Daniel Ellsberg, the most famous whistleblower in the United States, praises Ecuador for granting political asylum to Julian Assange to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning over sex crime accusations. "I congratulate Ecuador, of course, for standing up to the British Empire here, for insisting that they are not a British colony, and acting as a sovereign state ought to act," says Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, the secret history of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. On Thursday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Assange would be arrested if he left the embassy, saying Britain is "under a binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden." Ellsberg adds: "[Assange] has every reason to be wary that the real intent here is to whisk him away to America, where it really hasn’t been made as clear what might be waiting for him." [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: For more on Julian Assange, we’re joined by Daniel Ellsberg, perhaps the country’s most famous whistleblower. He leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, the secret history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. He joins us from Berkeley.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Dan Ellsberg, your response to the latest developments of the decision of Ecuador to grant asylum?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well, I congratulate Ecuador, of course, for standing up to the British Empire here, for insisting that they are not a British colony, and acting as a sovereign state ought to act. And I think they’ve done the right thing. I appreciate what they’ve done.
AMY GOODMAN: And the British government first threatening to raid the Ecuadorean embassy in London, also saying they would arrest Julian Assange if he attempted to leave to go to Ecuador, but also saying they’d actually raid the embassy?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: It’s an outrageous proposal, which actually undermines the security of every diplomat in the world, in this country right now. I would say it has a chilling effect right now, the very fact that that possibility has been raised. I’m old enough to remember the occasion that gave rise to that, actually. I remember when a Libyan official shot from the Libyan embassy in London and killed a British female officer—Vivian [Yvonne Joyce Fletcher], I think her name was—in 1984. The result of that was that they removed diplomatic recognition from Libya altogether, sent everybody home. They didn’t raid the embassy on that occasion, but that led three years later to a law that permitted them, under extraordinary circumstances, to do that again. They obviously don’t have anyone here who’s been shooting from the Ecuadorean embassy at anyone. He’s merely been telling the truth, there as in London earlier. He should be congratulated for that, not threatened.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Dan Ellsberg, again, the extraordinary efforts that are being taken here by the British government—and, obviously, the Swedish government—supposedly just to question him on allegations of a sexual attack, not even actual charges.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well, everything that we’ve seen supports the position of his defense team, that this is not about sexual charges in Sweden, essentially, that that’s a cover story—whatever substance there may be to that story. But the procedures that have been followed here are extraordinary: a red notice here, very unusually given, never under these circumstances, to arrest him and these heavy efforts to extradite him, after he had offered either to be questioned by the prosecutor herself or by some representative of her in the Swedish embassy or the British embassy or by British police in London, where he was, something that, by the way, is routinely done all the time, and the expense is paid for that, if necessary—all of that being refused. Why? In a situation where this man is charged with criminal charges by no country—not by Sweden, not by Britain, not by the United States, although there may in fact be a secret indictment already waiting for him in the United States, being denied or lied about right now by my country. But no charges have actually been made public. So, here, all this emphasis just to get him charged—just to get him questioned, rather, when he’s offered himself for questioning, even right now in the Ecuadorean embassy. The state of Ecuador has actually officially proposed that that take place in the Ecuadorean embassy or elsewhere and in London. And that has been refused. All of this supports the idea that this is merely a way of getting him to Sweden, which apparently would be easier to extradite him from to the United States than Britain. If Britain were totally open to extraditing him, it would have happened by now. Two years have passed. But he’s an Australian citizen, a member of the Commonwealth, and the criteria for extraditing somebody who’s been telling the truth and is wanted for what can only be a political crime in another country are apparently more stringent here than they might be in Sweden.
So I think that—in fact, I join his lawyers, Michael Ratner and others, in saying that he has every reason to be wary that the real intent here is to whisk him away to America, where it really hasn’t been made as clear what might be waiting for him as I think one can conjecture. The new National Defense Authorization Act—and I’m a plaintiff in a suit to call that act unconstitutional, in terms of its effect on me and on others, a suit that has been successful so far at the district court level and has led to that act being called unconstitutional. But on its face, that act could be used against Julian Assange or Bradley Manning, if he weren’t already in military custody. Julian Assange, although a civilian, and not an American civilian at that, would seem to me, a layman, to be clearly subject to the National Defense Authorization Act, the NDAA, putting in military detention for suspicion of giving aid to an enemy, which he’s certainly been accused of by high American officials. I don’t see why he couldn’t be put in indefinite contention, without even the charges that I faced 40 years ago for doing the exact same things that he did.
AMY GOODMAN: The record of President Obama on whistleblowers: six whistleblowers charged under the Obama administration, more than in all—under the administrations of all past presidents combined, Dan Ellsberg?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Twice as many. Twice as many as all past presidents. There was a total of three under past presidents, one each. I was the first ever charged with those charges. Obama has brought six such charges. And apparently his grand jury in Virginia is seeking at least a seventh, and perhaps more, against Assange and others. Twice as many as all previous.
