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Glenn Greenwald on the Arrest of Julian Assange and the U.S. “War on WikiLeaks”

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been arrested in London on an international warrant to face sex crime allegations in Sweden. Assange is expected to face a hasty extradition process to Sweden. We speak with Glenn Greenwald, constitutional attorney and blogger at Salon.com. Greenwald says: “Whatever you think of WikiLeaks, they have not been charged with a crime, let alone indicted or convicted. Yet look what has happened to them. They have been removed from Internet … their funds have been frozen … media figures and politicians have called for their assassination and to be labeled a terrorist organization. What is really going on here is a war over control of the Internet, and whether or not the Internet can actually serve its ultimate purpose—which is to allow citizens to band together and democratize the checks on the world’s most powerful factions.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Cancún, Mexico, at the U.N. Climate Change Conference. In a moment, we’ll turn to the talks here in Cancún, but first our top story. Julian Assange, the founder of the WikiLeaks website, was arrested in London earlier today on an international warrant to face sexual assault allegations in Sweden. Assange is appearing in court today after surrendering to British police. The case reportedly centers on accusations from two women who say Assange refused to use a condom during consensual sex. Assange and WikiLeaks have denounced the case as a political witch-hunt that’s intensified with the group’s release of secret U.S. diplomatic cables.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is carrying out a separate criminal probe focused on WikiLeaks’s decision to release secret U.S. documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghan and U.S. diplomatic cables. U.S. Defense Secretary Gates said earlier today Assange’s arrest, quote, “sounds like good news to me.”

The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has said it will keep operating as normal despite the arrest of its founder, Julian Assange, in Britain. A spokesperson said, quote, “WikiLeaks is operational. We are continuing on the same track as laid out before. Any development with regards to Julian Assange will not change the plans we have with regards to the releases today and in the coming days.” WikiLeaks has released less than one percent of the more than 250,000 secret diplomatic cables in its possession.

For more on the arrest of Julian Assange, I’m joined by Democracy Now! video stream by Glenn Greenwald, constitutional attorney and blogger at Salon.com.

Glenn, if you could just respond to this latest news on the arrest of Julian Assange in Britain.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, what’s interesting is it’s being depicted in the media as some kind of an international manhunt that finally concluded. That’s what Matt Lauer announced this morning on NBC News, the international manhunt is over. The reality is that although this case has been around for quite some time, there was really only a valid arrest warrant for the first time in England, the country where he’s been located, as of yesterday, and last night his attorneys negotiated his turning himself in with the police department in London. So it was entirely voluntary. There was never any manhunt of any kind, nor has he been actually charged with a crime. The arrest warrant has been issued by the Swedish authorities in order to question him about the accusations that have been made. There’s no judgment that he’s guilty or that there should be a prosecution at all. They’re simply seeking to interrogate him.

And one of the most — the strangest and most interesting aspects of all of this is that it’s extremely unusual for Interpol, the international police agency used in Europe and other places, to be used in this manner. I mean, he was put on the, quote, “most wanted” list, even though, as I just said, he’s not charged with any crime. They’re simply seeking to interrogate him. And for months now, his attorneys have offered to the Swedish police and to prosecutors to make him available for questioning, whether it be by telephone or by Skype or by appearing in some other technologically suitable means, and yet they’ve been extremely insistent, very oddly so, that that isn’t good enough, that he actually make himself physically available in the jurisdiction of Sweden in order to be detained and interrogated.

And, of course, the real concern is — and it’s the concern that Assange and his lawyers have — is that what this really is is just a ploy to get him into custody in a country, which is Sweden, that is very subservient to the United States, that is willing to extradite him to the United States or turn him over with the slightest request. And any person who has followed the United States, quote-unquote, “justice system” over the last decade knows that there’s good reason to fear that, that anybody who’s accused of national security crimes, especially if they’re not an American citizen, is treated in violation of virtually every Western norm of justice, without almost any due process.

So I think the responsible thing to do for any person is to wait and see with regard to the allegations themselves that these women have made, whether there’s evidence to support it. We should all wait and see one way or the other, and hopefully the case will play itself out. But there’s lots of reasons, in terms of how it’s been treated by Swedish authorities, to find it very questionable indeed whether what’s really going on is a politically motivated effort to get him out of WikiLeaks, stop what he’s doing in terms of exposing and bringing transparency to governments around the world, and ultimately hand him over to the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange has appeared on Democracy Now! several times this year. On October 26th, he detailed some of the international pressure facing WikiLeaks.

