Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a legal adviser to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.
The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has published an internal email from the private intelligence firm Stratfor that suggests the U.S. Justice Department has obtained a sealed indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The email is one of around five million obtained from Stratfor’s servers by the hacker group, Anonymous. "Somehow you have a private intelligence company, Stratfor, a 'shadow CIA,' as people have called it, having information about this sealed indictment—secret again—that Julian Assange doesn’t have, that WikiLeaks doesn’t have, that his lawyers don’t have," says Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who is a legal adviser to both Assange and to WikiLeaks. "What you see here is secrecy, secrecy, secrecy." News of the indictment comes less than a week after Army Private Bradley Manning was arraigned for allegedly leaking classified U.S. military and State Department documents to WikiLeaks. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has published an internal email from the private intelligence firm Stratfor that suggests the Justice Department has obtained a sealed indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. In an email dated January 26, 2011, the vice president of Stratfor, Fred Burton, wrote, quote, "We have a sealed indictment on Assange. Pls protect," unquote.
On Monday, WikiLeaks began publishing more than five million emails from Stratfor’s servers that were obtained by the hacker group Anonymous. The Justice Department has not confirmed the existence of the secret indictment, but it had been previously reported that a secret grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, met in 2010 and ’11 to consider criminal charges against Assange. Legal experts say the Justice Department could charge Assange under the Espionage Act for disseminating classified U.S. State Department cables and other information.
On Tuesday, Assange released a statement condemning U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for conducting the secret grand jury. Assange said, quote, "This neo-McCarthyist witch hunt against WikiLeaks may be Mr Holder’s defining legacy. Any student of American history knows that secret justice is no justice at all. Justice must be seen to be done... Secret Grand Juries with secret indictments are apparently Eric Holder’s preferred method of dealing with publishers who hold his administration to account. Eric Holder has betrayed the legacy of Madison and Jefferson. He should drop the case or resign," said Assange.
The news of the possible indictment against Assange comes less than a week after U.S. Army whistleblower Bradley Manning was arraigned for leaking classified military and State Department documents to WikiLeaks. The 24-year-old Manning was formally charged with 22 counts, including aiding the enemy, wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the internet, and theft of public property.
Joining us now is Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He was at Bradley Manning’s arraignment and is a legal adviser to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. He’s the co-author of the book Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in 21st-Century America [with Margaret Ratner Kunstler].
Michael Ratner, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about the significance of this email that was on Stratfor’s servers that WikiLeaks has just released.
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, it has a lot of important implications. First of all, we have a secret grand jury that, as we understand, was sitting in Alexandria, Virginia—secret. Then you have what the emails refer to as a sealed indictment. Again, it’s secret. And then somehow you have a private intelligence company, Stratfor, a "shadow CIA," as people have called it, having information about this sealed indictment—secret again—that Julian Assange doesn’t have, that WikiLeaks doesn’t have, that his lawyers don’t have. So, what you see here is secrecy, secrecy, secrecy, all for the purpose of keeping secret crimes that the United States has committed in Afghanistan and Iraq. So it appears that they will go to every length to try and keep secret material that the American people and the people of the world ought to know. So one major significance is that they’re continuing to use secrecy.
The second one, if it’s true—and of course it looks like this guy, Fred Burton, was very high up at one point in the State Department diplomatic corps, was involved in counterterrorism, and, it’s very likely, has knowledge that may well be true about this sealed indictment. Already, the Obama administration has gone after six people under the Espionage Act, six different cases under the Espionage Act. That’s more cases under the Espionage Act than happened in—since the Espionage Act was actually begun in 1917. So you’re seeing really an effort by the Obama administration, despite claims to the contrary that they would have a more open government, that it wants a closed government and that it’s willing to go after journalists.
And of course, a third implication is here is a clear case of going after WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, journalists who have revealed, you know, millions, at this point—certainly hundreds of thousands—of documents implicating the United States in serious crimes.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at another email from Fred Burton, the vice president of Stratfor, who says, "Assange is going to make a nice bride in prison. Screw the terrorist. He’ll be eating cat food forever."
MICHAEL RATNER: I have to say, when you read through the WikiLeaks press release, which has a number of the Stratfor documents that refer to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, they’re really sickening, because what they really say is we have to treat Julian Assange as a high-tech terrorist, we have to treat Julian Assange as somebody who we have to take down like al-Qaeda.
And if you look at what they say they should do to Julian Assange, it’s actually what’s happened. One of the things the emails say is, "We have to cut off all their funding supplies. We have to just give them no money at all." And that’s why, of course, you see MasterCard and Visa having cut off any donations to WikiLeaks. "We have to go after his associates."
