who of course has now been sentenced to 35 years. So Chelsea Manning, who was one of WikiLeaks’s sources, was treated like that, and there was all kinds of fears legitimate not only that the U.S. was investigating him, which we knew as a fact, but that he would also be treated much like Chelsea Manning, and that a trip to Sweden was essentially a one-way trip to the United States, Sweden really being a way station to a prison, perhaps one of our supermax prisons or worse in the United States. Rather than face that persecution, Julian Assange walked into the embassy and requested asylum.
Ecuador within a few weeks of his going into that Embassy granted asylum. In granting it, Ecuador said that Assange was well known for his, quote, “struggle for freedom of expression, press freedom, and human rights”, that he “would not have a fair trial” in the United States, and that his “safety, integrity, and even his life” could be endangered. That’s why Ecuador gave asylum.
Julian Assange to me and, I think, to many others all over the world is a hero. It’s Julian who published the Iraq War Logs, sourced from Chelsea Manning, Afghan war logs, “Collateral Murder” video, diplomatic cables, all whistleblown from Chelsea Manning’s work. He also published the Stratfor documents, the private intelligence company documents that came at least sourced in part from Jeremy Hammond. And he continues, Assange and WikiLeaks continue to reveal truths we need to go.
He was forced to seek asylum because the U.S. wanted to persecute him for his work as a publisher and a journalist.
Julian Assange also set the stage for the revelations that have followed. Think of the world five years ago and what it is today. Think of the work that Julian Assange has done, Jeremy Hammond, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden. Julian began it by beginning WikiLeaks, the idea that there could be such a thing as a secure drop, a secure lockbox. Yet he is still in the embassy. Julian Assange also, along with Sarah Harrison and WikiLeaks, helped secure asylum for Edward Snowden. Edward Snowden would be most likely, more than likely, almost for sure in a U.S. prison but for the ability to try—the ability and the efforts to get him asylum when he went from Hong Kong to Moscow.
But I still find it outrageous that Assange is still in the London Embassy and not living in Ecuador. I blame three countries: the United Kingdom, Sweden, and especially the United States. Each of those three countries is complicitous in Julian Assange’s continued confinement. The U.K. has refused to recognize the right of asylum and the right of safe passage that Julian Assange is entitled to now that he has asylum. He should be given the right by the U.K. to walk out the door of that Embassy, get on a plane, and get asylum that he has already gotten, technically. I mean gotten in fact, but actually be able to live it in Ecuador. But so far the U.K. has refused to do it. It’s illegal for them to refuse to exercise—to let him exercise his right to asylum, and so far they have not, have not relented.
In addition, one thing that’s interesting is the allegations that the U.K. claims they want to enforce, which are the allegations requiring Julian Assange to be extradited to Sweden, would no longer be good law today in the U.K. If Sweden had tried to extradite Julian Assange today from the United Kingdom, the extradition request wouldn’t even get off the ground, because the law in the U.K has changed since Julian Assange’s case, and in fact in part because of this case.
As I said earlier, Sweden requested Assange’s extradition based on allegations. Under the new extradition law, you now require a decision to prosecute or charges from the country seeking the extradition. Sweden has never made a decision to prosecute Assange. They’ve never charged him. It’s only these allegations. So today Julian Assange would not have faced an order extraditing him to Sweden. In the face of that, it’s particularly outrageous for the U.K. first to not recognize the right of asylum and let Julian Assange go to Ecuador, and secondly to continue to try and enforce an extradition order that would no longer be valid if that extradition began after that the change in the law. Some of us call the change in the law the “Julian exception” to the Assange, where you have a law that would protect Assange today, but they’re making an exception for Julian. That’s the U.K.
Sweden, which requested the extradition for sexual misconduct allegations or on the basis of sexual misconduct allegations but not charges and still today has not charged him, has utterly failed to follow up on those allegations. I find it to be particularly incredible. Lawyers for Julian Assange in Sweden and otherwise have made numerous requests to the Swedish prosecutor to go to the embassy in London and question Julian Assange there about these allegations. They’ve done that in many other cases around the world. For some reason—and it makes you suspect the worst about Sweden as to what their real intentions are vis-à-vis the United States and their partnership with United States—they have refused to question him in the embassy. They sit there with allegations, not charges, and they sit there in Sweden for two years not going to question him in London. Apparently, it looks to me like either they’re not serious about the prosecution or they simply want to ultimately get him to Sweden, where they can eventually get him to the United States.
So those two countries, the U.K. and Sweden, are complicitous.
But the real gorilla in the room here, of course, is the United States. Recall when WikiLeaks published a lot of this material in 2010, 2011, he was called a “high-tech terrorist” by our vice president, Biden. There was—a grand jury was set up to investigate WikiLeaks. As we know, his sources, both Chelsea Manning and Jeremy Hammond, were jailed for very long times, Chelsea for 35 years, Hammond for ten. And they also during this period and today have painted Julian Assange as somehow complicitous with his sources, yet he was of course doing what other journalists do, which is publishing material, leaked material from his sources.
Of course, Julian isn’t the only one they’re trying to paint as complicitous with his sources, not the only journalist. They did that with a man named Rosen who worked for Fox news, called him a conspirator or complicitous with his sources. They did it in a court opinion with James Risen of The New York Times, saying the crime of whistleblowing that was being tried in that case or the crime of leaking documents could not have been done without the journalist. So this is nothing new in the sense that Julian isn’t the only one, but certainly under the Obama administration they’re beginning to paint journalists is complicitous with their sources. And Julian, of course, is one of their easiest, easiest targets. No big news media is protecting him, like The New York Times or Fox news.
I hope—my hope is that the U.S. will see the light of day and drop its investigation of Julian Assange, stop persecuting truth tellers. Unfortunately, so far that’s a hope. Recently, within the last few weeks, actually, the Department of Justice admitted in court-filed papers that they were still undergoing or involved in a criminal investigation in both the National Security Division of the Department of Justice as well as the criminal division of WikiLeaks in Julian Assange. I have no doubt what will happen if Julian Assange leaves that embassy. Obviously, he’ll be sent to Sweden, and then he will be on a one-way ticket United States and persecution here. The clear goal of Sweden, the U.K., and the United States is to stop WikiLeaks, to stop Julian Assange, to stop whistleblowers and publishers.
Our goal as people who care about the world, who care about what our governments do, must also be clear: it’s time to end the travesty of having Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy. It’s time to get him out of the embassy and to the asylum he deserves in Ecuador, for Julian Assange’s work and WikiLeaks deserves our unending thanks. So our next goal, really, is in a year from now to not have to give another report like this, but to be able to talk to Julian Assange living in Ecuador.
WORONCZUK: Okay. Michael Ratner, thank you so much for that report.
RATNER: Thank you for having me.
WORONCZUK: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.