Michael Ratner (US attorney for Julian Assange): Assange called for release of Bradley Manning and attacked President Obama’s call for free speech while suppressing whistle blowers
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to this week’s report from Michael Ratner, who now joins us from New York City.
Michael’s the emeritus president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He’s the U.S. attorney for Julian Assange. And he’s also a member of the Real News Network board. Thanks very much for joining us.
MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: It’s always good to be with you, Paul.
JAY: So what do you got for us this week?
RATNER: Well, this week was pretty interesting and exciting. This week, Julian Assange appeared on a video hookup through satellite at the United Nations on a panel, along with the foreign minister of Ecuador, an attorney from the Center for Constitutional Rights, etc. And they did that at the UN (it was sponsored by Ecuador and the Center for Constitutional Rights) as a way of really explaining to the countries in the United Nations why Ecuador had given asylum to Julian Assange, what the legal basis was for it, and to give Julian Assange an opportunity to speak to many of the people at the UN.
They also are going to have a meeting this week with the foreign minister’s correspondent from the U.K., who is at the UN, in which Ecuador is trying to convince the United Kingdom to give Julian Assange safe passage out of the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he has taken asylum, and to Ecuador. Whether they’ll be successful I don’t know.
The interesting thing about that panel that took place was, first, what the Ecuadorian minister, foreign minister, PatiÃ±o, said. He said first, we will never give up Julian Assange. We have given him asylum. He has a legal right to asylum. He has to be protected, and we think that safe passage out of the embassy to Ecuador goes along with giving him asylum. He was very, very strong about that.
And he also said, we tried to do something different. We were willing to negotiate. We tried to negotiate. We asked Sweden if they would come to the Ecuadorian Embassy in the United Kingdom and question Julian Assange. They refused. We offered Sweden to take Julian Assange to Sweden and our embassy in Sweden, where they could question Julian Assange on the sexual misconduct allegations. Sweden refused. We asked Sweden and the United Kingdom for guarantees [incompr.] would not honor an extradition request from the United States to send Julian Assange to the United States, where he would be prosecuted for espionage. All those countries refused. So at this point, the foreign minister, PatiÃ±o, said, we want safe passage out of here for Julian Assange, and we will negotiate with the United Kingdom to try and get that.
JAY: And what were the highlights of Assange’s speech?
RATNER: So that was pretty strong speech. Julian Assange gave a 14-minute talk and answered a few questions afterwards. Quite interesting. He began with talking about Bradley Manning. He did not really talk about himself or his condition except to say, look it, I’m in the Ecuadorian Embassy, I have a free mind and can speak freely, and in that sense I’m very, very free.
He started with Bradley Manning, really giving his solidarity to Bradley Manning, calling Bradley Manning essentially an honorable soldier who did what his conscience told him, and felt that Bradley Manning ought to be protected as a whistleblower, that Bradley Manning’s been in pretrial detention for almost three years, conditions that amount to cruel and inhuman, degrading treatment for almost the first year of that.
And then he went on to talk about Obama and whistleblowers, how at Obama’s speech to the UN a few days ago, Obama talked a lot about free expression, the First Amendment, particularly in the context of, of course, of the anti-Muslim video that was at least a trigger for the incidents in Libya, as well as Egypt, as well as other countries in the Middle East; he talked about free expression, the need to protect free expression, and how important that was, and dissent. And then what Julian Assange said was, look what Obama said. We agree on the words. I agree with Obama. That’s correct. But actions speak louder than words. And now what the United States has done is not only go after Bradley Manning, but go after more whistleblowers than had been done in the history of all other presidents in the United States, some six of them. So let’s put wordsâ€”let’s put action to the words of Obama. So he was very critical of Obama on that.
Then he went after Obama on Arab Spring, because in Obama’s speech to the United Nations a couple of days ago, Obama said, we are with you, we were with Arab Spring, we supported it, etc. And what Julian Assange says: let’s not falsify history here. Let’s talk about what Obama’s real position was in the United States with both Tunisia and Egypt. In Tunisia, WikiLeaks actually has given some credit for what happened there. December 7, 2010, they released documents showing the Ben Ali family, ruling family of Tunisia, as involved in deep corruption. That got peopleâ€”was upset. It was one of the factors. A few weeks later, the food seller burned himself to death, and it went on from there. But the documents that WikiLeaks released showed that the United States supported Ben Ali and at best was indifferent to what Ben Ali was doing to his own people.
