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.
Published on Democracy Now!, Apr 11, 2019
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.[break]
AMY GOODMAN: “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we bring you this breaking news today that the co-founder of WikiLeaks has been arrested. Julian Assange, after almost seven years of asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, has been taken out of the Ecuadorean Embassy, as he said “resist,” taken into a van and taken to the metropolitan jail in London. We’ve been speaking with a number of guests—attorneys, colleagues of Julian Assange. We’re now turning to Jesselyn Radack. Jesselyn Radack is a former Justice Department attorney, serves as the director of Whistleblower and Source Protection at ExposeFacts.
Jesselyn, can you talk about what Julian Assange faces? What is being said in the media, and apparently what the Ecuadorean president said, is he has been promised that Assange will not be extradited to a country that has the death penalty. Of course, the United States does have the death penalty. What does this mean?
JESSELYN RADACK: My understanding is that the U.S. has probably made some kind of assurance that they would take the death penalty off the table. Again, I haven’t seen the details of this, but I’m guessing that’s what happens. The problem is that the criminal basis for what they’re doing is an antiquated law called the Espionage Act, which is this draconian law that’s been used to go after publishers, whistleblowers, sources and journalists. And really, it’s a strict liability law with no available public interest defense.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what do you expect, Jesselyn, that will happen now? I mean, in effect, a 45-year sentence—I mean, the charges that he has against him in the U.S. could lead to up to 45 years in prison. Is that what you understand?
JESSELYN RADACK: That’s my understanding. And this would be an incredibly chilling precedent that would put at risk all journalists and publishers, including Democracy Now!, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian, for reporting truthful information, classified or not, which is in the public interest.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, what are these charges? They have never actually been revealed, if in fact they are there. Is that correct, Jesselyn?
JESSELYN RADACK: They were apparently inadvertently revealed. These would be charges under the Espionage Act, which, unfortunately, President Obama resurrected, after being dormant for a century, resurrected this old law and has been using it not to go after spies, but rather to go after whistleblowers. And unfortunately, it created a precedent that now President Trump can run with. So, when you suddenly have someone in power that we don’t “trust” the way people trusted Obama, here you’re seeing the full fruition of what that looks like. And again, this would be an incredibly chilling precedent that has been created today with the arrest of Julian Assange. He is a publisher. He’s a journalist. He’s a media outlet. That puts you and any other reporter, journalist, publisher at risk.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined by Geoffrey Robertson. He’s a British human rights attorney who’s represented Julian Assange in the past, has been an adviser to Julian Assange, speaking to us from London. Can you explain, Geoffrey Robertson, your understanding of the legal precedent that is being set right now with the British police going into the Ecuadorean Embassy, apparently at the invitation of Ecuador, and taking out Julian Assange, who has had asylum in the embassy for almost seven years now? Your response to what has taken place and the assurances that the Ecuadorean president has gotten that he will not be extradited to a country that has the death penalty?
GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: Well, I mean, let’s start at the beginning. Those assurances are a confidence trick to mislead ignorant journalists. In Britain, it’s law that you cannot extradite anyone to a country to face the death penalty. So, having these assurances are neither not to the point. What is sought by America in this warrant that was signed 15 months ago—they’ve been plotting this for quite a while—is that he be sent to America for trial on charges carrying up to 45 years, which, for a man of Assange’s health and age, is in effect a death penalty. So, forget all about the death penalty. Britain will send Assange to America, if its extradition request is upheld by the court.
But I must say that after giving him asylum and giving him the promise of asylum, to hand him over to the police, without giving him any warning or opportunity to go elsewhere, is a cruel and astonishing breach of faith by this rotten Ecuadorean government. It will go down in the annals of human rights as a disgusting act. But, of course, it was encouraged by Mr. Pence, who visited Ecuador, offered it and gave it loans and so forth. So, there’s blood money in the background.
But I think, for Americans who value, as everyone does, your First Amendment, you have this problem, that your government is seeking to imprison an Australian, a non-American—it doesn’t matter, he’s simply not American—on a theory of the First Amendment which would deprive its protection to all foreign journalists working, indeed, for American papers. So, it would be a grave inroad in your own much-vaunted freedom of speech if Assange were to be offered up and sacrificed for so many years. Chelsea Manning got 35. Assange is accused of conspiring with Chelsea Manning. They are the words on the warrant. So, he would get at least 35 years. And he wouldn’t be pardoned by President Trump, as Manning was pardoned by President Obama. So, that’s, I think, the seriousness of this development today.
