Glenn Greenwald on the Assange Extradition Ruling, the Jailing of Bradley Manning, and the Campaign to Target WikiLeaks Supporters
A British judge ruled today that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden to face questioning on allegations of sexual crimes. Assange plans to appeal within 10 days. His defense team had argued against the extradition, in part by citing the potential he could wind up being extradited to the United States and prosecuted for publishing classified government documents, a crime that could result in the death penalty. We speak to constitutional law attorney and legal blogger Glenn Greenwald about the Assange case, allegations of torture by the U.S. Army to alleged whistleblower Army Private Bradley Manning, and a recently disclosed plot by three private intelligence firms to target WikiLeaks and its supporters, including Greenwald, who has publicly defended the organization.
JUAN GONZALEZ: A British judge ruled this morning that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault. The decision comes after two days of hearings. Assange has been fighting extradition to Sweden since December, when he was arrested and held for nine days in a London jail.
AMY GOODMAN: Today, the judge dismissed Assange’s defense claims that the Swedish allegations are not offenses under English law and ruled Sweden does have authority to issue an arrest warrant for Assange. The Swedish trial will be heard behind closed [doors]. Afterward, Assange could be extradited to the United States to face allegations he published classified documents. If convicted, he would face the death penalty.
To discuss these developments, we’re joined by Glenn Greenwald, constitutional law attorney and political and legal blogger for Salon.com.
Glenn, it’s nice to have you here in the United States.
GLENN GREENWALD: Nice to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about this ruling.
GLENN GREENWALD: Sure. I don’t think it’s particularly surprising, in the sense that typically when contesting extradition, a defendant needs to be able to argue that there’s not just something unfair about the process, but something that’s so fundamentally flawed in the justice system of the country seeking extradition that it would offend the notions of basic justice and due process of the extraditing country. And when you’re talking about a country like Sweden, that is part of multiple conventions and treaties and other systems of justice with the British, it’s a very uphill battle to try and convince a British judge that Sweden would be so radically flawed. Additionally, this decision is going to be appealed multiple times to high British courts and ultimately to the European Human Rights Court, and so it’s going to be quite a long time before there’s any resolution with finality. He’s not going to be shipped off to Stockholm anytime soon.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Mark Stephens. He spoke to reporters in Britain just outside the courthouse in London. He is Julian Assange’s attorney.
MARK STEPHENS: We still remain very optimistic about our opportunities on appeal. The judge made a very important finding in relation to both the fact of the secret trial, which—in Sweden, which is an anathema to the open justice principle which we, in this country, and I think in most civilized countries of the world, hold very dear.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Mark Stephens, Assange’s attorney.
GLENN GREENWALD: That, I think, for me, is the key point. There is a lot of improprieties and oddities about how the Swedish authorities have handled this case, in particular that the first prosecutor who looked at it decided that there was nothing to warrant any further proceedings, then it was sort of taken away by a prosecutor who’s known to be somewhat zealous in this area, who then reversed that initial ruling. But these are the kinds of improprieties that are quite common, especially in a case that’s controversial and that involves difficult allegations of sexual assault, like this one does.
The thing that I think is really quite disturbing is this aspect of Swedish law that essentially says that almost all rape trials are presumptively secret—not just that the victim’s testimony is in secret, but that the entire proceeding is in secret—so that, essentially, it’s like a Star Chamber, where one day, out of the blue, Swedish authorities will emerge and could essentially say the defendant has been found guilty and sentenced to this amount of time in prison. And that really does offend basic notions of justice in the Western world. And that’s, I think, the most likely issue to be contested vigorously on appeal.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Glenn, you’ve been writing extensively about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, but now you’ve become part of the story yourself, in terms of efforts by a law firm tied to Bank of America to begin to target key supporters of WikiLeaks. Could you talk about that?
