Julian Assange: Still ‘free to speak my mind’

by Lindi Carter

United Nations speech on:
Strengthening International Human Rights: Diplomatic Asylum.

Image: Eric Bowers

ONE HUNDRED DAYS IN THE ECUADORIAN EMBASSY

Julian celebrated the start of 27th September, his 100th day in the Ecuadorian Embassy, with a compelling speech addressing, via Skype, a packed out meeting convened by Ecuador at the United Nations on the subject of:

Strengthening International Human Rights: Diplomatic Asylum

and by the end of the day, although the subsequent meeting between the Ecuadorian and British Foreign Ministers resulted in not a lot, Amnesty International had released a statement saying:

Sweden should issue assurance it won’t extradite Assange to USA.

Concurring with the mood of the meeting, after which even the most skeptical (or gullible?) would have been swept away in the torrent of evidence breaking all around us, Amnesty said

Amnesty International believes that the forced transfer of Julian Assange to the USA in the present circumstances would expose him to a real risk of serious human rights violations, possibly including violation of his right to freedom of expression and the risk that he may be held in detention in conditions which violate the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (see the last section of this article for the full statement.

You can also watch Julian’s speech here and read it in full at WikiLeaks.org where there is a transcript.

VIDEO OF THE WHOLE MEETING

At the UN webcast, you can watch a video of the whole meeting which includes the introductory speeches by Ricardo Patino, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister, and Baher Azmy from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) – see below for notes of both speeches – , and also the full discussion after Julian’s speech, all of which are worth hearing.

SEE BELOW FOR
(1) Julian’s Speech
(2) The Overwhelming Evidence of Political Persecution
(3) Background from Ecuador’s Foreign Minister: Ricardo Patino
(4) Baher Azmy of the CCR: Counsel for WikiLeaks and Assange
(5) Obama at the UN on Tuesday: Some of the Fine Words
(6) In the Press
(7) Amnesty International Statement

(1) Julian’s speech

‘FREE TO SPEAK MY MIND’

Julian began by saying that, despite having been detained for 659 days without charge, he was still free

in the most basic and important sense: free to speak my mind.

And then he did.

In an incisive and pertinent speech, which echoed President Obama’s ‘fine words’ [transcript] back to him and made the point that

fine words languish without commensurate actions

Julian drew the other side of the picture of official America painted by President Obama, who had addressed the U.N. the day before and spoken of how (referring to the Arab Spring)

the United States has supported the forces of change.

Image: Eric Bowers

DISTORTING THE RECORD

Making the point implicitly that it was a great irony that WikiLeaks and alleged source Bradley Manning, who the US were persecuting, had made far more of a contribution to the ‘last two years’ avalanche of progress’ than the US government should be laying claim to, Julian said:

The world knew, after reading WikiLeaks publications, that the Ben Ali regime and its government had for long years enjoyed the indifference, if not the support, of the United States – in full knowledge of its excesses and its crimes.

So it must come as a surprise to Tunisians that the United States supported the forces of change in their country.

It must come as a surprise to the Egyptian teenagers who washed American teargas out of their eyes that the US administration supported change in Egypt.

It must come as a surprise to those who heard Hillary Clinton insist that Mubarak’s regime was “stable,” and when it was clear to everyone that it was not, that its hated intelligence chief, Sueilman, who we proved the US knew was a torturer, should take the helm.

It must come as a surprise to all those Egyptians who heard Vice President Joseph Biden declare that Hosni Mubarak was a ‘democrat’…

…and that Julian Assange was a ‘high tech terrorist’.

He was direct, specific and blisteringly honest, but made it clear that this wasn’t about being partisan; he wasn’t trying to alienate, but to bring to the table. He allowed the most he really could under the circumstances when he said that:

The United States is not the enemy. Its government is not uniform. In some cases good people in the United States supported the forces of change. And perhaps Barack Obama personally was one of them.

For the sake of the truth, he clarified this:

But in others, and en masse, early on, it actively opposed them. This is a matter of historical record. And it is not fair and it is not appropriate for the President to distort that record for political gain, or for the sake of uttering fine words,

pointedly adding:

Credit should be given where it is due, but it should be withheld where it is not.

