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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.

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I would think that if I were the US government, having seen the damage done from the cable leaks -- damage that has already been done -- I would not go up against this guy in the court of public opinion thinking that I wouldn’t get my butt kicked. I would much prefer to see him charged with discrediting sex crimes in Sweden than making him a martyr to the US war on terror. I think there's a difference in the way that we’ve treated accused terrorists and others, especially blond, white superstar guys.

GG: That’s a fair point, except I’d say two things about it. One is the way in which civil liberties abuses and tyrannical power grabs always work is the same way everywhere. They begin with a very limited, marginalized group, but they never remain with that marginalized group. Once the society accepts the assertion of power and the abuses of power against that marginalized group because they are marginalized those powers become legitimized and then spread beyond their original application. That has happened in every single instance. We already see the abuses of the war on terror spreading to domestic dissent, the entrapment that has been used to put Muslims in prison. It’s spreading to people in the Occupy movement. The Patriot Act, which was justified in the name of the war on terror has been used overwhelmingly in cases not having anything to do with the war on terrorism. I think that what you see is this proliferation beyond its original application.

The other thing that I think is really important to note is because of the work I do I’ve gotten to know Daniel Ellsberg pretty well, who has been sort of my supreme political hero. One of the things the Nixon administration did in the Ellsberg case was it broke into a psychiatrist’s office to get all sorts of incriminating psycho-sexual information about him to leak it and destroy his credibility. I never quite understood why the Nixon administration thought that would be helpful. To me it was a non-sequitor. Ellsberg was leaking the Pentagon Papers, which showed that the US government systematically lied to the people about the Vietnam War. Why would Ellsberg’s sexual fantasies or his aberrations that were embarrassing to him personally have anything to do with that? The reason is if you can throw enough dirt on somebody in a sexual or personal or intimate level it makes almost everybody unwilling to defend that person, to want to be near them, to want to be associated with them.

As we began our discussion you pointed out my defense of Assange’s legal rights as I perceive them -- his rights against persecution -- have led people to believe that I say that I’m justifying rape or minimizing its importance, even though I’ve done nothing of the kind. But it has a very radioactive effect. While it’s true that two years ago Assange had a very big international following, it’s much less true today -- in fact if you look at popular opinion even in Europe, in Scandinavia, even in the United States -- it’s split at best, if not overtly hostile to him. The ability to prosecute Assange would be much greater than it was a couple years ago.

One last point in agreement with you. I think the reason the United States hasn’t indicted him yet, hasn’t prosecuted him yet, is because they’re happy with this current situation. He’s been incapacitated in house arrest in Britain. If he goes to Sweden and is convicted of those allegations that’ll essentially ruin him forever. Just the cost-benefit analysis will mean that it’s not worth the fight to extradite and prosecute him. I think if he’s acquitted -- if the charges are for whatever reason not coming to fruition -- and he’s free, then I think the United States will have a much different perspective on that.

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