It was probably inevitable that Ecuador, this crummy little state, would be leant upon by America and yield up Mr. Assange in spite of its promise of asylum. But he will now be imprisoned. He will be entitled to ask for bail. America, no doubt, will object. And it will go through the English courts, who will have to decide whether the treaty, extradition treaty, we have with the United States allows an Englishman or an Australian to be thrown to the wolves in America because of what they have published. It makes a nonsense of freedom of speech. We have a Human Rights Act with a qualified guarantee of free speech. We have the European Convention. So, there is a chance that Mr. Assange would be able to show what hypocrites you Americans are, or the Trump administration is, in trying to put him in prison, where they couldn’t put the editor of The New York Times, who published the same material, in prison.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Geoffrey Robertson, yes, can you elaborate on precisely the timing of this? I mean, you said in an interview earlier today on the BBC that this is the result of pressure brought by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—you mentioned Vice President Pence—as well as national security adviser John Bolton. Could you talk about that and also the pressure that the Trump administration has been applying on Ecuador to take action?
GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: Well, yes. This has—you’ve got to understand that the extradition warrant, which required the cooperation of Ecuador to expel Assange, was signed in December 2017. That’s 15 months. And there have been a visit by the vice president. There have been loans and financial dealings and so forth with Ecuador. And I spoke to Mr. Assange a couple of weeks ago, and he was certainly in no doubt that the changes in his, in effect, captivity had been by agreement with America.
There was a point, about 12 months ago, when he tweeted some support for the Catalonian separatists in Spain, and Ecuador said, “This is a breach of your asylum conditions,” and stopped him seeing visitors and stopped him using the internet. He could only see lawyers—which was a form of torture, I suppose. But that was over a year ago. There’s been nothing more recent.
But what has happened recently is they’ve tried to make conditions so tough for him as to force him out. He’s been photographed, video-surveilled in every room, even in the toilet. He has been made—his life has been made miserable. And, of course, one of the great cruelties in this situation, thanks to the British government, is that he has a severe chest condition, and specialists have said, “We want you to be scanned. We want you to be X-rayed,” and for seven years the British government have denied him safe passage to hospital. So, he is not a well man. And he was—
AMY GOODMAN: So, are you calling for him to be put in the hospital now, not jail?
GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: Well, I think, oddly enough, and it may be ironical, that now that he is in jail, he may be able to get the hospital treatment that he’s been so long denied. But, otherwise, the jail—and we will see shortly—there may be an application for bail. We’ll have to see how that goes. I made the initial, original application for bail seven years ago—oh, eight, nine years ago, which set him at modified liberty. But let us hope that he is released and can talk for himself. But it may be that he will be held and dealt with by the English court for breach of bail, which is a minor offense, usually dealt with by a fine or a few weeks’ imprisonment. For Assange, they might—because he has lots of enemies and is his own worst enemy at times, he may get a couple of months. But then, of course, it will be onwards and upwards through the British courts to argue the American extradition request to punish him for exercising what is otherwise a right to free speech, with the American government, which so touts the First Amendment, and its own commitment to free speech will be seen, I think, as being hypocritical for attempting to punish this publisher.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Is there any likelihood at all, Geoffrey Robertson, that he would be simply deported to Australia? He remains an Australian citizen.
GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: Yes. I think he would very much like that. And that would be—if the Australian government had any gumption, that would be—but the Australian government don’t have much gumption. They’re in awe of the United States. The present government is rather a lickspittle government. And there is an election next month, where the opposition may be more vociferous on behalf of Mr. Assange. And, of course, the British government doesn’t like him. But the opposition Labour Party may be more supporting.
So, at the end of the day, you come down to the question of free speech, whether it’s right that a publisher who has received information from sources who want it published, where that information is of public interest, showing American death squads, showing the killing of Reuters journalists by an American helicopter and so forth, should be jailed and punished for the efforts he’s made on behalf of free speech. I mean, WikiLeaks’ revelations are found in newspapers, in history books now. But, of course, America is trying to make him suffer for taking that initiative.