BRADLEY: DEGRADED, ABUSED AND TORTURED BY HIS OWN GOVERNMENT

As President Obama had, in his address, told the story of Chris Stevens, The US Ambassador to Libya, who first went to Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer, and lost his life in the attack on the US Embassy in Libya, Julian Assange took the opportunity to remind the world of another American Hero, Bradley Manning, and of his suffering at the hand of his own government.

Bradley Manning, science fair all-star, soldier and patriot, was degraded, abused and psychologically tortured by his own government.

Here’s what he said:

AN AMERICAN STORY

But today I want to tell you an American story.

I want to tell you the story of a young American soldier in Iraq.

The soldier was born in Crescent, Oklahoma to a Welsh mother and US Navy father. His parents fell in love. His father was stationed at a US military base in Wales.

The soldier showed early promise as a boy, winning top prize at science fairs 3 years in a row.

He believed in the truth, and like all of us, hated hypocrisy.

He believed in liberty and the right for all of us to pursue happiness. He believed in the values that founded an independent United States. He believed in Madison, he believed in Jefferson and he believed in Paine. Like many teenagers, he was unsure what to do with his life, but he knew he wanted to defend his country and he knew he wanted to learn about the world. He entered the US military and, like his father, trained as an intelligence analyst.

In late 2009, aged 21, he was deployed to Iraq. There, it is alleged, he saw a US military that often did not follow the rule of law, and in fact, engaged in murder and supported political
corruption.

It is alleged, it was there, in Baghdad, in 2010 that he gave to WikiLeaks, and to the world, details that exposed the torture of Iraqis, the murder of journalists and the detailed records of over 120,000 civilian killings in Iraq and in Afghanistan. He is also alleged to have given WikiLeaks 251,000 US diplomatic cables, which then went on to help trigger the Arab Spring.

Image: Eric Bowers

This young soldier’s name is Bradley Manning.

Allegedly betrayed by an informer, he was then imprisoned in Baghdad, imprisoned in Kuwait, and imprisoned in Virginia, where he was kept for 9 months in isolation and subject to severe abuse. The UN Special Rapporteur for Torture, Juan Mendez, investigated and formally found against the United States.

Hillary Clinton’s spokesman resigned. Bradley Manning, science fair all-star, soldier and patriot was degraded, abused and psychologically tortured by his own government. He was charged with a death penalty offence. These things happened to him, as the US government tried to break him, to force him to testify against WikiLeaks and me.


THE SECRECY OF THE NATIONAL SECURITY STATE

Julian addressed the very heart of the problem as most people have come to see it, and made it very easy for the least knowledgeable to believe in, by the straightforward conviction with which he delivered the statement (and in fact, pretty much the whole speech):

The US administration is trying to erect a national regime of secrecy. A national regime of obfuscation. A regime where any government employee revealing sensitive information to a media organization can be sentenced to death, life imprisonment or for espionage and journalists from a media organization with them.

NOT IN FINE WORDS BUT IN FINE DEEDS

After reeling off an thoroughly impressive list of US governmental and military agencies that were known to be involved in investigating WikiLeaks, making it absolutely plain that the US authorities have a serious ‘interest’ in Julian’s activities, the speech concluded with him repeating some of President Obama’s ‘fine words’ and saying how very much he agreed with them, leaving the ‘elephant in the room’ application of each of the phrases hanging in the air, unsaid but very obvious, and he finished by repeating again the challenge he issued in his speech outside the Ecuadorian Embassy after Ecuador had granted him asylum:

There are times for words and there are times for action. The time for words has run out.

It is time for the US to cease its persecution of WikiLeaks, to cease its persecution of our people, and to cease its persecution of our alleged sources.

It is time for President Obama do the right thing, and join the forces of change, not in fine words but in fine deeds.

Being searingly (shockingly) truthful because everything depends on the clarity and not for a minute giving way to any softening of the blows, yet still never seeming to assault, and somehow appearing almost yearning and intimate, Julian achieved the near impossible.

