Michael Ratner examines four areas of the Julian Assange case and progress to date.
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. And welcome to this edition of the Michael Ratner Report. Michael Ratner is just back from visiting Julian Assange in London, where he is at the Ecuadorean Embassy where he has been since 2012 in order to avoid extradition to Sweden.
Now joining us to give us the update is Michael Ratner. Michael is Julian Assange’s U.S. lawyer, and chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. He’s also President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. Thank you so much for joining us, Michael.
MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: Sharmini, it’s always good to be with you and The Real News. Actually just returned from London, and visiting Julian Assange at the Embassy. And he’s in good spirits, and I’ll talk about it. He’s working hard. Lots of new releases coming out. But it’s been a long stay.
The four points I want to talk about today are: one is Julian’s stay in the Embassy, which is continuing. Secondly, the continuing U.S. espionage investigation of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, third is continuing work of WikiLeaks and Julian, and fourth is this Swedish high court or supreme court case.
First, and we’re coming up on an anniversary here, first, Julian Assange remains in the Embassy of Ecuador in London. This year on June 19th it’ll be three years in that embassy, and he was in some form of custodial detention or with a bracelet on for a year and a half before that in London, ten days actually in jail. So it’s been four and a half years since the lodging of a warrant against Julian Assange on allegations of sexual misconduct, understand. Not charges, but allegations. Because of that, that four and a half years, there’s a pending extradition in this period to Sweden. It’s not for charges. It’s for questioning regarding the allegations of sexual misconduct.
So now it’s been four and a half years since those allegations in Sweden and the issuance of a detention warrant, and there’s been no charges. So it’s a case of indefinite detention without charges. As you recall, he went to the Embassy in London not because he feared extradition to Sweden, those are sexual misconduct allegations that don’t, wouldn’t require a lot of time even were he, were convicted. Which I think is very unlikely. But he was–he didn’t want to go to Sweden because he was afraid of onward extradition to the United States, where he was facing conceivably very serious espionage charges which could have landed him in jail for 30, 40, 50 years.
And Sweden wouldn’t give him any kind of a guarantee that they wouldn’t send him to the United States after he dealt with the Swedish allegations, and they wouldn’t say they would honor his asylum request. In fact, they specifically said at one point they wouldn’t honor it, but later on they said they would consider honoring it. At least, the government said one thing, the prosecutor said another. But given that risk of going to Sweden and going ultimately to the U.S., he decided not to go to Sweden. On the advice of his lawyers, I should say, on the opinion it was very dangerous. Sweden has a bad reputation in terms of extradition. So that’s the first point. And he remains in that embassy, this is three years, almost three years.
The second point is that there’s an ongoing espionage and related crimes investigation in the United States. We’ve gotten recent confirmation of that in U.S.-filed papers in the Eastern District of New York. The spokesperson for the Eastern District has said there’s an ongoing investigation of WikiLeaks, there’s been FOIA litigation in which it has also been said there’s a long-term investigation going on of WikiLeaks. So that’s the second point.
The third point, and I think important and I know Julian would want it emphasized here, is that despite the situation of being in the Embassy and being under these allegations and the U.S. investigation, he’s continuing to do on WikiLeaks his very effective work. A few days ago, and I want to bring to people’s attention, WikiLeaks released the transcripts of the BND investigation into NSA spying. It’s called the Bundestag Inquiry into BND and NSA. And that’s essentially what the German government and authorities were doing about NSA spying and how they were cooperating with it. You can go online and you can search some 1,400 pages of transcripts of the NSA spying on Germany and what that–Germany and others, and what that inquiry has released, just WikiLeaks.org. Put in BND and go for it.
One of the biggest scandals that has come out of those documents is this, quote, selector spy targets list that came out of those transcripts. Where a BND official revealed in those hearings that the agency was expected to spy on thousands of targets at the instruction of the NSA. The BND is the equivalent of the German spy agency. And was expected to spy on thousands of targets at the instructions of the NSA, not at the instructions of the German government. These targets included members of the French government, the European industry, et cetera. And apparently if I recall this correctly, even Chancellor Merkel couldn’t reveal that without getting authority from the United States to reveal it.
So essentially Germany in this case appears to have been a lapdog for NSA spying. So that’s one important area that WikiLeaks has continued to function. A week before the BND transcripts, the transcripts of the hearing in the Parliament investigation were put out, WikiLeaks revealed that Sony–revealed an indexing and search method for the Sony emails. Which were quite extraordinary. They were up online, but no one could find anything because there was no search mechanism. They put a search mechanism on them, and you have some amazing emails have been revealed. Of course, one of the most well-known ones is from a writer named Jonathan Alter. Quite well-known, bestsellers, et cetera, to the head of Sony, the CEO. A guy named Lynton. Talking about Sony’s purchase of the book by Glenn Greenwald about Snowden.
And what he says in that email to–this is the head of Sony. Your purchase, Sony, essentially, of the book by Greenwald, who may be the biggest single asshole I’ve met in 35 years in journalism, he refers to him. And he says, I’m glad you bought the rights so no one else can make it. So that’s the kind of stuff you’re seeing in Sony. So that’s a second very important point. Third point, rather.