GLENN GREENWALD: Sure. What essentially happened is that this group calling itself Anonymous announced several months ago that it would target any companies that terminated services with WikiLeaks in response to government pressure. And numerous large companies, such as MasterCard and Visa, Amazon, PayPal, did exactly that. And then Anonymous targeted those companies with denial of service attacks and other what turned out to be fairly minor disruptions to their internet commerce.
And in response, various internet security firms decided that they would try and investigate Anonymous in order to attract government attention, get government contracts, curry favor with law enforcement authorities. And one of them in particular, a firm called HB Gary, that does a lot of work for the government, started publicly boasting that they had infiltrated Anonymous, that they had uncovered the identities of some of the key individuals involved. And in retaliation, Anonymous then targeted HB Gary and hacked into its email system and published 50,000 or so emails from HB Gary online.
And among those emails were various proposals that HB Gary and other companies, serious players in this internet security industry, had been circulating on behalf of both Bank of America and the Chamber of Commerce to target critics of the Chamber of Commerce and supporters of WikiLeaks, both in the media and in political activism, with some very nefarious, threatening and probably illegal measures. And the key cog in this whole process is this large and very well-connected lobbyist and legal firm, Hunton & Williams, that represents both entities and was coordinating these proposals.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And they specifically mentioned you as a key supporter that needed to be dealt with?
GLENN GREENWALD: Right. Well, ironically, there have been so few people in the American media who have been willing to defend WikiLeaks, notwithstanding the fact that what they’re doing is core journalism and that the threats to prosecute and otherwise harm them would be as grave a threat to press freedoms in this country as anything we’ve seen in a long time. There have been so few members of the media who have been willing to stand up and support WikiLeaks that being one of the very few people who have been vocal—and that they did identify me, as well as several other people, as needing specific targeting. The phrase they used was forcing us to choose between, quote, "preservation of career over cause," meaning threatening our careers if we continue to speak out in favor of WikiLeaks.
AMY GOODMAN: Again, just to summarize, Julian Assange has not been charged with anything at this point. And what could happen—he has 10 days to appeal this—if he goes to Sweden, to do with the United States, why he might find himself, perhaps—could he?—imprisoned near Bradley Manning?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, this is what is so interesting to me about the whole Assange extradition struggle. And you’re absolutely right, he has not even—not only has he not been convicted, obviously, and therefore should be presumed guilty by nobody, but he’s not even been charged. They just simply want him for interrogation at this point. I think it’s assumed that the Swedish authorities intend to prosecute.
But what is so interesting about this is that the reason he’s contesting the extradition so vehemently is because what he fears most is being turned over to American authorities. And interestingly, I’ve spoken with a lot of people who have been involved in WikiLeaks, both previously and currently, and all of them, to the person, no matter what their nationality is, the thing they fear most is ending up in the hands of the American authorities and in the American, quote-unquote, "justice system," which is really quite telling that that’s now the great fear that people around the world have, given that, as foreign nationals, they know that when things like national security is involved and threats of secrecy are involved, they end up in black holes, where they’re denied all justice. And so, that’s what’s driving Assange is the fear that he will end up in the hands of the American authorities.
And in reality, if you just look at the law, it actually should be more likely that Britain would be willing to extradite him rather than Sweden, because Britain actually has much broader laws criminalizing the disclosure of classified information, whereas in Sweden it’s probable that what he did would never be a crime, and therefore they wouldn’t extradite him. But being that Sweden is a small country, that it has shown in the past that it’s captive to American dictates when it comes to these sorts of things, I think the reality is, is that Sweden would have—would lack the ability to resist American demands, while the British public would probably demand that their government stand up to the United States. And so, the law just gets completely disregarded, because the law should be more favorable to him in Sweden.
AMY GOODMAN: And the grand jury that was convened in the United States, what has happened with that?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, grand juries, of course, are in secret. So, what we know is that the Justice Department has said that they are vehemently pursuing the prospect of prosecution. We also know that the government has done things like—
AMY GOODMAN: For WikiLeaks.
