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Glenn Greenwald: As WikiLeaks Reveals Syria Files, Assange Remains in Ecuador Embassy Seeking Asylum

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WikiLeaks announced today it has begun publishing the Syria Files – more than two million emails from Syrian political figures, ministries and associated companies, dating from August 2006 to March 2012. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could not attend today’s press conference announcing the release of the data trove because he is still inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London in an attempt to avoid extradition to Sweden. According to WikiLeaks, “The Syria Files shine a light on the inner workings of the Syrian government and economy, but they also reveal how the West and Western companies say one thing and do another.” Longtime WikiLeaks supporter Glenn Greenwald praises the release of the secret files. “[This] simply underscores the reason that WikiLeaks is so valuable. The ability to blow holes in the wall of secrecy behind which the world’s most powerful actors function is something that newspapers have a great deal of difficulty doing, because they’re subject to the laws of their state,” Greenwald said. “They can’t guarantee anonymity, because reporters know who their sources are and can ultimately be forced to give them up.” [includes rush transcript]

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StoryMay 20, 2024British High Court Grants WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange the Right to Appeal U.S. Extradition
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I want to ask you about the latest on WikiLeaks, an organization you’ve written about quite extensively. The organization announced earlier today it was going to release the Syria Files, more than two million emails from Syrian political figures, ministries and associated companies dating from August 2006 to March 2012.

Meanwhile, founder Julian Assange has spent the last two weeks inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London in an attempt to avoid being extradited to Sweden. Last week, Susan Benn of the Julian Assange Defence Fund said Assange will remain inside the Ecuadorean embassy while his application for asylum is processed.

SUSAN BENN: Yesterday, Mr. Assange was served with a letter from the Metropolitan Police Service requesting that he surrender himself to Belgravia Police Station at 11:30 this morning. Mr. Assange has been advised that he should decline to comply with the police request. This should not be considered any sign of disrespect. Under both international and domestic U.K. law, asylum assessments take priority over extradition claims.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Glenn Greenwald, your comments on these developments, both of the new files—the files about to be—or being released right now and Julian Assange’s current situation?

GLENN GREENWALD: So, as far as his current situation is concerned, I think everybody agrees that the allegations that have been made in Sweden, they’re not—he’s not been charged with any crime, these are just allegations, they’re obviously unproven—are serious ones and deserve to be taken seriously. And the hope of everybody is that he will be able to go there and vindicate his claims of innocence or have a judicial process ultimately adjudicate them.

The problem is, is that the United States has given every indication that it is actively seeking to prosecute him. There’s some evidence, not overwhelmingly reliable, that there’s already a sealed indictment. But there’s definite proof that there’s an active grand jury. The Justice Department has confirmed there’s ongoing criminal investigations. Dianne Feinstein, yet again, called for the prosecution, the criminal prosecution, of WikiLeaks under espionage statutes. And the concern is that going to Sweden will enable the United States much more easily to extradite him to the United States and charge him with crimes for which he would end up in prison for life, if convicted, under very oppressive conditions. Sweden has a history of complying with the United States’s lawless requests. The U.N. found them in violation of the law in cooperation with the CIA’s rendition program. Sweden is a small country.

And so, what those of us who defend and support WikiLeaks have said—and Julian Assange ultimately said himself—was that the solution is very simple: simply have the U.S. and Sweden agree that his going to Sweden will not result in his extradition to the United States, and within the next five minutes he will get on a plane to Stockholm to go and confront these charges. It’s never been about evading those allegations. It’s been about not letting the United States engineer his extradition for things that are plainly not crimes, things that the New York Times and other media outlets do every day.

As far as this latest release is concerned, I haven’t seen the emails. I don’t know much about them, because the news of this broke as we were beginning the show. But what I would say is it simply underscores the reason that WikiLeaks is so valuable. The ability to blow holes in the wall of secrecy behind which the world’s most powerful actors function is something that newspapers have a great deal of difficulty doing, because they’re subject to the laws of their state. They can’t guarantee anonymity, because reporters know who their sources are and can ultimately be forced to give them up, or surveillance can enable the detection of the sources. And so, WikiLeaks created a system—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And also because reporters often depend on those very people in power—


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —for a lot of the information that they get to publish otherwise.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right, absolutely. And one of the first things that the New York Times does when they get leaks is they run to the United States government and ask the government what they should be allowed to publish and what they shouldn’t be, and usually they end up complying, as they did when they learned that the U.S. was—the Bush administration was secretly spying on Americans. They learned that in mid-2004, but because the Bush administration pressured the publisher and editor of the New York Times sit on that, they sat on it for a year and a half until Bush was safely re-elected and didn’t tell us until 2005. They redact large amounts of information, and WikiLeaks doesn’t. So it’s a crucial model for transparency.