AMY GOODMAN: You were charged? You were indicted for having secret documents and giving them away?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: For possessing them and for possessing them without authorization. There was a second grand jury going on that would have gotten me in a second trial for distribution, which of course I was also involved in. I didn’t contest any of the facts. And would—that would probably, for the first time, have brought in newspaper people, like Neil Sheehan and Hendrick Smith. That was quashed after government criminality led to the ending of my trial, and so they dropped the other grand jury. As a result, we have no prior precedent of a newspaper person being tried under that charge. I was a former official. Julian Assange would be the first, again, charged. No newspaper person has been so charged.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Dan Ellsberg, the impact already of this hounding of Assange by the Swedish, and clearly with the United States government in the wings, behind the scenes, orchestrating a lot of this—the impact on WikiLeaks and on other whistleblowers? The message that’s being sent, that if you dare to go against the empire, you will be hounded and gone after?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: That’s hardly an amazing message. It was, of course, to be expected. There was reason to think that an international organization with no national roots here, and using the internet, would escape that kind of chilling effect. And they found the empire here is more resourceful and creative and less mindful of its own constitution and laws and traditions than one might have hoped. But, anyway, it’s hardly surprising that when you twist the lion’s tail, the lion may get very angry. Their ability to shut off the funding by intimidating, without even invoking the law, places like PayPal and Amazon and others from giving any money to or serving as distribution channels is very dismaying. It’s a sign, and not unique, of the way in which our fundamental rights, our Bill of Rights, our constitutional freedoms, have been abridged by the last 10 years and more. And President Obama is, unhappily, following in that tradition, as, I must say, I predicted, unhappily, when I urged people to vote for him four years ago.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally—
DANIEL ELLSBERG: And I’ll predict people—I’ll predict it unhappily when I vote for people—when I urge people in Florida and swing states to vote for him next time, not in the expectation that he will act like a president rather than a king. We have currently now, and have had for some years, the choice between two candidates for monarchy four years apart.
AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange’s statement after the Ecuadorean government granted him political asylum, he said, "I’m grateful to the Ecuadorean people, President Rafael Correa and his government. It was not Britain or my home country, Australia, that stood up to protect me from persecution, but a courageous, independent Latin American nation. While today is a historic victory, our struggles have just begun. The unprecedented U.S. investigation against WikiLeaks must be stopped."
And Assange went on to say, "While today much of the focus will be on the decision of the Ecuadorean government, it is just as important that we remember Bradley Manning has been detained without trial for over 800 days. The task of protecting WikiLeaks, its staff, its supporters and its alleged sources continue." That from Julian Assange’s statement yesterday. Final comment, Dan Ellsberg?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Absolutely. There’s no reason to believe that he would get what in past years, including my time when I was prosecuted, would pass for a fair trial or for fair treatment in this country. I’m sorry to say that there’s been something like a coup some 10 years ago, an executive coup against our Constitution and against the separation of government. It’s outrageous that Bradley Manning’s trial has again been postponed by the action of the government 'til next spring. He will have spent—he's already spent more than 800 days in confinement, 10 months of it and more in conditions that Amnesty International called torture. The idea that President Obama ended torture is simply not true. He didn’t end it even in this country, in terms of isolated commitment, incommunicado, basically, and conditions of nudity, in some cases, intended to humiliate him—all intended to press him to cop a plea and reduce his sentence from the life sentence they’re asking to a much lower sentence, if he will only implicate Julian Assange in ways that would allow them to bring a trial without great embarrassment.
Now, let me enlarge on that for a moment. They don’t have to extradite anyone to bring someone under these charges under the WikiLeaks disclosures. Everything Julian Assange could possibly be charged with under our law was committed as an act by Bill Keller, the president—sorry, the managing editor of—the executive editor of the New York Times. I don’t mean the New York Times should be indicted or that Keller should be indicted. That would be an outrage, just as it is an outrage to think of indicting Julian Assange for exactly the same thing. But meanwhile, Bradley Manning is facing charges that he aided the enemy, absurd charges that amount virtually to treason. And many people have even called for execution of either of them. Well, obviously, the same charges then could lead to Julian Assange being tried under the NDAA, the National Defense Authorization Act, which has just been found unconstitutional by a courageous and right-thinking judge in the first—in the district of Manhattan—
AMY GOODMAN: Dan Ellsberg, we want to thank—
DANIEL ELLSBERG: —right now, which has been—found that act unconstitutional. That’s the act under which I was tried. I wish I had had the chance to go for an injunction under that charge. She’s obviously right.
AMY GOODMAN: Dan Ellsberg, thanks so much for being with us, perhaps the country’s most famous whistleblower. He leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, the secret history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, joining us from University of California, Berkeley.