GLENN GREENWALD: For WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. And what we also know is that the government has done things like subpoena the records of various individuals associated with Twitter—with WikiLeaks, including Twitter and other places, including of a sitting member of the Icelandic parliament that caused a diplomatic crisis, essentially, between Iceland and the United States. And so—and we know that they’re targeting WikiLeaks supporters at airports and taking their laptops and other things, the way they do, as you reported a couple weeks ago, with journalists, as well. So there’s obviously a very active criminal investigation and a clear intent on the part of the United States government to prosecute and—indict and prosecute WikiLeaks for pure journalism.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And the impact on WikiLeaks itself of this enormous campaign against it? There have been some reports of defections of some of the key supporters involved with WikiLeaks. Do you think it’s having a debilitating effect on its ability to continue to function as this whole new arm of openness in government?
GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, you know, there’s no question that, without being charged with anything, WikiLeaks has been—I don’t know if I’d say crippled, but severely disabled as a result of government pressure. I mean, we just talked about how the government successfully pressured virtually every large financial company to terminate its services with the organization, meaning that they can no longer raise funds or it’s very difficult for them to raise funds.
I know that even before the controversy started—this was one of the things that first really alerted me to how serious this issue was—when I first wrote about WikiLeaks a year ago or so and encouraged people to support it and to donate money to it, there were all kinds of people, American citizens, who said to me in various forums that they actually feared donating money to WikiLeaks because they thought they would end up on some kind of a list, that they might ultimately be accused of giving material support to terrorists. So here you have a climate in the United States that was created even before all of the real leaks, the controversial leaks, where people are afraid to associate and to donate to political causes in which they believe, because they believe that they could end up liable. And, of course, people who look at what has happened to Bradley Manning, the way he’s been held in solitary confinement, would be petrified of leaking to WikiLeaks, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Before we break, talking about Bradley Manning, talk about where he is right now. You have written about his solitary confinement as torture. Talk about Wired magazine, what they have. And also, I just want to let people know the latest is Assange has been bailed out on the same terms as before.
GLENN GREENWALD: Right. So, Bradley Manning is where he’s been for the last nine months now, which is he’s in a brig in Quantico, Virginia, being held under extraordinarily oppressive conditions that Amnesty International has now condemned as inhumane, that the U.N. high official on torture is actively investigating. He’s being held in solitary confinement 23 hours a day in his cell. The only time he’s let out is one hour a day to walk around in a room by myself, shackled. The minute he stops walking, he’s returned to his cell. His attorney has raised—intends to raise the issue that he’s being punished in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which he is. But essentially, this is the kind of treatment that psychologically breaks people and renders them in capable of functioning normally. And his visitors have said that there’s a clear deterioration both in his physical and psychological state.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back. Glenn Greenwald is our guest. Glenn Greenwald, constitutional law attorney and political and legal blogger for Salon.com. Just on the Bradley Manning part, the Wired story?
GLENN GREENWALD: Right. So, one of the—really, the only thing that we know at all about what Bradley Manning has done, the only thing that anyone knows, comes from chat logs that were released by Wired magazine, that purport to be a conversation—a series of conversations between Manning and a former convicted hacker turned government informant, Adrian Lamo, who has a long and complex relationship with a Wired reporter named Kevin Poulsen. Lamo provided Poulsen and Wired magazine with these chat logs, and rather than releasing all of them or describing what was in them, they released very selected snippets of them, roughly 20 to 25 percent. At first they said there’s nothing else that is in it that is newsworthy, it’s all just personal and privacy invading. But then, in response to inquiries and other things, they began releasing slowly other snippets. Further snippets have been released by some newspapers that clearly were newsworthy. And so, Wired is clearly concealing the substantial majority of the conversations between Manning and Lamo, which is the only source of the allegations against Manning, at least public. And despite calling themselves journalists, they refuse either to release these materials or to account for what’s in them or to allow a third party to review them. They’re acting as anything but journalists.
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