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CCR’s Michael Ratner breaks down how documents expose United States economic and political spying as CCR calls on UN to protect publishers as well as whistleblowers

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. And welcome to this edition of the Ratner Report. Now joining us is Michael Ratner. Michael Ratner is the President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and he’s also a board member of the Real News Network, and of course a regular here at the Real News. Thanks for joining us, Michael. MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: It’s good to be with you, Jessica, and the Real News. DESVARIEUX: So Michael, so many revelations coming out this week, WikiLeaks revelations. Can we just talk about some of the most significant ones? RATNER: This week and last week. I actually wanted to address two topics. One is the revelations and secondly a report that CCR, my office, submitted to the UN on protection of not just whistleblowers but publishers, as well, and why journalists are entitled to the same protection as whistleblowers. But first to the revelations. As you look at the website, you have to remember this: Julian Assange has been in the embassy for three years, the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. He’s been in custody for five years. And the U.S., Untied States, has an unprecedented investigation of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, and the staff of WikiLeaks. And I just imagine to myself the courage it takes for Julian and WikiLeaks to keep going despite the dire circumstances of Julian’s physical, where he is physically and can’t leave the embassy. And yet the important work of WikiLeaks is continuing. So let’s have a look at even the last few days of revelations. But even the last few weeks. July 9, a couple of days ago, more than a million emails from an Italian surveillance malware vendor called the Hacking Team were revealed that show the inner workings of the global surveillance industry. That’s July 9. July 8, the day before. The title of this release is called All the Chancellor’s Men. The chancellor is Chancellor Merkel. It’s July 8. NSA surveilled 125 phone numbers of top German officials. They did it not to stop terrorism. That’s obvious, as almost none of the surveillance is, any of it. They did it for political and economic reasons, according to their own designations of coded information on these surveillance laws. For example, they wanted the reaction to the financial crisis in Germany, et cetera. That’s July 8. July 4, our independence day. The title of the WikiLeaks release is called Bugging Brazil. We all knew something about them bugging Brazil from the earlier Snowden revelations. Now we get a top secret National Security Agency list of 29 Brazilian government phone numbers that were selected for surveillance. Much more extensive than we knew before. That’s July 4. July 1. TISA release, Trade in Services Agreement. Perhaps a lot of our viewers don’t know what that is, but WikiLeaks releases a modern, what they called a modern journalistic Holy Grail. A secret core text for the largest trade deal in history, the Trade in Services Agreement. What it really ultimately does, at least what WikiLeaks showed it did in this revelation, is it reduces regulations in countries so that it cannot favor local services. So if you want to hire locally, like we have these slogans, buy locally, et cetera. You can’t. You have to essentially allow international corporations to penetrate your borders and come in and undercut your own people. And remember, TISA is one of what WikiLeaks refers to as a triumvirate of trade agreements that are really neoliberalizing the whole world. One is of course something they revealed earlier, on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and they also revealed material on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment pact. These are all shaped in favor of transnational corporations, and many countries are involved in it, but of course not China. So that all–TISA just took place a few days ago, July 1. A week before that, [July] 23, called Espionage Elysee. That’s where the NSA is targeting high-level officials in France. We already knew from WikiLeaks that they targeted the last three presidents. And finally, I’ll end on this one although we could go on. One of my favorites. June 19, the Saudi cables. WikiLeaks has apparently half a million or more cable traffic from Saudi foreign ministry to other places, its own ministries around the country, its own consulates. Half a million cables in the Saudi foreign ministry, as I said. What Julian Assange said about this, the Saudi cables lift the lid on an increasingly erratic and secretive dictatorship that has not only celebrated its 100th beheading this year, but which has also become a menace to neighbors and itself. So it’s been an extraordinary period of revelations for WikiLeaks despite Julian Assange’s confinement in an embassy. DESVARIEUX: Michael, you also mentioned that the Center for Constitutional Rights which represents WikiLeaks and its editor in chief, Julian Assange, just submitted a report to help the United Nations complete their review on whistleblowers and protection of sources. This is something certainly I myself am very concerned with as a journalist, but also as a citizen. Can you just give us a breakdown of what was in that report? RATNER: Well, what we’re trying to do–and I should say, a lawyer who works with me and WikiLeaks, Carey Shenkman, was the principal author of that report. It’s online at the Center for Constitutional Rights’ website. And what we’ve always noticed is that whistleblowers are always out there. We have to protect whistleblowers. They don’t do a very good job of it, obviously, in the United States. Obama has–went after them constantly. But you also have to protect journalists like yourself, Real News, other people. Because without journalists to publish the information that whistleblowers obtain, we’ll never see the–the information will never see the light of day. And so you see that, and we see that particularly with my client, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, is they’ve gone after WikiLeaks which is a publisher, incredibly. I mean, they’ve really hit the hammer on it. You know, huge investigation going on. He’s had, he’s confined in the embassy, no recognition of his asylum that Ecuador has given him because of this. And of course WikiLeaks has, despite this, gone on as a publisher and as we’ve said, revealed much information. But you can understand how you as a journalist or others would say, well, in the extent the Obama administration and others are saying publishers are somehow associated with their sources, and in the same bucket publishers, according to people like the people in this administration, in the United States can be subject to prosecution and certainly harassment, et cetera. So one of the important things we’ve stressed in this UN report–and the UN report goes to the special rapporteur for freedom of expression, David Kaye. And he hopefully will adopt some of our recommendations, submit that to the United Nations General Assembly, and we may begin to get some protections for publishers, as well. So we submitted this report. And we all understand the necessity of having publishers protected. But there’s also a good legal argument why publishers have to be protected. Here in the United States there is protection for whistleblowers. I should say, for whistleblowers particularly if they come from other countries, not our own whistleblowers. Whistleblowers from China or places the United States doesn’t like, those people who flee those countries come into the United States, ask for asylum. They get protection as a vulnerable group, considered vulnerable because they’re attacked because of their free speech activities. They get asylum and they’re protected. Of course U.S. people don’t, but that you would expect, unfortunately, from this country. So what we’re trying to argue in this report is that, is that publishers, like whistleblowers, are a vulnerable group. They’re attacked because of their free speech, because of their freedom of expression, and they deserve to be protected as well as whistleblowers. And our hopes are, the Center, our hopes are, WikiLeaks for Julian Assange, that in a world of more and more secrecy and in a world in which because of that secrecy we’re getting less and less democracy, that the United Nations will recognize that publishers like WikiLeaks and Julian Assange will be given the U.N. protection that they’re entitled to. I have to say in closing, what a remarkable and amazing moment. We’re seeing, really, the unraveling of governments and corporations and their secrets all over the world. They’re not winning. And just remember this, as I close. Democracy dies behind closed doors, and all of us are in this together to protect whistleblowers and publishers so that we can have true democracy someday, in this country and in the world. DESVARIEUX: All right. Michael Ratner, very powerful message there. Thank you so much for joining us. RANTER: Thank you, Jessica. [Inaud.] the Real News. DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Michael Ratner is President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York and Chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. He is currently a legal adviser to Wikileaks and Julian Assange. He and CCR brought the first case challenging the Guantanamo detentions and continue in their efforts to close Guantanamo. He taught at Yale Law School, and Columbia Law School, and was President of the National Lawyers Guild. His current books include Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in the Twenty-First Century America, and Who Killed Che? How the CIA Got Away With Murder.

NOTE: Mr. Ratner speaks on his own behalf and not for any organization with which he is affiliated.