The fourth point was that in the last year, Julian Assange and his lawyers in Sweden have challenged the continued detention order in Sweden. That detention order was issued so that he could be questioned on these allegations in Sweden. This is what led to the UK extradition order to Sweden for him to be questioned. Julian’s Swedish lawyers argued that it’s been over four years now that there’s been a detention order outstanding, and there’s been no progress in his case. No questioning, nothing. The prosecutor refused to come to London to question him, or question him by Skype, et cetera.
The lawyers asserted that the case should be dismissed. You can’t just order someone detained for questioning, issue a detention order under which Julian’s detained in the UK, and do nothing for four years. It’s not fair. Europe has a system [what’s called] disproportionate. If the consequences of the detention order outweigh the purpose of the detention order, it has to be dismissed. In this case they asserted four years is just two long for questioning, and the consequences for Julian far outweigh the needs of the state to continue the order when here the prosecutor has sat on her hands for four years.
Well when we filed, and after we slowly went through the courts in Sweden, and the lawyers got to the supreme court in Sweden–when we thought it would go well, or at least we had a good chance. Then the prosecutor, while the case is pending, said she will now go to Sweden and do her duty and question Julian.
PERIES: You mean go to London.
RATNER: Go to London, I’m sorry. The prosecutor finally said she’ll go to London and question Julian Assange. Meanwhile, the case is pending in the supreme court. Before that could happen the supreme court issued a ruling which was a split decision, actually. The majority upheld the detention order saying that there was a public interest in continuing to hold Julian and question him. The minority said no, he would have dismissed the case, saying it was a disproportionate case at this point. You can’t hold someone for four years on a detention order, four and a half, and not question them. It was an outlandish, politicized judgment. Under any reasonable rule in the UK or in Europe the case should have been dismissed on disproportionality, but it wasn’t. Now the next stage legally is probably to go to some international European court on this fundamental issue, that he’s been held for over four and a half years, no questioning. Whether the prosecutor will really go and question Julian, we’ll have to wait and see.
The supreme court was split. The majority upheld the detention order really in part because I think she finally said after four and a half years she would go to London. The minority said, that’s ridiculous. It’s just too much time has passed. You can’t wait for hour and a half years on a detention order and then when the case is pending essentially go and say you’ll question someone. And I think in a European court, if and when Julian goes to a European court, they will find this an outlandish, politicized judgment, and four and a half years is just too many to not question someone and let the detention order stand. As I said, Julian Assange can now go to a European-wide court, the European Court of Human Rights, presumably, or some other court, where I think he will have a good chance.
The last point, and I think an important one to always make is that even assuming Sweden can be dealt with, which I think it can be. I think it’s been such an unfair process and so long that that will, that that–which has never been the most critical part of this case, will not be the block here to Julian leaving the Embassy. The block is that even if Sweden is dropped, the UK has still said they would arrest Julian if he leaves the Embassy, and they refuse to honor his grant of asylum by Ecuador and guarantee him safe passage to Ecuador. And once he’s in the hands of the UK, of course, there’s a high risk he’ll wind up going to the United States on an extradition order. So we still have some big roadblocks here. Ultimately though, I do believe that the asylum given by Ecuador will be honored and will be honored by the UK, and it will be forced to do so. If not by their own government, by the courts.
The takeaway for me in all of this is particularly the strength of Julian Assange continuing to do his work, continuing to be in the Embassy. And you know, when I walk out and can go have dinner and he can’t I always have this pang of guilt. But in fact, Julian is able to continue his work. Three years of really unbowed Julian Assange in the Embassy, four and a half in custody, and unbowed WikiLeaks continuing its work. So I’m optimistic for the future of Julian and WikiLeaks, and ultimately getting him to Ecuador.
PERIES: And Michael, on your fourth point, isn’t there a statue of limitations coming up in August on that order?
RATNER: If there’s any such thing as law that really still applies in what I call the Julian Assange section to the legal, the legal codes of countries all over the world, particularly Sweden and the UK and the US, then yes. Of the four allegations, three of them should drop away by August 19th of this year. The prosecutor has said they would, and they should. Which means–which would be a big, an important step. Because then you’re dealing with one allegation. You might have to, they might have to re-issue the arrest warrant in the case. And now British law has changed, Julian could no longer be held under the current new law in Britain, which they refuse to apply to Julian, which says that allegations are not sufficient to get an arrest warrant against someone. And if they had to reconsider under their new law, which of course they should have done already under the current circumstances, but they’ve refused. I think the arrest warrant will fall away, as well.
So we have a few dates coming up. Obviously June 19th, the three years in the Embassy. We have the August 19th when perhaps, and if law has any meaning in the world, three of the four allegations should drop away and we’ll be dealing with a different situation.
PERIES: Michael Ratner, thank you so much for joining us today.
RATNER: And thank you for having me on The Real News.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.