From what I can see, this leak is—implicates both the Assad regime and the opponents in Syria, about which reporting has been very incomplete. Whichever side you are on in the Syria debate, you should want more transparency and more information. And from what I can tell, yet again, WikiLeaks has done what media outlets can’t do or won’t do, which is shine light on things that are operating in the dark.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to ask you about—you’re a constitutional law expert. I wanted to ask you about some recent Supreme Court decisions. Last week, of course, was a big week for the country, on the Supreme Court decision on the Arizona law and as well as on the healthcare law. Much has been made about Judge Roberts, in both of these, defecting supposedly from his conservative group of justices and, at least partially on both of these laws, upholding the position of many liberals and progressives. Your assessment of the decisions and of the role Judge Roberts played in both of these?

GLENN GREENWALD: So I think the immigration decision has been misunderstood more so than the other important cases, like the campaign finance and healthcare cases, which have received a fair amount of attention. The Obama administration, I think, deserves credit for having sued Arizona and attempted to have the enforcement of that law enjoined. The problem is, is that although it was depicted as a victory because three of the four provisions before the court were enjoined, the most significant one, which is the “show your papers” provision that allows and compels police officers in Arizona to demand that immigration papers or proof of immigration rights be shown basically by anyone they decide they want to demand it of, was upheld. It was upheld on the proviso that if Arizona ends up enforcing it in a discriminatory manner, then they will revisit it. But there’s really no way to enforce that provision except in a discriminatory manner. It’s inherently discriminatory against Latino citizens in Arizona.

And I think, you know, the—while the Obama administration deserves credit for having brought that suit, the crucial part of why that case ended up being decided that way, that provision ended up being protected, was because the only issue that the Obama administration raised to challenge these provisions was that it was conflicting with federal law and that the federal government has supremacy in these areas. And what the—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And chose not to argue racial profiling.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right, and the Obama administration didn’t raise the argument that it violates the civil rights because it’s discriminatory. And you could look at it in one generous way and say, well, they didn’t raise that argument because they didn’t think the Supreme Court would accept it without there being evidence of how it was being enforced. But I think the real reason is that the Obama administration has been extremely aggressive in deporting people who are undocumented. They have programs where they deputize local sheriff’s departments and essentially encourage them to engage in this very behavior. And that was ultimately what Arizona ended up saying and what nine justices of the Supreme Court, including Justice Sotomayor, who was expected to be hostile to this law, ended up agreeing with, was that it’s very hard to say that what Arizona is doing with the “show me your papers” provision is in conflict with the federal government, given that the federal government often demands that local police officials do exactly that. So I think, you know, if you talk to immigrant—Latino advocates and immigration advocates on the ground in Arizona, they’ll tell you that this court decision, although depicted as a success, has left the Latino community in substantial fear that this provision, the most pernicious one, can continue to be enforced.

As far as the broader question about Justice Roberts, you know, I think that the issue really has been that the Supreme Court is in real danger of losing legitimacy, not with just the right, which has hated the court since Roe v. Wade and the Warren Court, but now with the left. And I think it was crucial that the court demonstrate that not every decision gets decided among strictly partisan lines. And as the chief justice, I think he felt it was his particular duty to save the court’s reputation.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in just the few seconds that we have left, you’ve been going around the country speaking on your book, and now in the paperback, With Liberty and Justice for Some. What’s been the reaction as you’ve been going around talking to people, concerns about the inequality of the court systems in America?

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, I mean, it’s amazing. You know, aside from the fact the events are extremely well attended—you know, 500, 600 people to talk about the book, which is not, you know, the typical reaction—I think the reason is, is that if you look at the protest movements, both on the right and the left, the Tea Party and the Occupy movement, at the core of it was this idea that the system, politically and legally, is completely skewed for those who are most powerful, and that’s a core violation of what the American promise was supposed to be.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, and that does it for today’s program. Glenn Greenwald is a former constitutional law and civil rights attorney, and political and legal blogger for His latest book is With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. One correction: The PATRIOT Act was signed into law on October 26, 2001.

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British High Court Grants WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange the Right to Appeal U.S. Extradition

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