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Chomsky: Arrest of Assange Is “Scandalous” and Highlights Shocking Extraterritorial Reach of U.S.

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Attorneys for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange are vowing to fight his possible extradition to the United States following his arrest in London, when British police forcibly removed Assange from the Ecuadorean Embassy, where he had taken asylum for almost seven years. In April, Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman spoke to Noam Chomsky about Assange's arrest, WikiLeaks and American power.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We return to Noam Chomsky’s appearance at the Old South Church in Boston on April 11th. After he addressed the crowd of over 700 people, I had a chance to conduct an on-stage interview with the world-renowned dissident and father of modern linguistics. I began by asking him about WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange, who had been arrested earlier in the day. He had been taken out by British authorities of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he had political asylum for almost seven years.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the Assange arrest is scandalous in several respects. One of them is just the effort of governments—and it’s not just the U.S. government. The British are cooperating. Ecuador, of course, is now cooperating. Sweden, before, had cooperated. The efforts to silence a journalist who was producing materials that people in power didn’t want the rascal multitude to know about—OK?—that’s basically what happened. WikiLeaks was producing things that people ought to know about those in power. People in power don’t like that, so therefore we have to silence it. OK? This is the kind of thing, the kind of scandal, that takes place, unfortunately, over and over.

To take another example, right next door to Ecuador, in Brazil, where the developments that have gone on are extremely important. This is the most important country in Latin America, one of the most important in the world. Under the Lula government early in this millennium, Brazil was the most—maybe the most respected country in the world. It was the voice for the Global South under the leadership of Lula da Silva. Notice what happened. There was a coup, soft coup, to eliminate the nefarious effects of the labor party, the Workers’ Party. These are described by the World Bank—not me, the World Bank—as the “golden decade” in Brazil’s history, with radical reduction of poverty, a massive extension of inclusion of marginalized populations, large parts of the population—Afro-Brazilian, indigenous—who were brought into the society, a sense of dignity and hope for the population. That couldn’t be tolerated.

After Lula’s—after he left office, a kind of a “soft coup” take place—I won’t go through the details, but the last move, last September, was to take Lula da Silva, the leading, the most popular figure in Brazil, who was almost certain to win the forthcoming election, put him in jail, solitary confinement, essentially a death sentence, 25 years in jail, banned from reading press or books, and, crucially, barred from making a public statement—unlike mass murderers on death row. This, in order to silence the person who was likely to win the election. He’s the most important political prisoner in the world. Do you hear anything about it?

Well, Assange is a similar case: We’ve got to silence this voice. You go back to history. Some of you may recall when Mussolini’s fascist government put Antonio Gramsci in jail. The prosecutor said, “We have to silence this voice for 20 years. Can’t let it speak.” That’s Assange. That’s Lula. There are other cases. That’s one scandal.

The other scandal is just the extraterritorial reach of the United States, which is shocking. I mean, why should the United States—why should any—no other state could possibly do it. But why should the United States have the power to control what others are doing elsewhere in the world? I mean, it’s an outlandish situation. It goes on all the time. We never even notice it. At least there’s no comment on it.

You can ask yourself: Why is this accepted? So, in this case, why is it acceptable for the United States to have the power to even begin to give even a proposal to extradite somebody whose crime is to expose to the public materials that people in power don’t want them to see? That’s basically what’s happening.

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