By Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept, May 19, 2017 (with related news further below, including video of statement by Julian Assange, 10 minutes, and news of Ecuador’s request to UK to allow safe passage of Assange to the country)
‘Just weeks ago, Donald Trump’s CIA director, Mike Pompeo, delivered an angry, threatening speech about WikiLeaks… Days later, Attorney General Jeff Sessions strongly suggested that the Trump Dept. of Justice would seek to prosecute Assange and WikiLeaks on espionage charges.’
Swedish prosecutors announced this morning that they were terminating their 7-year-old sex crimes investigation into Julian Assange and withdrawing their August 20, 2010, arrest warrant for him. The chief prosecutor, Marianne Ny, said at a news conference this morning (pictured below) that investigators had reached no conclusion about his guilt or innocence, but instead were withdrawing the warrant because “all prospects of pursuing the investigation under present circumstances are exhausted” and it is therefore “no longer proportionate to maintain the arrest of Julian Assange in his absence.”
Almost five years ago — in June 2012 — the U.K. Supreme Court rejected Assange’s last legal challenge to Sweden’s extradition request. Days later, Assange entered the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and two weeks later formally received asylum from the government of Ecuador. He has been in that small embassy ever since, under threat of immediate arrest from British police if he were to leave. For years, British police expended enormous sums to maintain a 24-hour presence outside the embassy, and though they reduced their presence in 2015, continued to make clear that he would be immediately arrested if he tried to leave.
In February of last year, a UN human rights panel formally concluded that the British government was violating Assange’s rights by “arbitrarily detaining” him, and it called for his release. But the U.K. government immediately rejected the UN finding and vowed to ignore it.
Ecuador’s rationale for granting asylum to Assange has often been overlooked. Ecuadorian officials, along with Assange’s supporters, have always insisted that they wanted the investigation in Sweden to proceed, and vowed that Assange would board the next plane to Stockholm if Sweden gave assurances that it would not extradite him to the U.S. to face charges relating to WikiLeaks’s publication of documents. It was Sweden’s refusal to issue such guarantees — and Ecuador’s fears that Assange would end up being persecuted by the U.S. — that has been the basis for its asylum protections.
After years of refusing Assange’s offers to interview him in the embassy, Swedish prosecutors finally agreed to do so last November. But the Swedes’ last hope for advancing the case seemed to evaporate last month, when the candidate of the ruling party in Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, won a narrow victory over his right-wing opponent, who had vowed to terminate Assange’s asylum.
With the new president signaling that Assange’s asylum would continue indefinitely, there was virtually nothing else for prosecutors to do. Upon hearing the news, Assange, on his Twitter account this morning, posted a smiling photograph of himself.
But that celebration obscures several ironies. The most glaring of which is that the legal jeopardy Assange now faces is likely greater than ever.
Almost immediately after the decision by Swedish prosecutors, British police announced that they would nonetheless arrest Assange if he tried to leave the embassy. Police said Assange was still wanted for the crime of “failing to surrender” — meaning that instead of turning himself in upon issuance of his 2012 arrest warrant, he obtained refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy.
The British police also, however, noted that this alleged crime is “a much less serious offence” than the one that served as the basis for the original warrant, and that the police would therefore only “provide a level of resourcing which is proportionate to that offence.”
That could perhaps imply that with a seriously reduced police presence, Assange could manage to leave the embassy without detection and apprehension. All relevant evidence, however, negates that assumption.
Just weeks ago, Donald Trump’s CIA director, Mike Pompeo, delivered an angry, threatening speech about WikiLeaks in which he argued, “We have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.” The CIA director vowed to make good on this threat: “To give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now.”
Days later, Attorney General Jeff Sessions strongly suggested that the Trump DOJ would seek to prosecute Assange and WikiLeaks on espionage charges in connection with the group’s publication of classified documents. Trump officials then began leaking to news outlets such as CNN that “U.S. authorities have prepared charges to seek the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.”
For years, the Obama DOJ had extensively considered the possibility of prosecuting WikiLeaks and Assange, even convening a grand jury that subpoenaed multiple witnesses. Though the Obama DOJ refused to say they had terminated that investigation — which is what caused Ecuador to continue to fear persecution — Obama officials strongly signaled that there was no way to prosecute WikiLeaks without also prosecuting news organizations that published the same documents, or at least creating a precedent that would endanger First Amendment press freedoms. As the Washington Post reported in 2013:
The Justice Department has all but concluded it will not bring charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for publishing classified documents because government lawyers said they could not do so without also prosecuting U.S. news organizations and journalists, according to U.S. officials.
