Ray McGovern: Washington Post threatens Ecuador if Wikileaks founder given asylum
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
Julian Assange is still in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, his third day after seeking asylum against extradition to Sweden and the fear that he might be then extradited to the United States for what he may then be put in front of a grand jury that people think has already sat and has already indicted him in some way but that is not entirely public.
Now joining us to talk about this affair is Ray McGovern. Ray’s a former CIA analyst. He’s also a cofounder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, and he is a friend of whistleblowers almost everywhere, maybe everywhere. Thanks for joining us, Ray.
RAY MCGOVERN, FORMER CIA ANALYST: Most welcome, Paul.
JAY: So, first of all, tell sort of what we know factually so far about what’s happening, and then give us your take.
MCGOVERN: Sure. I suppose I should do full disclosure right off the bat. I am what The Washington Post accuses Julian Assange of being, and that is a self-described advocate of free speech. I also have a respect for state secrets when they deserve to be kept secret. But I think what Julian Assange has done is the archetypical example of how one can put the prevention of wars and other injustices ahead of petty classification systems. And that is why our group Sam Adams Associates for Integrity gave Julian Assange our annual award in 2010. And so that’s full disclosure of the bat.
MCGOVERN: What’s happened here is a standoff between Julian Assange in the Embassy of Ecuador in London and the London police and those who do not wish to allow the Ecuadorians to give him political asylum. There’s no doubt but that he merits political asylum, given the hatchet job that the Swedes and others have done to him, and the fact that there is almost certainlyâ€”the lawyers still need to say probably, but almost certainly a secret indictment served against him in accordance with what Dianne Feinstein of the Senate Intelligence Committee wanted, and that is an indictment on foreign espionage, which carries, as you know, very full penalties. Feinstein’s saying a yearâ€”well, almost two years ago now, that this fellow is not a journalist; he’s rather a agitator intent on blackening the United States. Now, if full disclosure is ipso facto blackening the United States, well, that’s just too bad.
JAY: And in terms of the facts of this, just quicklyâ€”I would suppose most of our viewers know this, but Assange has been charged with certain sexual indiscretions. I think the facts of it is he’s been accused of not wearing a condom in some sexual acts, and he’s been askedâ€”he’s being extradited to come back to Sweden for that investigation. My understanding is Assange has said he’s more than happy to answer any investigators’ questions in London. And it does seem to be something that could have been done in London. It’s not clear why he needs to be sitting in a jail cell in Sweden simply to answer some questions. And I guess that’s sort of the nub of the controversy and why people think there’s more going on here than just answering an investigator’s questions. Do I have this more or less right?
MCGOVERN: That’s exactly right, except for the fact that he also volunteered to offer himself for questioning in Sweden before he realized that he really had to get out of Dodge, so to speak, and escaped (he thought) to London, where he was also arrested and placed under house arrest for many, many months now, and just decided, after the High Court in Britain, under extreme pressure from our country, refused his appeal not to be extradited to Swedenâ€”7 July was the day that he was supposed to be thrown out of London, given to the tender mercies of the Swedes. And so he chose to walk into the Ecuadorian Embassy the day before yesterday and ask for political asylum.
One of the unanswered questions is, you know, with all the attention to Julian Assange and with all the previous information that Ecuador was very susceptible to offers of asylum, why there were no police following Julian, why he was allowed to go into the Ecuadorian [incompr.] And I think probably the answer to that is that the British would just as soon get rid of him, they’d just as soon get this headache off their hands. Otherwise I think the bobbies would have intercepted him before allowing him to get into the Ecuadorian Embassy.
JAY: Well, the press is describing this as a standoff now between London and Ecuador. What’s your understanding of the law of all this? What are the legalities in play here?
MCGOVERN: Well, there is a standoff. And the question is whether Correa, the Ecuadorian president, will offer political asylum. I think chances are very good that he will. Then the question arises: how does Assange get from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to the airport to fly off to Ecuador? Now, The Washington Post, no fan of Assange, is saying that Scotland Yard is saying that as soon as he leaves the embassy he’ll be arrested because he violated the terms of his being detained. That’s not very clear, and that could be worked out. But The Post is taking a very hard line against this fellow who they say is a small-time operative being helped now by a small-time South American autocrat, namely Correa, that theâ€”the key here is how The Post ends up. This is their editorial this morning. It really shows their hand.