And the upshot is that it was very good (in the fullest sense of the word). Read the whole thing here; it’s well worth it.

(2) The overwhelming evidence of political persecution

‘ENEMIES OF STATE’ – OFFICIAL

Earlier, WikiLeaks had released documents obtained by a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) application, and used as part of the evidence for the asylum request, which made it ‘official’: Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are ‘enemies of the state’.

THE US military has designated Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as enemies of the United States – the same legal category as the al-Qaeda terrorist network and the Taliban insurgency

said the Sydney Morning Herald.

AIDING THE ENEMY?

Image: Eric Bowers

The documents, according to the Herald,

reveal that military personnel who contact WikiLeaks or WikiLeaks supporters may be at risk of being charged with “communicating with the enemy”, a military crime that carries a maximum sentence of death.

This resonates with the most serious charge Bradley is facing, but the enemy there is cited as Al Qaeda; here it is openly being categorised as WikiLeaks.

It obviously has worrying implications for supporters, especially American ones, but, with the western world seeming only to be getting more ‘homogenised’, also for the rest of us as well. That extraordinary report in the Independent that a District Court in the US ‘ordered’ the BBC to hand over footage recently is also very troubling.

HOW MUCH PROOF DO WE NEED?

Combined with the extensive list he read out during the speech which named each of the US official agencies that were investigating WikiLeaks and/or Julian himself, as well as WL staff and WL supporters, and then taking that together with a further comprehensive list, closely referencing US interest in the same (also just published on the WikiLeaks site), this ‘enemy’ designation should be the clincher for anyone still havering about the reality of the political persecution Julian has claimed asylum from.

In the speech Julian made it clear that, as it is ridiculous to have the attitude that he or WikiLeaks or the staff or supporters are the ‘enemy’, in his opinion the corollary is not true either: it’s a position often thrust on him by people being simplistic and he rejects it:

The United States is not the enemy.

In the question and answer time afterwards, Julian is asked about the ‘enemy’ tag and gives his reaction. The exchange is on this RT video in which Julian expands on the issues relating to these latest revelations and refers to the

absurdist, neo-McCarthyist fervor that exists within some of the government departments in the US

 going on to describe just how bizarre it is.

(3) Background from Ecuador’s Foreign Minister: Ricardo Patino

ECUADOR’S CITIZEN REVOLUTION

Ecuador’s Ricardo Patino kicked off the meeting, laying the basis for Ecuador’s decision to grant asylum to Julian Assange: charting Ecuador’s progress for us through huge changes in a short space of time via a citizen revolution which had redefined its public and foreign policy, taking back the responsibilities of its sovereign choices which the old regime had surrendered to the dictates of a foreign power, and taking a new model of development concerned with inclusivity and interdependence, the provision of services, and having at its heart human rights. These policies, or at least President Correa, had over 70% public approval in Ecuador.

So what’s not a ‘good fit’ about that, eh? Sounds almost glovish to me…

PRINCIPLES OF ASYLUM AND THE BASIS OF ECUADOR’S DECISION

He pointed out that they were already welcoming those from other countries who had sought refuge and found it in Ecuador, and that this was integral to their belief that human rights were fundamental. He said that the distinction between ‘types’ of asylum was spurious, and at their roots it was the same causes which occasioned it; that seeking sanctuary was humanity’s legal heritage from ancient times, and all forms of asylum had the same legitimacy being founded in the protection of life, liberty and human rights by

safeguarding the human person when a despotic power descends upon him that presents threats.

He said that they had conducted

an exhaustive examination of the fears of the plaintiff

and had thorough consultations with the governments of Sweden, the UK and the USA, as well as consulting experts in international law and their own diplomatic personnel, before coming to the decision, which was without discrimination, and rooted in great jurisprudence, to grant Julian Assange asylum in August.

RESOLVING THE CONFLICT

He said that they had since done all they could to resolve the conflict, and offered various solutions. He referred to ‘bilateral obligations’ (alluding to those much stressed by Sweden and the UK) and, in mentioning the meeting with William Hague (27 September), referenced a 140 year old extradition treaty which was still in force between the UK and Ecuador and needed to be given due weight, which held that ‘politically motivated causes prevent extradition’.

