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“Pretrial Punishment”: Julian Assange Remains in Ecuadorean Embassy Fearing Arrest If He Leaves

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Five years ago this week, U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning was arrested in Kuwait and charged with leaking classified information. Weeks later, WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of internal logs from the war in Afghanistan. It was one of the largest leaks in U.S. military history. Major articles ran in The New York Times, Guardian, Der Spiegel and other outlets. Chelsea Manning, then known as Bradley, and Julian Assange soon became household names. While Manning was sentenced to 35 years in jail, Assange has been living for the past three years inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he has political asylum. Assange faces investigations in both Sweden and the United States. Here in the United States, a secret grand jury is investigating WikiLeaks for its role in publishing leaked Afghan and Iraq war logs and State Department cables. In Sweden, Assange is wanted for questioning on allegations of sexual misconduct, though no charges have been filed. “Look at Thomas Drake, for example, NSA whistleblower … The pretrial process was both the deterrent, the general deterrent, and it was the penalty,” Assange said. “And the same thing is happening here in the WikiLeaks process, where we have no rights as a defendant because the formal trial hasn’t started yet. The same thing has happened with me here in this embassy in relation to the Swedish case: no charges, no trial, no ability to defend yourself, don’t even have a right to documents, because you’re not even a defendant.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: Five years ago this week, U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning was arrested in Kuwait and charged with leaking classified information. Weeks later, WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of internal logs from the war in Afghanistan. It was one of the largest leaks in U.S. military history. Major articles ran in The New York Times, in The Guardian, Der Spiegel and other outlets. Chelsea Manning, then known as Bradley, and Julian Assange soon become household names.

While Manning was sentenced to 35 years in jail, Assange has been living for the past three years inside Ecuador’s Embassy in London, where he has political asylum. Assange faces investigations in both Sweden and the United States. Here in the United States, a secret grand jury is investigating WikiLeaks for its role in publishing leaked Afghan and Iraq War logs and State Department cables. In Sweden, Assange is wanted for questioning on allegations of sexual misconduct, though no charges have ever been filed. Earlier this month, Sweden’s Supreme Court rejected his appeal to lift his arrest warrant. Swedish prosecutors are reportedly preparing to travel to London to interview Assange after refusing to do so for years.

On Monday, Democracy Now! went to London to interview Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorean Embassy. When we were inside, British police asked the Ecuadorean Embassy to hand over our identification. That’s unusual. Local police aren’t supposed to ask people for ID entering foreign embassies, so we refused. In part two of our exclusive interview, Julian Assange began by talking about the latest developments in the U.S. case against him.

JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, the latest information is from the 4th of March. Now, we know, as a result of warrants that were issued to our journalists’ Google accounts, that the charges are espionage; conspiracy to commit espionage; the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which is computer hacking; conversion, which is theft of government secrets; and general conspiracy. We don’t know how many of each one, but we know that these are the charge types. This is what has been used to apply for warrants. We know that there are several more warrants that Google has. Google has admitted publicly that it is still gagged about the other warrants that have been applied.

Now, on the 4th of March, there was a case in federal court where EPIC, which is a Electronic Privacy Information Center, NGO based in Washington, D.C., has been litigating to try and see whether the U.S. government is illegally surveilling our supporters. And their case has become unexpectedly important. There are some 500 information requests from the media and us, that have been blocked by the U.S. government, into what has been happening with WikiLeaks. And they’ve been blocked under the excuse that to release such information would be to help us resist the prosecution, and that they want to use that in the prosecution, and therefore they can’t release it to anyone. Now, the FBI has admitted that they have more than 42,135 pages just in the FBI file. There’s the DOJ file. There’s the grand jury file. And they’re not going to release a single sentence, not a single paragraph. But they have to explain themselves. And in explaining themselves, they’ve revealed some important things, that the investigation is being run by the DOJ National Security Division, and it’s being run by the DOJ Criminal Division, and that there is responsive documents in the DOJ extradition unit. So, we see the flavor of the prosecution from this, but also many other things. But this is the most recent one, from the 4th of March.

