Live Blog: UK-Ecuador Standoff Over Asylum for Julian Assange
11:25 PM EST That is all for tonight. Coverage resumes tomorrow some time in the morning.
11:20 PM EST Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War and members of CODEPINK entered an Obama 2012 campaign office in Oakland, California. They came to hand over a letter on Pfc. Bradley Manning—the soldier accused of releasing classified information to WikiLeaks and possibly the person responsible for WikiLeaks’ most high-profile releases to date. They began a sit-in. A police officer tried to negotiate but the group decided to not waver in their act of protest. Then, the letter was allowed to be faxed. Police gave an order to group inside to be out in 30 minutes or they would be arrested. As of now, they are still in the campaign headquarters. For the latest developments, follow @RaineyReitman.
Supporters also engaged in a sit-in at the Obama 2012 campaign office in Portland. Arrests were made.
11:10 PM EST Photos from Pete Riches of supporters outside the embassy on August 16, just after the announcement.
10:08 PM EST AP report on the notion that the Ecuador government granted asylum to show it is “morally superior.” Includes a quote from a US congressman, who is most likely one of many elected keepers of the Washington Consensus that Latin American countries now increasingly challenge:
U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, a ranking member of the U.S. House’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee, has met Correa several times and believes he understand the wager.
“He’s a very smart guy and this wasn’t done in a vacuum,” Engel, a New York Democrat, said. “The reason is to kind of be the head of the poke-the-United States-in-the-eye group.”
He was referring to the alliance that includes Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Argentina and President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, whose longevity is in question after a bout with cancer.
10:00 PM EST Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) takes advantage of the announcement to highlight the state of press freedom in Ecuador. Human rights advocates have suggested it is ironic that Assange would seek asylum in Ecuador.
8:20 PM EST Former British ambassador to Libya Oliver Miles asks, “Do Assange and the Ecuadoreans have the stomach for 15 years of co-habitation?” He also declares, “I expect the outcome to be that the Ecuadoreans will hand over or be closed down.”
7:45 PM EST Joshua Keating of Foreign Policy has a post on “how WikiLeaks blew it.” It includes standard issues raised to condemn the organization: WikiLeaks is “anti-American,” Assange had a program on Russia Today, Ecuador is anti-press freedom, etc. Then there are a few criticisms that are much closer to be being truly problematic, such as the suggestion that it has hyped the release of Stratfor emails and “Syria Files.” Then, there’s the well-known issue many have that WikiLeaks is now all about that “crazy white-haired Aussie,” Julian Assange.
Keating calls what the world has witnessed the fall of an “empire of secrets.” When examined more closely, although rational, it is a greatest hits collection of all the things that ever bothered pundits or commentators. It entirely overlooks any examination of how the targeting of WikiLeaks by the US might have played a role in the decline of WikiLeaks.
7:40 PM EST The Scotsman has a timeline on Julian Assange’s struggle to escape “US justice.”
7:33 PM EST Can police enter the embassy?
7:26 PM EST In Case You Missed It: Earlier, as The Guardian reports in its coverage of the standoff, “The lawyer of two Swedish women who made allegations of sexual assault against Assange denounced Ecuador’s move as ‘absurd.’ Claes Borgstrom told reporters that the move was an abuse of the asylum instrument, the purpose of which is to protect people from persecution and torture if sent back to one’s country of origin. ‘He doesn’t risk being handed over to the United States for torture or the death penalty. He should be brought to justice in Sweden,’ she said.”
7:15 PM EST Tom Hayden writes on the “geopolitics of asylum” for The Nation.
…Any policy of isolating Assange may have failed now, as the conflict becomes one in which Ecuador—and a newly independent Latin America—stand off against the US and UK. Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa represents the wave of new nationalist leaders on the continent who have challenged the traditional US dominance over trade, security and regional decision-making. Correa joined the Venezuelan-founded Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas in June 2009, and closed the US military base in Ecuador in September 2009. His government fined Chevron for $8.6 billion for damages to the Amazon rainforest, in a case which Correa called “the most important in the history of the country.” He survived a coup attempt in 2010.
It is very unlikely that Correa would make his asylum decision without consulting other governments in Latin America. An aggressive reaction by the British, carrying echoes of the colonial past, is likely to solidify Latin American ranks behind Quito, making Assange another irritant in relations with the United States…
7:10 PM EST BBC World Service show “World Have Your Say” hosted a discussion on the decision. Here is a link to the segment. I appeared on the broadcast along with a journalist/TV producer in Ecuador, a former British Foreign office legal counsel and a Quito-based freelance journalist.
