International Boulevard

The Information Terrorists: Assange on Manning

It has been a year since Wikileaks founder Julian Assange took refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in London. He remains trapped in the embassy, on the run from Swedish criminal charges that seem remarkably convenient for Western intelligence agencies that fear his site’s power.

In this interview with Mexico’s La Jornada, Assange attacks the US prosecution of Bradley Manning as a show trial designed to frighten government whistleblowers, and lay the groundwork for prosecuting himself and Wikileaks. Manning’s prosecutors claim that leaking to the press is the equivalent of aiding al-Qaeda, and therefore that whistleblowing on illegal government activity is treason, Assange says. And he speculates on why Sweden’s government allowed itself to become a proxy for Washington in its attempt to destroy Wikileaks.

Part I:

The prosecution of Bradley Manning-accused by the United States of giving secret government documents to Wikileaks-is a farce with a predetermined outcome. So says Julian Assange, founder of the organization, which Washington hates and detests more than any other in the world after Al Qaeda. In Manning’s trial, the defense’s hands are tied, while the prosecution tries to set a precedent and establish a totalitarian level of control over government employees while laying the groundwork for a prosecution “of both Wikileaks and myself,” Assange says.

From his sanctuary at Ecuador’s embassy in London, the Australian granted this newspaper an extensive interview in which he discussed not only the prosecution of Manning, but Assange’s own prospective candidacy for a seat in the Australian parliament, the role of the traditional media, the explosion of independent information on the internet, the increasing politicization of the net, the role of special interests in American politics, Sweden’s realignment as a close and subordinate ally of the United States, and other issues.

Our conversation took place in a bare office in the Ecuadoran embassy, less than four meters away from a British policeman, whose cap could be glimpsed through the room’s elevated window. Outside, London life boiled along normally, heated by shoppers at Harrod’s, the department store located a block away.

Quite possibly, the two uniformed officers outside the embassy really were there to provide security for the embassy. But to keep Assange from escaping, a hive of ‘secret’ agents- they are as unmistakable here as anywhere in the world-swarms along Hans Crescent road and the surrounding areas. They represent various agencies, not all of them British; among them agents of MI5, which is charged with protecting the United Kingdom from threats to its national security; there are also American agencies present, according to Assange.

However, no one tries to bar the way to the diplomatic mission, or asks questions or search bags when people enter. You just ring the bell, and an embassy employee opens the door and lets you in, inviting you to have a seat in a large office. A few minutes later, Assange emerges from the back of the embassy.

It has now been nearly two and a half years since the night, on Tuesday March 18, 2011, when, in a town in eastern England, Assange gave Jornada a USB stick that contained 2,995 cables sent to the US State Department in previous years and months by the US embassy and consulates in Mexico. The hunted man is as cheerful now as he was then, and seems serene as he talks. Two visible changes since then: he no longer projects the air of a mischievous boy, and his hair, which was a nearly white intense shade of blond, has lost the ‘nearly’ part.

We begin with Assange’s thoughts on the court-martial that is sitting in judgment of Manning at the Fort Meade military base in Maryland, where the enormous headquarters of the National Security Agency is located.

You have described Manning’s trial as a masquerade.

Yes. It is entirely political. A trial should be about trying to determine the truth, the guilt or innocence of a person. Its outcome should depend on what witnesses say, and so on. But this trial was deliberately planned to come to a predetermined conclusion. It is a show trial.

Verdict and sentence already decided?

The judge put limitations on the defense: they cannot call more than a handful of witnesses, while the prosecution is allowed 141; virtually all of the defense witnesses were vetoed. The court prohibited the defense from making any arguments based on motives, the defense cannot try to prove that the defendant did not intend to damage the United States, its soldiers or its government, but wanted to give people information about war crimes and their context. And furthermore, the defense is prohibited from presenting any proof, any government report, or any witness that shows that the defendant did not actually cause any damage [to the US].

Here is an analogy; imagine that they accuse you of murder and they send you to court like the one that is prosecuting Bradley Manning. You could not argue that it was self defense, or show video that backs up that assertion, since that would be talking about motives. You were defending yourself, not trying to kill anyone, but they would prevent you from showing that. If the supposed victim was actually still alive, they would not let you bring them before the court, because you can’t show that there was no damage. In other words a defense is not allowed to defend.

The most serious charge the prosecution has made against Manning is that of aiding the enemy. It is a serious crime. The prosecutor has asked for life imprisonment, but the judge could actually, if she wanted, sentence him to death. Given the gravity of the possible sentence, this charge should be treated very seriously. But in fact the trial and the prosecutor are thumbing their noses at the world; they say that the prosecution doesn’t have to demonstrate that Manning actually helped the enemy.

So, what do they mean by aiding the enemy? Well, they say that Manning communicated with a journalistic organization, which in turn communicated with the public, and the public includes Al Qaeda. The term they use in the indictment is ‘indirect communication with Al Qaeda via Wikileaks.’ In other words the enemy is the public, which includes anyway Al Qaeda. If you communicate with a journalist, and thereby with the public, it turns out you have communicated with Al Qaeda. So communicating with a journalist is now a possibly capital crime in the United States. That is the precedent they are trying to create. They want to do this because it implies a totalitarian control over United States government employees.

