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Julian Assange of WikiLeaks Arrested in London; Faces U.S. Charge Related to Chelsea Manning Leaks

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AMY GOODMAN: We're going to break and then come back to our discussion. This latest news, Julian Assange has been arrested by the British police, taken out of the Ecuadorean Embassy at the invitation of the president of Ecuador. He will appear in court, there are reports, later today, also reports the home secretary will address the House of Commons. We've been speaking with Renata Ávila in Belgrade, Serbia, a member of Julian Assange's legal team, a human rights lawyer; also Glenn Greenwald, on the phone with us, joining us from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. And when we come back, we'll also be joined by Jesselyn Radack, attorney for whistleblowers, former Justice Department attorney, serves as director of the Whistleblower and Source Protection at ExposeFacts. This is Democracy Now! Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we bring you this breaking news today that the co-founder of WikiLeaks has been arrested. Julian Assange, after almost seven years of asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, has been taken out of the Ecuadorean Embassy, as he said "resist," taken into a van and taken to the metropolitan jail in London. We've been speaking with a number of guestsattorneys, colleagues of Julian Assange. We're now turning to Jesselyn Radack. Jesselyn Radack is a former Justice Department attorney, serves as the director of Whistleblower and Source Protection at ExposeFacts.

Jesselyn, can you talk about what Julian Assange faces? What is being said in the media, and apparently what the Ecuadorean president said, is he has been promised that Assange will not be extradited to a country that has the death penalty. Of course, the United States does have the death penalty. What does this mean?

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JESSELYN RADACK: My understanding is that the U.S. has probably made some kind of assurance that they would take the death penalty off the table. Again, I haven't seen the details of this, but I'm guessing that's what happens. The problem is that the criminal basis for what they're doing is an antiquated law called the Espionage Act, which is this draconian law that's been used to go after publishers, whistleblowers, sources and journalists. And really, it's a strict liability law with no available public interest defense.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what do you expect, Jesselyn, that will happen now? I mean, in effect, a 45-year sentence -- I mean, the charges that he has against him in the U.S. could lead to up to 45 years in prison. Is that what you understand?

JESSELYN RADACK: That's my understanding. And this would be an incredibly chilling precedent that would put at risk all journalists and publishers, including Democracy Now!, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian, for reporting truthful information, classified or not, which is in the public interest.

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AMY GOODMAN: Now, what are these charges? They have never actually been revealed, if in fact they are there. Is that correct, Jesselyn?

JESSELYN RADACK: They were apparently inadvertently revealed. These would be charges under the Espionage Act, which, unfortunately, President Obama resurrected, after being dormant for a century, resurrected this old law and has been using it not to go after spies, but rather to go after whistleblowers. And unfortunately, it created a precedent that now President Trump can run with. So, when you suddenly have someone in power that we don't "trust" the way people trusted Obama, here you're seeing the full fruition of what that looks like. And again, this would be an incredibly chilling precedent that has been created today with the arrest of Julian Assange. He is a publisher. He's a journalist. He's a media outlet. That puts you and any other reporter, journalist, publisher at risk.

AMY GOODMAN: We're also joined by Geoffrey Robertson. He's a British human rights attorney who's represented Julian Assange in the past, has been an adviser to Julian Assange, speaking to us from London. Can you explain, Geoffrey Robertson, your understanding of the legal precedent that is being set right now with the British police going into the Ecuadorean Embassy, apparently at the invitation of Ecuador, and taking out Julian Assange, who has had asylum in the embassy for almost seven years now? Your response to what has taken place and the assurances that the Ecuadorean president has gotten that he will not be extradited to a country that has the death penalty?

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: Well, I mean, let's start at the beginning. Those assurances are a confidence trick to mislead ignorant journalists. In Britain, it's law that you cannot extradite anyone to a country to face the death penalty. So, having these assurances are neither not to the point. What is sought by America in this warrant that was signed 15 months ago -- they've been plotting this for quite a while -- is that he be sent to America for trial on charges carrying up to 45 years, which, for a man of Assange's health and age, is in effect a death penalty. So, forget all about the death penalty. Britain will send Assange to America, if its extradition request is upheld by the court.

But I must say that after giving him asylum and giving him the promise of asylum, to hand him over to the police, without giving him any warning or opportunity to go elsewhere, is a cruel and astonishing breach of faith by this rotten Ecuadorean government. It will go down in the annals of human rights as a disgusting act. But, of course, it was encouraged by Mr. Pence, who visited Ecuador, offered it and gave it loans and so forth. So, there's blood money in the background.

But I think, for Americans who value, as everyone does, your First Amendment, you have this problem, that your government is seeking to imprison an Australian, a non-American -- it doesn't matter, he's simply not American -- on a theory of the First Amendment which would deprive its protection to all foreign journalists working, indeed, for American papers. So, it would be a grave inroad in your own much-vaunted freedom of speech if Assange were to be offered up and sacrificed for so many years. Chelsea Manning got 35. Assange is accused of conspiring with Chelsea Manning. They are the words on the warrant. So, he would get at least 35 years. And he wouldn't be pardoned by President Trump, as Manning was pardoned by President Obama. So, that's, I think, the seriousness of this development today.

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It was probably inevitable that Ecuador, this crummy little state, would be leant upon by America and yield up Mr. Assange in spite of its promise of asylum. But he will now be imprisoned. He will be entitled to ask for bail. America, no doubt, will object. And it will go through the English courts, who will have to decide whether the treaty, extradition treaty, we have with the United States allows an Englishman or an Australian to be thrown to the wolves in America because of what they have published. It makes a nonsense of freedom of speech. We have a Human Rights Act with a qualified guarantee of free speech. We have the European Convention. So, there is a chance that Mr. Assange would be able to show what hypocrites you Americans are, or the Trump administration is, in trying to put him in prison, where they couldn't put the editor of The New York Times, who published the same material, in prison.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Geoffrey Robertson, yes, can you elaborate on precisely the timing of this? I mean, you said in an interview earlier today on the BBC that this is the result of pressure brought by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo -- you mentioned Vice President Pence -- as well as national security adviser John Bolton. Could you talk about that and also the pressure that the Trump administration has been applying on Ecuador to take action?

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: Well, yes. This has -- you've got to understand that the extradition warrant, which required the cooperation of Ecuador to expel Assange, was signed in December 2017. That's 15 months. And there has been a visit by the vice president. There have been loans and financial dealings and so forth with Ecuador. And I spoke to Mr. Assange a couple of weeks ago, and he was certainly in no doubt that the changes in his, in effect, captivity had been by agreement with America.

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