7:00 PM EST Letters in support of safe passage for Assange published by The Guardian.
6:30 PM EST CORRECTION: There is a factual error circulating. I’ve made this error as well. The Ecuador government granted Assange diplomatic asylum, not political asylum. The difference is described here in an AP story:
Significantly, Ecuador did not grant political but rather diplomatic asylum to Assange.
“Political asylum would imply that Great Britain is persecuting him or threatens to persecute him,” said Robert Sloane, international law professor at Boston University. By granting diplomatic asylum, Ecuador is keeping the door open to political negotiations. Sloane said that the type of asylum does not confer any diplomatic status or special privileges on Assange.
At this moment, both the New York Times and Washington Post are just two of the numerous media outlets reporting that Assange was granted “political asylum.” That misrepresents the situation and makes it seem like the UK might be incorrect when they talk about not recognizing “diplomatic asylum.”
6:20 PM EST More from State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland:
QUESTION: All right. And then just back to the Assange thing, the reason that the Ecuadorians gave – have given him asylum is because they say that they agree with his claim that he would be – could face persecution, government persecution, if for any reason he was to come to the United States under whatever circumstances. Do you find that that’s a credible argument? Does anyone face unwarranted or illegal government persecution in the United States?
MS. NULAND: No.
MS. NULAND: No.
The lies that empires will tell.
QUESTION: And so you think that the grounds that – in this specific case, the grounds for him receiving asylum from any country or any country granting asylum to anyone on that basis that if they happen to show up in the United States they might be subject to government persecution, you don’t —
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to comment on the Ecuadorian thought process here. If you’re asking me whether there was any intention to persecute rather than prosecute, the answer is no. Okay?
QUESTION: Okay. Well, wait. Well, hold on a second. So you’re saying that he would face prosecution?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not – we were in a situation where he was not headed to the United States; he was headed elsewhere.
MS. NULAND: So I’m not going to get into all of the legal ins and outs about what may or may not have been in his future before he chose to take refuge in the Ecuadorian mission. But with regard to the charge that the U.S. was intent on persecuting him, I reject that completely. [emphasis added]
The State Department would reject that. Assange released an entire cache of diplomatic cables that sent the department into a panic. Of course, the spokesperson rejects the idea that Assange might face persecution. Anything planned for Assange would be prosecution and justified.
6:10 PM EST State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland responds to press questions on Ecuador’s decision. Let’s decipher:
QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts at all on the decision by Ecuador to grant diplomatic asylum to Mr. Assange?
MS. NULAND: This is an issue between the Ecuadorans, the Brits, the Swedes. I don’t have anything particular to add.
What she really means is the US government has nothing the government wants to add. Ecuador sent questions to US on any possible case against Assange and did not receive satisfactory answers. So, it is not true that this whole affair is limited to the “Ecuadorans,” Brits and Swedes.
QUESTION: You don’t have any interest at all in this case other than as of a completely neutral, independent observer of it?
MS. NULAND: Well, certainly with regard to this particular issue, it is an issue among the countries involved, and we are not planning to interject ourselves.
QUESTION: But Assange (inaudible).
QUESTION: Have you not interjected yourselves at all?
MS. NULAND: Not with regard to the issue of his current location or where he may end up going, no.
Mostly true. They do not want to get involved because it could become an issue if the ongoing criminal investigation into WikiLeaks ever led to a need to extradite Assange.
QUESTION: Well, there has been some suggestion that the U.S. is pushing the Brits to go into the Ecuadorian Embassy and remove him.
MS. NULAND: I have no information to indicate that there is any truth to that at all.
She has no information to share with us. Might as well have said “can neither confirm nor deny.”
QUESTION: Does – and the Brits – Foreign Secretary Hague said that the Brits do not recognize diplomatic asylum. I’m wondering if the United States recognizes diplomatic asylum given that it is a signatory to this 1954 OAS treaty which grants or which recognizes diplomatic asylum, but only presumably within the membership of the OAS. But more broadly, does the U.S. recognize diplomatic asylum as a legal thing under international law?
MS. NULAND: Well, if you’re asking me for a global legal answer to the question, I’ll have to take it and consult 4,000 lawyers, but —
QUESTION: Contrasting it with political asylum, this is different – diplomatic asylum.