The judge established that all the prosecutor has to demonstrate is that along with the rest of the world, Al Qaeda read the reports of Wikileaks. He does not even have to prove that Al Qaeda did anything with this information. It is enough that the terrorist organization has read the New York Times and watched CNN, read Wikileaks, along with everybody else.

And what is up with Wikileaks?

The trial is not only being carried out to terrify future Bradley Mannings; it is also to prepare the ground for charges against Wikileaks and myself. If people were paying attention last week, they saw how from day 1, the prosecution was saying that Manning was an agent of Wikileaks, that I was controlling him, I gave him tasks to carry out, information to dig up.

There was no need to do this in Manning’s case because he has already admitted, in his declaration, that he passed information to Wikileaks, and Wikileaks published it afterwards. But the prosecutor does not say that ‘the accused has already admitted to doing this, there is nothing to argue about’; no, he says that Assange did this and this. He does this in order to establish a story for the public, which is politically and legally necessary for the next case. It is also part of the show against Manning, but also against Wikileaks and against me.

San Francisco Pride, 2012. Photo CC.

A demonstration of what will happen if they extradite you?

We know that they are working on what they say, in their formal correspondence with the Australian embassy in Washington, is an investigation that is unprecedented in its scale and nature, with more than a dozen agencies involved. The Department of Justice admitted three days ago that it will continue. And I have strong evidence that there is a sealed indictment against me. The person in charge is Neil McBride, the federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of Virginia, which is where all national security prosecutions are carried out. The jury would be made up of people who work for the CIA, the Pentagon and the NSA. The region has the highest concentration of employees of national security offices in the United States.

People tell me absurd things like, ‘Don’t worry, Julian, if someone from your team gets extradited to the United States, the First Amendment will protect them.’ Please! That is completely absurd. We know where the trial would be carried out, we know they have already been handing out grand jury subpoenas for the last three years, since July of 2010; that people are being interrogated, that they are demanding records, taking information from Google, forcing witnesses to testify in secret. They have even forced girlfriends and mothers to testify against people in some cases. They have asked for records from our Internet Service providers, from Google Earth, from Twitter.

So if they put you on trial it would be a mere formality…

A mere formality. If you are charged under federal law in the United States, your chances of being found guilty are 99 percent. This is not a justice system: with 99.97 percent chance of being indicted if you are brought before a grand jury, and a 99 percent chance of conviction if you are indicted…

And Sweden? Why don’t you trust Sweden?

In Sweden, people are detained without charge for months, and kept in isolation. They are denied access to television, newspapers, any information, any friends, etc, during the investigation. Even the [US] State Department has a warning about travel to Sweden because of the detention without charges: don’t get arrested as it can be dangerous. The international Corrections and Prisons Association says that conditions in Swedish prisons are the worst in Europe; and that includes Romania. Fair Trials International condemned the isolation without charges that is practiced in Sweden. This just happened to a friend of mine.

What happened?

A Wikileaks volunteer who worked on the Collateral Murder video, a year ago was taken illegally by agents of the Swedish secret services, the SAPO, from Cambodia, where he had been living, to Sweden; there he was arrested on the tarmac and put in prison, in complete isolation, for three months. The secret agents were in Cambodia. A dozen of them, according to official documents the foreign affairs ministry gave up as a result of a freedom of information request.

Sweden is the only country that has voluntarily handed over to the United States people who had already been given visas: two Egyptians who were seeking political asylum. Both had wives and children in Sweden; they were political refugees. The SAPO gave them to the CIA; an airplane came and got them and brought them to Egypt where they were tortured by the Mubarak regime. This action was condemned by the UN, and even by Human Rights Watch, a very conservative organization.

Why is the Swedish government so dependent on Washington? Why has it accepted this role?

Sweden is up there on the borders of continental Europe, far from what it considers its powerful friends and allies. It fears Russia. Polls show that it is the most anti-Russian country in Europe, more than Poland, even more than Finland. It is also the most pro-American country in Europe. These geopolitical realities, in the context of Russia’s resurgence under Putin in the past 10 or 15 years, have made Sweden want to get as close as possible to the United States.

In 2006, the conservatives came to power and they formed a cabinet in which 80 percent of the ministers had studied in the United States. Karl Rove’s only job as a political consultant overseas was as political consultant to the party now in power in Stockholm. He is a close friend, for the past 40 years, of the Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt. As we revealed in the Kissinger papers, back in 1974, when Bildt was 23, he entered a leadership program in Washington where he met Rove. So there are both geopolitical and personal reasons that Sweden has become so close to the United States. It’s not something that just happened after the change in government in 2006.

We released some cables last December that indicated the following: the Department of State is promoting a policy that tries to get other countries to sign a treaty called HSPD6 (Homeland Security Presidential Directive Six) that basically consists of the following: give the US a huge amount of information about terrorism suspects who might travel to the United States, or who might be of interest to us. It is a formal agreement; Washington sent it to Stockholm to high level people to try to get the Swedes to sign it. But the Swedish Justice Ministry went to the American embassy and told them, ‘we don’t think we should sign this.’ Why? ‘Because we are already giving you, informally, much more than what is in the agreement. But if we sign a treaty, this would have to go through parliamentary scrutiny, and the majority of Parliament has no idea what we are giving you under the table. Also, what we are already doing is probably unconstitutional.’ So they didn’t sign it.

Pedro Miguel

TAGS:America In Other Words Bradley Manning Ecuador Julian Assange Sweden Terrorism Wikileaks

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