“If Mr. Correa,” the head of Ecuador, “seeks to appoint himself America’s chief Latin American enemy”â€”enemyâ€”for giving Assange protection “between now and then, it’s not hard to imagine the outcome,” because “[a] full third of Ecuadoran foreign sales ($10 billion in 2011) go to the United States, supporting … 400,000 jobs in the country,” and “it’s not hard to imagine” what will happen if Julian Assange is allowed to go to Ecuador. Pretty transparent, isn’t it? Dictated just by the administration.
JAY: Yeah, these sort of threats are usually made behind the scenes, not so front-and-center. But I suppose U.S. foreign policy doesn’t like the fact there are places on earth that don’t already know better than to even test these kind of waters. And I guess Ecuador and some of the other Latin American countries, like Venezuela and Bolivia and others, are kind of outside that sphere so far, it appears. Assange’s mother is quoted in the press today as saying she’s heard of people that live in embassies for 15 years or more. And there is some precedent for that, is there?
MCGOVERN: Well, there is indeed. Those who are as old as I am remember Cardinal Mindszenty, who sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw during the Cold War, and he was there longer than 15 years, if memory serves. But it does look today as though Quito is going to move quicklyâ€”I think pronto is the right word hereâ€”because the longer this languishes, the more levers ofâ€”leverage the United States and others will have and the more opportunity for real mischief.
JAY: But “move quickly” meaning what? As you just described, they can’tâ€”how do they get him from the embassy to the airport? The British have to agree to that. And given the mood in the United States, it’s hard to see that the British would be amenable to that unless the U.S. said okay. And why would they say okay? I mean, maybe they want toâ€”they’ll let him sit there for a long time until people kind of forget about it.
MCGOVERN: Well, that may be an outcome. But if Correa approves his asylum request, there are ways to extradite people from embassies, as well as from countries. Witness the fact that we were able to extradite, so to speak, hostages from our embassy, besieged as it was, in Tehran way back when.
So what my fear really is is that with the potential for mischief in the next coming days, we have waysâ€”vee have our vays of dealing vis zees folks, okay? Now, nobody’s going to drop a hellfire missile from a drone on the Ecuadorian Embassy, but think of what happened to British biologist and UN inspector David Kelly. Now, he committed suicide right after he divulged very, very important secrets about the hoax that was represented as WMD in Iraqâ€”very, very suspicious circumstances. Most British that I talk to believe he was assassinated by the CIA or FBI equivalent. Now, what is the potential that the car going to Heathrow or whatever could be messed with, or that in some other way Assange could be dealt with, so to speak, in a way that most civilized countries would not even contemplate? The potential is there.
JAY: Well, that’sâ€”I guess that’s kind of speculative at this point.
MCGOVERN: Oh, it is, yeah. Wellâ€”.
JAY: But the bottom line here is is that it’sâ€”Ecuador does not seem to be in a mood to concede on this. But they haven’t made an official determination yet.
MCGOVERN: No, but it’s supposed to come pronto. And if that means soon, then that will be a good thing, because, you know, the British are still holding their nose from the High Court decision. This is not the Great Britain of great democratic and legal tradition. And it was clearly a political decision to surrender Assange to the tender mercies of the Swedes, who, by the way, have no provision for bail, keep people in prison before they’re tried, and could keep him there foreverâ€”worse still, extradite him to the United States, where we believe an indictment already exists.
Now, what happened to Bradley Manning, the so-called leaker to Assange? We know what treatment he got. If I were Assange, I certainly would be very worried about being extradited to the United States on the pretext of some sexual indiscretions, allegations of sexual harassment or whatever, brought by two women who decided after these encounters that they would move this way. The CIA is very, very active in Stockholm, as well as in Quito, and we’ll have to see how this plays out. But it’ll be very interesting to see if Correa stands up to this. And there’s a lot of support in Latin America for a person who would.
JAY: Right. Thanks very much for joining us, Ray.
MCGOVERN: You’re most welcome.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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