OPPORTUNITIES TO REDEFINE INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Finally, and with a touch of wit, he touched on the ‘opportunities’ this process had afforded, and could still. He welcomed the fact that the diplomatic inviolability of embassies had been reinforced (!), that the issue of different forms of asylum was being raised, mentioned the problem in this House (the UN) of the

anti-democratic concessions to five countries to make decisions’

(oh yes)

and affirmed that this is exactly the right place to discuss these problems, because

this is our organization… these debates will force it to evolve… will place it into the new times.

(Got that, you old has-beens? He was also the only bloke I could see not wearing a tie, incidentally).

(4) Baher Azmy of the CCR: Counsel for WikiLeaks and Assange

SERIOUSNESS OF THE THREAT

Baher Azmy spoke briefly to underline the seriousness of the threat of persecution should Julian arrive in the United States. He pointed out that the US would normally grant asylum to someone like Julian engaged in political activity (as long as the someone wasn’t actually Julian!) and said that US law is even geared to granting asylum to whistleblowers, recognizing that one of the qualifying criteria under the 1951 refugee act is political persecution for activities which dissent from the status quo, and accepting this as a valid reason to grant asylum.

PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE

But because he is Julian he is ‘public enemy no. 1’ and an ‘enemy of the state’ and as such he could not get a fair trial, even for conduct protected by the constitution.

High level officials have consistently and publicly characterised Julian by expressing contempt and worse for him and his activities, have called him a terrorist or aligned his activities with terrorism. So, though the US government has granted (eg) Chinese, Bangladeshi and Pakistanis asylum for whistleblowing activities, this doesn’t apply to Assange.

A VERY REAL INVESTIGATION

There is ample evidence of both a 42,000 page FBI investigation and a secret Grand Jury which either has already completed or is working towards an indictment under the Espionage Act of 1917. That this law is invoked is significant because the statute went on the books during World War 1 and was expressly and avowedly for the purpose of crushing dissent, and it resulted in over 2,000 prosecutions, some for even expressing sympathy for a person holding a dissenting view (shades of NDAA sect 1021 (b) 2?). In fact, after that repressive time, laws relating to the constitution were enacted in order to protect civil liberties and giving the right to political dissent, and the Espionage Act fell into disuse for around 90 years. It’s surfacing again now, and this is apparently how they plan to deal with Julian Assange.

Furthermore, the conditions in which he would be held would be punitive, he would almost certainly not be given bail and he would be likely to be housed in a maximum security prison in solitary confinement, the conditions in these prisons rivalling the worst in the world for awful. And, finally, we have the example of how they have already treated Bradley Manning.

So that underscores the wisdom of Ecuador having granted asylum to Julian – he could not receive a fair trial, he could be sentenced to death or life imprisonment for activities which are not illegal, and the conditions under which he would be held are ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading’.

(5) Obama at the UN on Tuesday: Some of the Fine Words

SOME FINE WORDS

Here are some of the ‘fine words’ from President Obama’s speech.

It has been less than two years since a vendor in Tunisia set himself on fire to protest the oppressive corruption in his country, and sparked what became known as the Arab Spring. Since then, the world has been captivated by the transformation that has taken place, and the United States has supported the forces of change.

We were inspired by the Tunisian protests that toppled a dictator, because we recognized our own beliefs in the aspirations of men and women who took to the streets.

We insisted on change in Egypt, because our support for democracy put us on the side of the people.

True democracy demands that citizens cannot be thrown in jail because of what they believe ….. It depends on the freedom of citizens to speak their minds and assemble without fear; on the rule of law and due process that guarantees the rights of all people.

…in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can become a tool to silence critics our Founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views, and practice their own faith, may be threatened.

…those who love freedom for themselves must ask how much they are willing to tolerate freedom for others.

the United States has not, and will not, seek to dictate the outcome of democratic transitions abroad, and we do not expect other nations to agree with us on every issue.