Then Assange went to Egypt and said, let’s not kid ourselves about Egypt. And I remember, myself, seeing the early speeches of Hillary and others about Mubarak, saying Mubarak’s a democrat, we support him, it’s a stable country, etc. And as Julian Assange said, as the people were washing U.S. teargas out of their eyes in Egypt, you had the U.S. continuing to support Mubarak. So he was very critical of Obama’s speech and is again saying he’s falsifying history in that respect.
He really didn’t talk about his own situation, but in the end he said, if Obama’s words are to be believedâ€”and I agree with themâ€”he should be dropping the prosecutions of Bradley Manning, other whistleblowers, and WikiLeaks as well. So it was a very, very strong speech, trying to put real cloth, substance to Obama’s words.
JAY: Right. And now some documents have come forward.
RATNER: Yes. This week, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange revealed a set of U.S. documents that were made pursuant to a Air Force investigation. They were gotten through the Freedom of Information Act. They concern the investigation of a Air Force analyst stationed in the United Kingdom who had top security clearance.
This Air Force analyst started getting bitter about what the U.S. was doing at Guantanamo, disillusioned with the U.S. Army, what they were doing about torture, and believed that Bradley Manning had done the right thing in revealing documents, and Julian Assange had as well, and she started talking to people at WikiLeaks who were supporters of Julian Assange, going to his trial, etc. That’s what the documents show.
But what’s most interesting from Julian Assange’s and WikiLeaks’ point of view is the Air Force hears about this and opens an investigation of this woman analyst in the Air Force. And the investigation is titledâ€”the criminal law title is communicating with the enemy, citing the same statute that Bradley Manning is being prosecuted under, which holds a life sentence and even a death penalty sentence. So here they are investigating an analyst who’s communicating with WikiLeaks, not uploading anything to them, not giving them anything, just talking to them; and saying, we’re going to investigate this woman under communicating with the enemy.
So the question is: what does that say? It basically, right on his face, says that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are looked at as the enemy. That’s one interpretation. What that means, of course, is that they’re looked at as the enemy. They can be kidnapped, WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange can be kidnapped, they can be killed, etc., if they’re looked at in that way. On its face, that’s what those documents seem to indicate, looked at like al-Qaeda, looked at like the Taliban, Julian Assange the enemy, because that’s the analyst on one point communicating with WikiLeaks and an investigation opened on communicating with the enemy.
There is another way to look at it which is equally possible or plausible. In the Manning case, he’s charged with communicating with the enemy, but he’s charged with doing it through indirect means. The enemy in the Manning case is al-Qaeda. So you have Manning communicating with WikiLeaks, WikiLeaks then publishing the material, and al-Qaeda reading the material. It’s very possible that’s what’s going on in this recently released trove of documents, that you have this Air Force specialist with access to classified material communicating with WikiLeaks, then the fear of the government is WikiLeaks is going to publish it and someone from al-Qaeda is going to read it. So here you have this analyst going through WikiLeaks, al-Qaeda reading documents. Under either scenario, it’s terrible for Julian Assange, terrible for WikiLeaks, ’cause it’s saying that they’re either the enemy or they’re aiding the enemy.
JAY: Well, if the NDAA section on indefinite detention by the military holds up, and with this the definition associated with the Taliban or al-Qaeda, it’s not a big stretch to see that might be leveled against them.
RATNER: That’s absolutely right, Paul. That’s correct. In fact, in what I have written about this, I do make that point. You could see Julian Assange being picked up under the NDAA and held indefinitely in detention in some prison, unknown where it would be. But that’s correct. If the NDAA is held up, Julian Assange could be taken into custody under the NDAA.
And then ask yourself: what does it say for other journalists, whether it’s you or The New York Times, Paul? If you get classified documents from somebody, if someone says to Real News, hey, I have a trove of documents, and just sends them to you and you publish them and they’re read by al-Qaeda, whichâ€”of course, they probably read everything they can get their hands onâ€”then are you somehow, you know, aiding and abetting the communication with the enemy because you understand that everybody reads or listens to Real News?
So it’s a reallyâ€”it’s dangerous for Julian Assange, it’s dangerous for journalists, what the government has revealed in these documents. And, of course, is particularly dangerous for people like Bradley Manning or this young Air Force analyst who is living in the United Kingdom. So all in all, we’re still at a very, very difficult point on issues of whistleblowing, on issues of espionage, and on issues of what will ultimately happen with Bradley Manning, as well as Julian Assange.
JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Michael.
RATNER: That you for having me, Paul.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And if you would like to see more discussions and reports like this, there’s a “Donate” button over here. If you don’t click on it, we can’t do this.
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