Mark Weisbrot: Forced landing of Bolivia president’s plane and other tactics show that Snowden needs to speak directly to the public to get political asylum
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
It’s been weeks since NSA leaker Edward Snowden released documents showing that the government is watching us. The U.S. filed espionage charges against Snowden, and now the manhunt is on.
Here to discuss the latest from this saga is Mark Weisbrot. Mark is the codirector of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC, and he’s also a regular columnist for The Guardian.
Thank you for joining us, Mark.
MARK WEISBROT, CODIRECTOR, CENTER FOR ECONOMIC AND POLICY RESEARCH: Thanks, Jessica. Great to be here.
DESVARIEUX: So, Mark, my first question is, just to be clear, we’re hearing a lot of things from the mainstream press specifically that countries have denied Snowden asylum, specifically China, Russia, Venezuela, Ecuador. Can you clarify for our audience if these countries actually have denied Snowden asylum?
WEISBROT: No. Only a few countries have actually denied him asylum. The majority have said either they’re considering it or they would consider it if he were on their territory. So that’s what Ecuador said, for example. If he gets to an Ecuadoran embassy or to Ecuador itself, then they would consider an application for asylum and they would almost certainly grant it. Bolivia and Venezuela are definitely leaning towards it. And I think they would grant him asylum, too, depending on circumstances. For example, they might want him to be in an embassy, too, or they may not. And so he has places to go.
There’s–I think the main problem right now is the United States is illegally preventing him from traveling.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Can you elaborate a little bit more? What are they doing specifically?
WEISBROT: Well, you saw what happened on Tuesday. He wasn’t even on this plane. It was the presidential plane of Bolivia with the president on it. And in spite of the fact that this caused a major controversy between and conflict between the European countries and Latin America, and, of course, the U.S. and Latin America, they–France, Spain, and Portugal, and possibly other countries–grounded his plane. They forced him to turn back and go to Austria. They wouldn’t let him pass French or Spanish or Portuguese airspace.
So this was a very serious offense. I mean, you know, obviously it’s not as bad as killing somebody or something like that, but in the diplomatic world these conventions are rarely, rarely violated. It was like last year when the U.K. threatened to invade the Ecuadorian embassy. That was something that hadn’t been done for 50 or 100 years. I mean, you know, even the Nazis, you know, respected embassies when people were sheltered there in most cases. You know. So this is something that’s just not done. And the same is true about this event. This is something that just isn’t done. A president’s plane, which has diplomatic immunity, is not turned away, especially on the mere suspicion, which turned out to be false, that somebody the United States was looking for was on the plane. And this isn’t Osama bin Laden on the plane, either; this is somebody’s who’s just wanted for–well, for a crime that probably half the world doesn’t even consider a crime.
DESVARIEUX: So from your perspective, do you believe that Bolivia and other South American countries will come forward and help Snowden in any way?
WEISBROT: Yes. They have come forward, and I think they will. They are willing to give him asylum.
Again, the logistical problem right now is the United States has allies that are willing to–as we saw yesterday–violate international law and diplomatic immunity and the Vienna conventions. And, again, these are things that are almost never violated. And they’re willing to do that on behalf of the United States.
This, by the way, I think shows how important this is. You know, at first the Obama administration threatened Russia and threatened China, and they looked very foolish because China and Russia both–you know, Hong Kong just ignored their request for extradition, and the Russians, you know, kind of laughed at the threat and offered Snowden asylum. And, you know, it turns out he didn’t take it because he didn’t want the conditions attached. Putin said he had to stop–I think he said it in terms of stop harming the United States. So he doesn’t want restrictions on his speech or what he publishes. So, you know, then Obama backed off and he said, well, you know, this is just a law enforcement matter. It’s very simple. We’re not going to scramble any jets just to get a 29-year-old hacker; we’re not talking to any heads of state.
But this turned out to be really false, because they are trying very desperately to get this guy, and they’re willing–and, you know, the fact that they were willing to–and, you know, put the presidential plane of Bolivia in danger as well and cause this diplomatic row. In Spain, of course–you know, France was quite embarrassed about it. Spain has commercial relations, the most commercial relations of anyone in Europe with Latin America and doesn’t want to injure their relations. So this–clearly the United States government made it very clear to these countries that this was a top priority for them, I mean, a huge priority. And that’s what it is to them. It’s become a kind of a test of their power in the world. Can they tell other countries what to do? Can they decide what international law is? Can they violate international law in pursuit of this person who they want to capture for political reasons? That was what it’s become. And that’s why I think it’s so important to them.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Let’s talk about the law for a little bit. As you know, the United States has charged Snowden for espionage, and under the Espionage Act he would face a trial. Do you believe that he should be tried as a whistleblower?
WEISBROT: No, I don’t think he should be tried at all. I mean, what he did was he–obviously he told the American people and the world about serious abuses, things that were going on in secret, things that at the very least would require a public debate. But it certainly violated our rights, especially under the Constitution, the Fourth Amendment, and violated the rights of other citizens and governments around the world. I mean, some of the spying they did on Europe wasn’t even–it wasn’t even related in any way to so-called security threats. It was commercial kind of spying, spying trying to find out information about their trade negotiation strategies, and it’s caused quite a diplomatic stir there. So, no, I don’t think he should be tried.
And, you know, Amnesty International, which is not the kind of organization that reflexively opposes the U.S. government or anything, you know, there they put out a statement from their global organization saying exactly that, that he’s a whistleblower, that he shouldn’t be charged with any crime, and that the United States was committing gross violations of his human rights by refusing, by blocking–attempting to block him from applying for asylum, which is his right. And that’s what they’re doing by blocking his travel, by revoking his passport, by getting their European allies to block off their airspace, and by threats and intimidation of various countries throughout the world who might otherwise offer him asylum or refugee status.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. So we’ve been obviously following this story, and it seems that the mainstream media is very much focused on Snowden and where his next move will be. And it’s a bit ironic, because Snowden very much didn’t want to be the story. He wanted the leaks and this idea of privacy to at least start the conversation in America. And by his own account, his greatest fear was that nothing will change. Do you believe that his nightmare has come true?
WEISBROT: No, not at all. I mean, there is a huge debate, still, about–there’s this debate in the United States. It’s in–you know, and the press is not monolithic on this the way they were on Assange, where they just decided that Assange was the enemy and they went out and tried to make it look like that. You have probably a majority of the press doing that with Snowden, but by no means all of it. You see, you know, prominent people in the media and newspapers very much sympathize with what he did. They’re the minority, but they’re there. So the debate is there, and where it goes, you know, we’ll have to see. But I think it’s had a huge impact.
And I think that Snowden himself, I think he should come forward and speak to the media, because he is the one that has the ability to reach, you know, hundreds of millions of people right now. You know, I can write about it, and I am, and, you know, a lot of other people are writing about it. Glenn Greenwald’s writing about it. But that isn’t going to get nearly the audience that he can get himself. And one thing he showed in that one interview that he did with Glenn Greenwald is that he is a very, very strong and capable spokesperson for what he is doing and why he did it and why it’s important. And I think he needs to go out and make the case why governments shouldn’t just take orders from the United States, they should respect international law, and they should grant him asylum. I think he can do that better than anyone else in the world right now.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Well, thank you for joining us, Mark.
WEISBROT: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.