I know that not all countries in this body share this understanding of the protection of free speech. Yet in 2012…..the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete.

It is time to leave the call of violence and the politics of division behind. On so many issues, we face a choice between the promise of the future, or the prisons of the past. We cannot afford to get it wrong. We must seize this moment.

We know from painful experience that the path to security and prosperity does not lie outside the boundaries of international law and respect for human rights.

The United States of America will always stand up for these aspirations, for our own people, and all across the world. That was our founding purpose. That is what our history shows.

and the really classic one:

Those in power have to resist the temptation to crack down on dissent.

(6) In the Press

ASSANGE ‘OVERSHADOWS’ CAMERON

Although the Australian Foreign Minister, Bob Carr rather sneeringly said yesterday that he

wouldn’t think there’d be a great deal of interest in it in what is a legal dispute between Mr Assange and Sweden…in a UN forum devoted to weightier and more substantial matters…

the Daily Mail, in a fair report today described the ‘provocative’ speech as an ‘embarrassment for Cameron’, saying that

fears that his speech would be overshadowed by the WikiLeaks campaigner were borne out.

(The Prime Minister had spoken earlier to the General Assembly ‘calling for greater backing for emerging democracies in the Arab world’.)

PRESS CONFUSION: SIMULTANEOUSLY ‘UNWELL’ AND ‘IN GOOD HEALTH’?

In a fascinating difference of observation, the Guardian thought:

Assange, dressed in a shirt and half-knotted tie, appeared tired and unwell on the video. He had dark rings under his eyes and sniffed frequently during a prepared presentation

whereas Reuters, ho hum, disagreed, saying that he

looked to be in good health.

Both however agreed that he was calling out Obama, the Guardian saying:

The Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, has accused president Obama of seeking to exploit the Arab Spring revolutions for political gain, claiming Obama’s vocal support for freedom of expression had not been translated into action.

and Reuters:

Assange mocked Obama for defending free speech in the Arab world in an address to the United Nations on Tuesday, pointing to his own experience as evidence that Obama has “done more to criminalize free speech than any other U.S. president.

The Daily Mail has now decided, in a different headline but the same article as above (maybe they read Reuters ‘mocking Obama’ and thought they’d ‘ave some of that) that Julian is ‘mocking Britain’ – they say it’s because he is ‘bragging’ about being ‘free’. You couldn’t make it up… well, actually, on second thoughts, I guess that’s exactly what they do…

(7) Statement by Amnesty International

SWEDEN MUST GIVE GUARANTEE

Amnesty International have now weighed in with a statement saying that Sweden should give the guarantees:

The Swedish authorities should issue assurances to the UK and to Julian Assange that if he leaves Ecuador’s London embassy and agrees to go to Sweden to face sexual assault claims, he will not be extradited to the USA in connection with Wikileaks, Amnesty International said.

In the wake of the Wikileaks co-founder addressing the United Nations and with talks due between the British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Ecuadorian officials, Amnesty International added that it was time to break the impasse.

Nicola Duckworth, Senior Director for Research at Amnesty International, said:

If the Swedish authorities are able to confirm publicly that Assange will not eventually find himself on a plane to the USA if he submits himself to the authority of the Swedish courts then this will hopefully achieve two things.

First, it will break the current impasse and second it will mean the women who have leveled accusations of sexual assault are not denied justice.

It is vital that states show they are serious about dealing with allegations of sexual violence and that they respect both the rights of the women who made the complaints and the person accused.

While Amnesty International has no evidence that Sweden plans to extradite Assange to the USA, it seems evident that fears about such an outcome have played no small part in the current stand-off.
Amnesty International believes that the forced transfer of Julian Assange to the USA in the present circumstances would expose him to a real risk of serious human rights violations, possibly including violation of his right to freedom of expression and the risk that he may be held in detention in conditions which violate the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Gallery | This entry was posted in Analysis, Assange, Manning and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Julian Assange: Still ‘free to speak my mind’

  1. Pingback: Barack vs Bradley and I | elcidharth

  2. Pingback: 09/28/12 | This Day in WikiLeaks

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