Now, importantly, we lost that case. Or rather, EPIC lost that case to get those documents, because the court accepted that to release any information about the WikiLeaks prosecution would affect the WikiLeaks prosecution, that we could use this to defend ourselves. And the argument used is quite incredible. So, we argued that—the argument used to restrict all information about the pending WikiLeaks prosecution is quite incredible. It is that not only would any information be—if released, assist us, even saying that we’re no longer interested in that particular person, we’re interested in this one, but that the court doesn’t have a right to, itself, make this determination. So, the government says that we need to keep all this information secret about the WikiLeaks investigation—tens and tens of thousands of pages, not a single sentence can be released—because it would help—would help WikiLeaks, would help me.

And then, so we say, and EPIC, who’s litigating the case, says, “Well, that’s absurd. Surely, out of tens of thousands of pages, there’s one sentence that can be released under the FOIA.” And they say, “No, we’re the experts on our own investigation, and that’s what we say.” And then, so we say, “Well, we want the court to look at the documents and say whether they can be released or not, whether they would truly affect the investigation.” And then the government argues, “The court does not have a right to make this assessment. This is a question of a national security fact. Either it is a fact that the information held by the DOJ and held by the FBI would—about WikiLeaks, would affect national security or not. And it is the government that is best placed to determine this fact, not the court.” And so, in the judgment, the judge states that it is necessary to show, quote, “appropriate deference to the executive on matters of national security,” and therefore she is simply going to defer to the government’s claim without looking at the material at all. This is incredible, that you have the judiciary—the whole purpose of the judiciary is it is not to defer to the executive; it’s meant to be an independent assessor.

And if you look at what would happen in a normal criminal case, say, a murder case, there’s a question of DNA in the murder case. So the government would bring their witness and say, “We believe the DNA shows that this person was at the murder scene.” And the defense would go, “We have an expert. He is much more eminent than your expert. He has done a bigger study. And he says that, in fact, no, this is quite incorrect. It is that you simply have incompetent procedures.” And then the court would allow these experts to battle it out and make a determination on which one was the most credible. That is not permitted here. The court doesn’t say, “Let’s hear your expert.” The court doesn’t say, “Well, I, the judge, will look at these documents, and I will judge them.” Rather, it’s necessary to show appropriate deference to the executive in matters of national security. So all that’s necessary for the government is to claim that this is a national security fact, information—any information released about WikiLeaks will harm national security. Its investigation into us, its spying on us, its spying on our supporters—any of that information, if it’s released, will harm national security and will compromise the pending prosecution of WikiLeaks.

So, what has happened here, at a much more interesting and structural level, is a front loading—a front loading of the deterrent and penalty phase. You have a classical view of the criminal process and the deterrent process. Someone is accused of something, you charge them with a crime, it goes to trial, you convict them or they’re acquitted. Let’s say they’re convicted. Then the sentence is both the penalty, and it is the deterrent. OK. Now, what has happened in these whistleblowing cases is that has been flipped. If you look at Thomas Drake, for example, NSA whistleblower, it’s been seven years. There was no penalty, no—he didn’t go to prison at all, in the end. And they just plea deal down to a slap on the wrist. It was—the pretrial process was both the deterrent, the general deterrent, and it was the penalty. And the same thing is happening here in the WikiLeaks process, where we have no rights as a defendant because the formal trial hasn’t started yet. The same thing has happened with me here in this embassy in relation to the Swedish case: no charges, no trial, no ability to defend yourself, don’t even have a right to documents, because you’re not even a defendant.

AMY GOODMAN: And the investigation, U.S. investigation, has gone on for how many years?

JULIAN ASSANGE: It’s gone on for just over five years.

AMY GOODMAN: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, speaking inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he has taken refuge for the past three years. Coming up, Julian Assange will speak about the new ICWatch database, which culls personal details from LinkedIn publicly posted by former members of the U.S. intelligence community. You’ll also hear the inside story about why it’s believed the U.S. forced down the plane of Bolivian President Evo Morales in 2013 during the hunt for Edward Snowden. You may be surprised. Stay with us.

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WikiLeaks Releases 500K U.S. Cables from 1978 on Iran, Sandinistas, Afghanistan, Israel & More

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