MS. NULAND: With regard to the decision that the Brits are making or the statement that they made, our understanding was that they were leaning on British law in the assertions that they made with regard to future plans, not on international law. But if you’re asking me to check what our legal position is on this term of art, I’ll have to take it, Matt, and get back to you.
QUESTION: Yeah, just whether you recognize it outside of the confines of the OAS and those signatories. And then when you said that you don’t have any information to suggest that you have weighed in with the Brits about whether to have Mr. Assange removed from the Embassy, does that mean that there hasn’t been any, or just that you’re not aware of it?
MS. NULAND: My information is that we have not involved ourselves in this. If that is not correct, we’ll get back to you.
This distinction the British government is making between “political asylum” and “diplomatic asylum” is artful. It is being reported by all media as “political asylum.” That is what Assange applied for, but British officials keep saying the asylum is “diplomatic,” not “political.” It’s all a crafty way of casting what Ecuador announced today.
This morning, after being holed up in Ecuador embassy in London for over fifty days, the WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange was granted diplomatic asylum. Ecuador Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino delivered the announcement, which explained the basis for the decision.
The country characterized Assange as “an award-winning communications professional internationally known for his struggle for freedom of expression, press freedom and human rights in general.” He had shared “privileged documents and information generated by various sources that affected employees, countries and organizations with a global audience.” As a result, evidence of retaliation “by the country or countries that produced the information disclosed” could occur that might “endanger his safety, integrity and even his life.”
Ecuador had engaged in diplomatic efforts to ensure there were adequate “safeguards for the protection and safety” for Assange. Countries approached, such as the UK, Sweden and the United States, refused to “facilitate them.” They also decided “legal evidence” showed, if Sweden were to allow Assange to be extradited to the US, he “would be judged by special or military courts,” which would mean he faced a “high probability of suffering cruel and degrading treatment” and could “be sentenced to life imprisonment or capital punishment, which would violate his human rights.”
Certainly, Assange needed to answer to the investigation into sexual allegations against him in Sweden, but Ecuador had noted the Swedish prosecutor had a “contradictory attitude” that was preventing Assange from exercising his “legitimate right of defense.” Assange’s “procedural rights” had been infringed upon and, also, Australia had not provided much protection or assistance from infringements of his rights. Britain, Sweden and USA also would not respect international conventions or treaties and would give “priority to domestic law, in violation of explicit rules of universal application.” If taken into custody in Sweden, a chain of events could unfold that would prevent him from being protected from extradition to a “third country.” Therefore, there was evidence and a reasonable basis to grant asylum.
To this, the British government responded, “We will not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the UK, nor is there any legal basis for us to do so. The UK does not accept the principle of diplomatic asylum. It is far from a universally accepted concept: the United Kingdom is not a party to any legal instruments which require us to recognise the grant of diplomatic asylum by a foreign embassy in this country. Moreover, it is well established that, even for those countries which do recognise diplomatic asylum, it should not be used for the purposes of escaping the regular processes of the courts. And in this case that is clearly what is happening.”
Yet, if there is no legal basis for Ecuador to grant asylum, why was it able to list off sixteen examples of international law in the announcement that it believed gave them authority and, in fact, a duty to respond to Assange’s asylum request in the manner which the country did?
“No-one, least of all the Government of Ecuador, should be in any doubt that we are determined to carry out our legal obligation to see Mr Assange extradited to Sweden,” the Foreign Office declared. “He faces serious charges in a country with the highest standards of law and where his rights are guaranteed. We believe that should be assurance enough for Ecuador and any supporters of Mr Assange.” But, Assange actually has not been charged. He faces mere allegations. (And, the allegations are not simply an equivalent of charges. If that were true, media organizations would not be correcting stories where they improperly state Assange has been charged with rape.)
Furthermore, Augusto Pinochet, that great Chilean dictator, raped women with dogs and rats. Spain wanted to extradite him. The UK government, citing “mental health reasons” later challenged by Chile, released him from house arrest. Now, the British government wants to make professions about how it must abide by some legal obligation and extradite Julian Assange to Sweden. They now want to claim they would be violating principle by not allowing him safe passage to Ecuador.
The lawyer that sought Pinochet’s extradition? His name was Baltasar Garzon. Now, Garzon, a former Spanish judge, is representing Assange on matters related to his asylum request. He probably knows a bit about the “obligation” a country like the UK has to extradite a person wanted for “serious charges.”
For this morning’s live blog of the announcement, go here.
Firedoglake will now be live blogging further developments in the standoff between UK and Ecuador throughout the evening (US).