That same article noted that “officials stressed that a formal decision has not been made, and a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks remains impaneled.” But it seemed that, under Obama, prosecution was highly unlikely. Indeed, last month, in response to my denunciation of Pompeo’s threat as endangering press freedoms, former Obama DOJ spokesperson Matthew Miller tweeted this:
But the Trump administration — at least if one believes its multiple statements and threats — appears unconstrained by those concerns. They appear determined to prosecute WikiLeaks, which has published numerous secret CIA hacking documents this year.
Press freedom groups, along with the ACLU and some journalists, such as the Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan, have warned of the grave dangers such a prosecution would pose to media outlets around the world. But that seems an unlikely impediment to an administration that has made clear that they regard the press as an enemy.
Indeed, Sessions himself refused to rule out the possibility that the prosecution of Assange could lead to the criminal prosecution of other news organizations that publish classified documents. Trump’s leading candidate to replace James Comey as FBI director, Joe Lieberman, has long called for the prosecution not only of WikiLeaks but also possibly media outlets such as the New York Times that publish the same classified information. And anonymous sources recently claimed to the New York Times that when Trump met with Comey early on in his administration, the new U.S. president expressly inquired about the possibility of prosecuting news outlets.
The termination of the Swedish investigation is, in one sense, good news for Assange. But it is unlikely to change his inability to leave the embassy any time soon. If anything, given the apparent determination of the Trump administration to put him in a U.S. prison cell for the “crime” of publishing documents, his freedom appears further away than it has since 2010, when the Swedish case began.
Ecuador asks UK PM Theresa May to give Assange safe passage, RT.com, May 19, 2017
Ecuador’s government has asked Britain to give WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange safe passage to the South American country to allow him asylum there. A source close to the case at the Ecuadorian foreign ministry told the Press Association: “Given that the European arrest warrant no longer holds, Ecuador will now be intensifying its diplomatic efforts with the UK so that Julian Assange can gain safe passage in order to enjoy his asylum in Ecuador.”
The source added Ecuador “welcomes the decision” to drop the charges against Assange…
Assange case proves ‘UK an American vassal state’ that can’t stop extraditions, interviews with political rights experts, on RT.com, May 19, 2017
Julian Assange rape allegations: The story behind the saga, RT.com, May, 19, 2017
WikiLeaks co-founder Assange speaks on the dropping of charges against him in Sweden, RT.com, May 19, 201717 (with video of statement by Julian Assange, on RT Ruptly, ten minutes)
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has given a public statement after rape allegations made against him were dropped by Swedish prosecutors on Friday. Assange sought political asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 and has been living there since, fearing subsequent extradition to America.
“Today is an important victory for me, and for the UN human rights system. But it by no means erases seven years of detention without charge – in prison, under house arrest, and almost five years here in this embassy without sunlight,” he told press outside the embassy.
“Seven years without charge, while my children grew up without me. That is not something that I can forgive, it is not something that I can forget.
“The inevitable inquiry into what has occurred in this moment of terrible injustice is something that I hope will be more than just about me, and this situation, because the reality is, detention and extradition without charge has become a feature of the European Union. A feature which has been exploited, yes, in my case, for political reasons, but for other cases have subjected many people to terrible injustices.”
Assange says that while “today was an important victory, an important vindication,” the “war is far from over.”
He says that while the UK has said it will arrest him, and the U.S. has said he and other WikiLeaks staff have no rights and that his arrest is a priority, “WikiLeaks will continue publication.”
Assange added that he is happy to engage with the U.S. Justice Department. “While U.S. has made extremely threatening remarks, [I am] always happy to engage in dialogue over what has occurred.”
He added: “My staff, my legal staff, have contacted the UK authorities and we hope to engage in a dialogue about what is the best way forward.”
“To some extent the UK has been exploited by the process it entered into with the EU, where it agreed to extradite people without charge. That is to an extend a forced position the UK has been put into. And, the first part of that is over. The UK refuses to confirm or deny at this stage whether a US extradition warrant is in the UK territory.”
Assange thanked “Ecuador, its people and its asylum system. They have stood by my asylum in the face of intense pressure.”
Assange also addressed the release of Channing Manning. “We have had an even more important victory this week [and] that is the release of Chelsea Manning after seven years in military prison. [End RT article.]