AMY GOODMAN: Meaning they stopped anyone from giving them money online through their credit cards.
MICHAEL RATNER: I can’t use my credit card—
AMY GOODMAN: And PayPal.
MICHAEL RATNER: —and I can’t use PayPal to give money to WikiLeaks. So what is said in the Stratfor documents that we have to do to Julian Assange has actually—and WikiLeaks—has actually happened. So you really have to ask yourself what’s going on here. We have this private intelligence company hand in glove—it’s like a revolving door—with U.S. intelligence.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Michael Ratner, explain again just what Stratfor is, why they have all this information.
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, Stratfor is what you would call a private intelligence company. So, as you had on your show the other day, if you’re somebody from—if you’re somebody from Coca-Cola or some big corporation, and there’s some opposition to what you’re doing, whether it’s in Bhopal or with Coca-Cola, you hire Stratfor to try and get information on your opponents. And sure, some of the information is just, you know, regular, you know, what you can get off the internet. But some of it, if you read these documents, apparently is information they get from various people within the intelligence agencies. They then transmit that information to the company, so that they can combat opposition to their policies. And it’s not just private companies who hire Stratfor. Apparently, the U.S. Marines have hired Stratfor. The Department of Homeland Security has hired Stratfor. So what you see is the privatization of essentially the CIA operating in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Julian Assange is not a U.S. citizen. How is he possibly indicted for treason?
MICHAEL RATNER: You know, I think—it’s not treason. It’s the Espionage Act. And in fact, one thing you just said, treason is under the Constitution. It’s adhering to your enemy, particularly during time of war. And in fact, the Espionage Act can be looked at as a way to get around the strict requirements of treason that are in the U.S. Constitution.
In fact, I think there’s a serious question whether someone like Julian Assange, who is not a U.S. citizen, can be indicted under the Espionage Act. What duty does Julian Assange owe the United States vis-à-vis the Espionage Act? If I, tomorrow, surface documents that had to do with the Soviet Union, or Russia, rather, and what it’s doing in Chechnya, that were classified, could Russia actually get my extradition from the United States because I put out classified documents belonging to Russia? I don’t think so. But that would be—if they actually have an indictment and if they go after Julian Assange in the way that so far they’ve indicated they want to, that will certainly be an important issue. What duty did Julian Assange owe to the United States?
AMY GOODMAN: Is Stratfor breaking the law? How is Stratfor selling intelligence legal, when WikiLeaks giving it away for free is not?
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, certainly, if Stratfor is giving away classified material, if it’s actually getting information from people within the government that is classified, if it’s actually paying anybody within the government, then yes, Stratfor, by selling it, would be considered to be violating the law—and particularly if you look and compare Stratfor to WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks is journalism. WikiLeaks is putting it out there. Stratfor is selling it privately. They’re not journalists. So they don’t have a journalist’s defense here.
I mean, the important thing to understand about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange is this is, I think, perhaps the first time, if this indictment is true, that the United States has actually indicted a journalist for going—for revealing material given to him—apparently, allegedly given to him—by someone who had access to classified material. But it’s the first time that I know of where actual documents have been the subject of such a criminal indictment.
AMY GOODMAN: You were at the arraignment of Bradley Manning?
MICHAEL RATNER: Yes, I was there. I went down for that, last week.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us exactly what happened.
MICHAEL RATNER: I had to go to Fort Meade. It’s hard to get in. They inspect your car. They open the trunks. You have to have insurance. You wait for hours. And then you walk into a courtroom that looks like a hospital room. It’s Celotex ceiling, cheap carpet, bright lights, eight-foot-high ceiling. And you sit in this really bureaucratic, antiseptic courtroom. There’s about eight spectators, maybe 10, maybe 10 press people. Bradley Manning walks in in his dress uniform, short haircut, glasses, sits down next to his attorney. And then there’s about a one-hour proceeding in which he is asked to plead guilty or not guilty, or a third choice, which is the one he took, to defer prosecution.
