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Barring a CIA drone strike on the Ecuadorian embassy in London, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's sudden appeal for asylum there may spare him a prison stay in Sweden or possibly the United States. Assange's freedom now depends largely on Ecuadorian President Rafael Vicente Correa Delgado, a new breed of independent-minded leader like Venezuelan President Hugo ChÃ¡vez.
Correa has been a harsh critic of U.S. behavior toward Ecuador and
its Latin American neighbors as well as an outspoken fan of WikiLeaks.
Atypically for the region, Ecuador is not a major recipient of U.S.
economic or military aid, so Washington's leverage is limited. This
suggests that the Ecuadorian government may decide to defy Washington,
accept Assange's request for asylum, and have him flown to Ecuador
In which case, most British "justice" officials will probably say good riddance and breathe a sigh of relief -- literally. They have been holding their noses for weeks against the odor of their obeisance to U.S. diktat, after the British High Court rejected Assange's argument that he should not be extradited to Sweden.
Although Swedish "justice" officials have not charged Assange with any crime, they insist that he be extradited to face questions resulting from allegations by two women of sexual assault. This is widely -- and in my view correctly -- perceived as a subterfuge to deliver Assange into Swedish hands to facilitate his eventual extradition to the U.S. to face even more serious charges for publishing classified information highly embarrassing to Washington.
There have been persistent reports that Assange has been the target of a secret grand jury investigating disclosures of classified U.S. documents allegedly slipped to WikiLeaks by Army Pvt. Bradley Manning. A leaked 2011 e-mail from Fred Burton, a vice president of the private intelligence firm Stratfor, informed colleagues that "we have a sealed indictment on Assange," but that claim has not been confirmed. Manning, however, is facing a court martial for allegedly leaking U.S. documents to WikiLeaks.
Giving the Brits the Slip
Interesting, is it not, that Assange -- just days before he was to be extradited to Sweden -- was able to (I guess) slip out of his ankle monitor, sneak through the cordon of Bobbies on watch at the estate where he was under house arrest, dodge other Bobbies and security chaps, and hit pay dirt inside the Ecuadorian embassy.
There is no denying that Assange is a clever chap. But unless you think him some kind of Houdini, there has to be some more likely explanation as to how he slipped through the various police checkpoints and walked into the embassy, which is located behind the popular Harrods department store in London.
Were the British security forces all out for tea? Or were they just as happy to have the Assange case -- and all the pressure from Washington -- focused elsewhere?
Certainly, the British had enough clues that, in extremis, Assange might attempt to make it to the Ecuadorian embassy. In late November 2010, Ecuadorian Deputy Foreign Minister Kintoo Lucas publicly offered Julian Assange residency in Ecuador, saying that Ecuador was "very concerned" by information revealed by WikiLeaks linking U.S. diplomats with spying on friendly governments.
"We are open to giving him residency in Ecuador, without any problem and without any conditions," Mr. Lucas said.
President Correa promptly backtracked, saying that Kintto Lucas's remarks were unauthorized and that no formal invitation had been extended to Assange, and noting that residency for him would require legal review in the event he requested it. (This came just one week before Assange was arrested, imprisoned, and then put under house arrest.)
Now I'm Requesting It
Ecuador's embassy in London, announcing Assange's arrival Tuesday afternoon, said he was seeking asylum, and added:
"As a signatory to the United Nations Universal Declaration for Human Rights, with an obligation to review all applications for asylum, we have immediately passed his application on to the relevant department in Quito," Ecuador's capital. "While the department assesses Mr. Assange's application, Mr. Assange will remain at the embassy, under the protection of the Ecuadorian government."
The embassy added that the bid for asylum "should in no way be interpreted as the government of Ecuador interfering in the judicial processes of either the United Kingdom or Sweden."
Temporizing diplomatic phrasing of this kind seems de rigueur, as President Correa and his associates take time to choose how to react to the fait accompli of Julian Assange in Ecuador's custody. In Quito, Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told reporters that his country "is studying and analyzing the request [for asylum]."