JULIAN ASSANGE: Oh, there’s no doubt that this organization is under siege. There was a direct demand made by the Pentagon that we destroy all previous publications, all upcoming publications — an incredible demand for prior restraint on a media organization by a military — and that we cease dealing with U.S. military whistleblowers.

My Swedish residency application was denied for reasons that still remain secret.

One week after the release of the Afghan war diaries, our donation credit card processing company Moneybookers, the second biggest on the internet after Paypal, terminated our accounts, and we were forwarded an email by the security department explaining the situation to the account manager, which was that we were on a U.S. watchlist and an Australian government blacklist and to see the current controversy in relation to Afghanistan. Fortunately, we have just now managed to get up an Icelandic-based credit card processing scheme, so donors can once again donate there.

The Australian attorney general stated that he would assist any country anywhere in the world to prosecute us over these disclosures and that, when asked the question, had he provided intelligence assistance, something that we have evidence of, said, “Well, yes, we help countries from time to time, but I won’t comment directly on that matter.”

And we know the Icelandic government has been publicly pressured to not be a safe haven for our publishing activities or for me personally.

The Swedish government has been pressured at the intelligence agency level to its body SAPO. When I left Sweden on the 27th of September, my — to a flight to Berlin on SAS, one of the world’s most — if not the world’s most reputable airline — my luggage disappeared. That was the — I was the only case in that plane.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Julian Assange speaking on Democracy Now! just a few weeks ago.

By the way, a correction to an earlier headline, a Swiss bank has frozen Julian Assange’s account, not a Swedish bank.

Also, the newspaper called The Australian is preparing to run an op-ed by Julian Assange that was written before his arrest. The newspaper reports, quote, “Mr Assange begins by saying: 'in 1958, a young Rupert Murdoch, then owner and editor of Adelaide's the News, wrote: 'In the race between secrecy and truth, it seems inevitable that truth will always win.' It goes on to say a few more things about freedom of speech; the 'dark days' of corrupt government in Queensland (where Assange was raised); and it says much about his upbringing in a country town, 'where people spoke their minds bluntly'. It says that Australian politicians are chanting a 'provably false chorus' with the US State Department of ’You’ll risk lives! You’ll endanger troops!’ by releasing information, and 'then they say there is nothing of importance in what Wikileaks publishes. It can't be both.’” Those are a few of the quotes that will appear in Julian Assange’s op-ed piece. The Australian newspaper is releasing it at midnight Australian time. Final comments, Glenn Greenwald?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, I just want to underscore how alarming everything is that you just described, both in that report and in your earlier one, which is, whatever you think of WikiLeaks, they’ve never been charged with a crime, let alone indicted or convicted. And yet, look at what has happened to them. They’ve been essentially removed from the internet, not just through a denial of service attacks that are very sophisticated, but through political pressure applied to numerous countries. Their funds have been frozen, including funds donated by people around the world for his — for Julian Assange’s defense fund and for WikiLeaks’s defense fund. They’ve had their access to all kinds of accounts cut off. Leading politicians and media figures have called for their assassination, their murder, to be labeled a terrorist organization. What’s really going on here is a war over control of the internet and whether or not the internet can actually serve what a lot of people hoped its ultimate purpose was, which was to allow citizens to band together and democratize the checks on the world’s most powerful factions. That’s what this really is about. It’s why you see Western government, totally lawlessly, waging what can only be described as a war on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange outside the bounds of any constraints, because that’s what really is at stake here. If they want to prosecute them, they should go to court and do it through legal means. But this extralegal persecution ought to be very alarming to every citizen in every one of these countries, because it essentially is pure authoritarianism and is designed to prevent the internet from being used as its ultimate promise, which is providing a check on unconstrained political power.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, I want to thank you very much for being with us, constitutional lawyer and blogger at Salon.com. He’s speaking to us from Brazil. We’re in Cancún covering the U.N. climate change talks. And we’re going to go to that after break. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. You can go to our website at [democracynow.org] to see all our interviews with Julian Assange, as well as with Daniel Ellsberg, perhaps the premier whistleblower in the United States.

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