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Is Julian Assange's Asylum Claim Legit? Point-Counterpoint With Glenn Greenwald

Assange remains at the center of an international standoff.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange addresses the media and his supporters from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in August 2012. WikiLeaks declared on Wednesday that the United States had effectively given groups an opening to attack its embas


Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June 19, having been granted political asylum by Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa. Sweden wants Assange to answer charges of sexual assault. Assange says that his extradition to Sweden would put him in danger of being brought to the United States where he might face prosecution under the espionage act.

It's unusual that Assange was granted asylum, given that the U.S. hasn't attempted to extradite him. Correa faces an upcoming election campaign, and has faced criticism for limiting Ecuadorian press freedoms, and many see the move as a way of pushing back on his domestic critics. The British reject the legitimacy of Assange's claim, and have refused to grant him safe passage out of the country. What has become an international standoff continues.

I see this as a matter of Occam's razor, with Assange doing whatever he can to avoid facing the Swedish charges. The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald disagrees, saying that Assange has a “rational” fear of persecution at the hands of the U.S. government. Greenwald recently appeared on the AlterNet Radio Hour to discuss the situation. Below is a lightly edited transcript of the segment (you can listen to the whole show here).

Joshua Holland: Now, Glenn, I want to make one thing clear. You wrote, “The accusations made against him are serious ones and deserve to be taken seriously. An accorded affair and legal resolution.” I say this upfront because I know you’ve been called a “rape apologist,” and I think that’s very unfair. You’ve made it clear that you’re not prejudging this case in any way.

Glenn Greenwald: Right. I think it was a year and a half ago when the charges first emerged. I wrote at the time, and I’ve been very consistent about this, that it would be incredibly irresponsible for Assange critics to assume that he’s guilty of any crime. It would be equally irresponsible for defenders of his to assume that these allegations are invalid. That’s the reason we have a justice system -- to resolve these kinds of conflicts and disputes in a fair and deliberative manner. Nobody should assume one way or the other anything about what happened here until that happens.

JH: We have an international incident, a standoff if you will. Assange is holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The Brits say they’re not going to give him safe passage. The Swedes are not going to give him a guarantee that he won’t be extradited to the United States. That’s the situation we’re looking at.

GG: The important thing about that is that’s the initial position of the parties. Typically, when there’s international standoffs and countries are unable to resolve their difference they get together and negotiate. Thus far the Brits and the Swedes have been unwilling to negotiate with the Ecuadorians, which is what made the Ecuadorian government conclude that there was something else going on her. It made them believe that Assange’s fear of political persecution was well-grounded.

Now that they’ve granted asylum there have been a couple of additional meetings. Whether the parties have softened their positions in an attempt to get closer together is something I don’t know, but generally that’s what has happened. So what you’ve laid out is generally a beginning gambit. That’s the reason there’s a standstill.

JH: I think he’s citing the threat of extradition to the US in order to avoid facing these charges. In one sense what he’s asking for from Sweden is a little difficult for them to grant. There has been no extradition request made of the Swedes, and there are no charges here in the United States as far as we know. There were certainly reports that there was a sealed indictment. Wouldn’t the Swedes have to kind of concede that they don’t have a good and independent judiciary in order to grant that request?

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