And Amy, what I couldn’t get over is how bureaucratic it all is. Here you have the man who allegedly downloaded documents showing the number—you know, thousands of people, civilians, killed in Iraq, the "Collateral Murder" video, Reuters journalists being killed, children being shot, and they’re having this bureaucratic proceeding. And when I sat there, my feeling was only the people who should be in that room—first, the people who should be defendants are obviously the people who started this Iraq war and are continuing it, and the Afghan war. But the people who should be observing it are the dead Reuters journalists, their ghosts, the ghosts of the children and the people killed in Iraq, and the people killed in Afghanistan. That’s what this should be about. Instead, what this government is doing is taking a whistleblower like Bradley Manning and going after him because they don’t want whistleblowing, but they don’t want their crimes revealed. And people have to understand that. You can argue all you want about technical violations of the law, but in the end, what this is about is the United States wanting to suppress the truth.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Julian Assange’s fears? I saw him last July in London. I interviewed him on Independence Day weekend. And this concern about—well, we haven’t even talked about the possible extradition to Sweden. But if he is extradited, why he fears that he could be sent, more likely than extradited, to the United States than if he is in Britain, and what that would mean if he was brought into this country? Is it possible the sealed indictment would never be unsealed?
MICHAEL RATNER: I mean, one of the reasons that the Center for Constitutional Rights and myself have been going to the Bradley Manning hearings is because what happened to Bradley Manning, and what is still happening to Bradley Manning, may very well and likely happen to Julian Assange.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, is it true that Bradley Manning actually faces the death penalty?
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, he has a—
AMY GOODMAN: Though the prosecutors say they could give him life, that a judge could decide that they would give him death.
MICHAEL RATNER: That’s correct. The aiding to the enemy charge, which is the first charge against him, against Bradley Manning, does carry a death penalty. What the prosecutor has said is they will not ask for the death penalty. I don’t know if that makes it impossible for the judge to give a death penalty. I think the judge could still give a death penalty in that case.
But what could happen to Julian—look at Bradley Manning’s case, and ask yourself what can happen to Julian Assange. He spent nine months in solitaire, some of it stripped to the bone, forced to go outside and stand in formation stripped to the bone, temperature problems, in solitaire, no ability to really exercise, no materials—really what amounts to, and many people have said and I think, as well, amounts to torture for the nine months. Finally, there was a huge public outcry. Even the State Department official who was forced to resign, P.J. Crowley, said this isn’t right. And he was—and Manning—
AMY GOODMAN: And that lost P.J. Crowley his job.
MICHAEL RATNER: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: He said that at MIT, the former State Department spokesperson. And soon he was out of his—
MICHAEL RATNER: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —State Department spokepersonship position.
MICHAEL RATNER: So that’s what to look at. Look at that example when you think of what could happen to Julian Assange. He comes here, he gets off some airplane, and they take him probably to Alexandria, Virginia, because where you go for the first—where you first land is usually where the indictment is. They take him to Alexandria.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s where the secret grand jury is going to be.
MICHAEL RATNER: That’s where the secret grand jury is. They put him into some hellhole in solitary. They put special administrative measures on him, which are called SAMs, that probably will allow no communication with anyone. Let’s say one of his lawyers wants to go in and talk to him. They can talk to them, but they probably can’t say anything outside, anything to the press or anything. So he gets treated like Bradley Manning. He gets SAMs put on him. And then—and then that continues. And he won’t get—very unlikely they would give him bail. So if you look at Bradley Manning, you can look at what happens to Julian Assange. And, of course, there is at this point—I don’t think there’s a death penalty charge—we don’t know until we see the indictment—against Julian Assange. There is a death penalty in a different part of the Espionage Act, but it’s not the one they seem to be investigating Julian Assange for.
AMY GOODMAN: Could a sealed indictment never be unsealed?
MICHAEL RATNER: No. A sealed indictment, if they—if and when they want to extradite him, they’re going to have to unseal that indictment. But at that point, he’s going to be in custody somewhere. I mean, he’s now in custody, arguably. He can’t leave England. He has a bracelet on. He has to check into the police station. So he is in custody still. But he’s not in a prison. If and when they decide—if and when they go for extradition, whether it’s from the U.K., United Kingdom, or from Sweden, if that’s where he is—
AMY GOODMAN: And is it easier to extradite him from Sweden?
MICHAEL RATNER: You know, we don’t know the answer to that. My guess is that a bigger country like England, which has incredibly good attorneys on extradition and has actually recently held up a hacker’s case, the guy who went into the Pentagon computer, a young man—eight years they’ve been trying to extradite him to the U.S. and haven’t gotten him—that Julian Assange will have the most support and the best legal team in the United Kingdom, and that Sweden, my guess, because it’s a smaller country that the U.S. can bat around, will be easier for the United States to get Julian Assange
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Ratner, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, legal adviser to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, author of the book with [Margaret Ratner Kunstler] Hell No.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we go to Michigan. Mitt Romney has narrowly won his primary in Michigan and won big in Arizona. Stay with us.
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