(1) The government of Ecuador continues its attempts to obtain assurances from either Britain or Sweden that Julian Assange's appearance in Stockholm for questioning on sex crimes allegations will not be used to extradite him to the US. This week, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on several interesting new developments in the case in Sweden, including the fact that the high-profile prosecutor driving the case from the start has now "abruptly" left it. Moreover, both Alexa O'Brien and Ryan Gallagher note that the Obama DOJ continues to say that its Grand Jury investigation of Assange and WikiLeaks is ongoing. Leaked documents from last year reflect that Australian diplomats believe the US is still intent on prosecuting WikiLeaks (a threatened prosecution which former New York Times General Counsel James Goodale recently described as "absolutely frightening" and "the biggest challenge" to press freedoms today).
Those of us who believe there is a valid fear that WikiLeaks will be prosecuted by the US for its journalism have long advocated -- along with the Ecuadorians -- that Assange immediately go to Stockholm to face the accusations against him in exchange for the Swedish government agreeing that his presence there will not be used as a pretext to turn him over to the US. In response, numerous WikiLeaks critics, led by New Statesman legal blogger David Allen Green, insisted that it would be impossible for the Swedish government to agree to this proposal because, as he put it last year, "any final word on an extradition would (quite properly) be with an independent Swedish court, and not the government giving the purported 'guarantee'." As I've detailed previously on several occasions, that claim is absolutely false: even if Swedish courts rule that extradition is legally proper, the discretion lies with the Swedish government (as it does with most governments in extradition cases) to decide if extradition should occur. The final decison-maker on extradition is the Swedish government.
This week, Stefan Lindskog, a justice of the Supreme Court of Sweden, the highest court in that country, definitively settled that disagreement when he wrote an excellent column on the facts of the Assange case and explained (emphasis added):
"If a person whose extradition is requested opposes extradition, it falls to the Supreme Court to examine whether extradition can be legally granted under the conditions laid down by law. The Supreme Court then delivers its opinion to the government for use in its examination of the case.
"If the Supreme Court holds that there is any legal impediment to extradition, the government is not allowed to approve the request. The government can, however, refuse extradition even if the Supreme Court has not declared against it."
The evidence that this is true has long been clear. Like most governments, the Swedish government retains the power to refuse extradition even when its courts find that it would be legally valid; that's because extradition entails more than just legalistic questions but also encompasses political considerations and questions of fairness and equity. That's why this always has been and remains the right solution: the Swedish government should agree that it will not use Assange's appearance on its soil as a ruse to turn him over to the US, and Assange should then board the next possible plane to Stockholm to face the accusations against him. That will ensure that the complainants in Sweden get the due process to which they are absolutely entitled for their serious accusations, while protecting Assange's rights against vindictive prosecution by the US for his journalism. Ecuador continues to try to bring about this solution with both Sweden and the UK.
(2) Over the past couple months, I twice wrote about the plight of Saadiq Long, the US Air Force veteran who was first barred from visiting his ailing mother in the US by being placed on the no-fly list, then -- once removed from the list and able to fly to the US without incident -- was barred from returning home to his job and family in Qatar by being re-placed on that list.
Several weeks ago, Long was finally able to get back home. To do that, he had to take a six-day journey that began with a a bus from Oklahoma City to Laredo, Mexico, followed by a flight to Mexico City, followed by flights to Brazil and then on to Argentina. From Argentina he was able to fly to Istanbul, Turkey and then finally on to Doha, Qatar. As unjust as this plight was for someone never accused of any wrongdoing of any kind, he was ultimately lucky: Mexico and Canada often uncritically honor the US no-fly list. It cost him thousands of dollars, weeks away from his job and family, and untold amounts of stress, but it's good that he was able finally to return home.
(3) Two weeks ago, I wrote about the persecution of journalist and internet freedom activist Barrett Brown and encouraged readers to donate to his legal defense fund so that the government's efforts to imprison him would at least be a fair fight. Readers here generously donated close to $15,000, which will help a great deal in his effort to secure a vigorous defense, but more is needed; those inclined to donate can do so via the link here or by paypal to email@example.com.
To illustrate how vindictive this prosecution is, the US government has continued to target Brown's mother. It was threats to indict her that triggered his angry YouTube video denouncing the FBI which then became the basis for yet another indictment. Last week in a federal court in Dallas, Brown's mother pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of obstructing a search warrant by allowing Barrett to come to her home in order allegedly to try to hide his laptop. US torturers who did things like this and Wall Street tycoons who collapsed the global economy with systemic fraud have faced no legal consequences, but the DOJ has aggressively pursued Barrett Brown's mother (along with the persecution of gay rights activist Dan Choi). That speaks volumes about how the law is exploited by the US government.
(4) The Freedom of the Press Foundation, the organization which I helped found and on whose Board I sit, is currently raising funds for several excellent transparency projects. One particularly compelling one is the "Name the Dead" project of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, based on the fact that "fewer than 20% of those killed" by US drone attacks in Pakistan have ever been named; this "project aims to identify as many as possible of the remainder, whether civilian or militant." It is extraordinary to me how many people are willing to assert that it is "the terrorists" or "militants" being killed in these strikes even though they have no idea who is being killed. As I wrote on Sunday, keeping the victims of US violence anonymous and unseen is a key tactic for sustaining support for it. Those wishing to support that project, or the others the Foundation is supporting, can do so here.
(5) Last month, GOP Senator Rob Portman announced he was changing his mind and would now support same-sex marriage, citing his gay son. This week, a hard-core social conservative GOP Congressman from Arizona, Matt Salmon, a devout Mormon, talked about how he has also discovered that he has a gay son but nonetheless still opposes same-sex marriage. The video of the father describing his obviously pained efforts to reconcile his long-held religious and political dogma with the love of his gay son is interesting. But it's a different video -- one that his son (also named Matt) made in 2011 as part of the "It Gets Better" campaign -- that I found really poignant, for the pure authenticity, lack of cynicism and impressive empathy he displays. If you have a few minutes, I think it's really worth watching:
(6) Following up on last week's column I wrote about the hunger strike at Guantanamo, the number of detainees participating still continues to grow. Relatedly, this Guardian article from this morning, on British troops recounting the grotesque torture that took place at a US detention facility in Iraq frequently visited by then-US Joint Special Operations Commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is really remarkable.
(7) In Washington state, legislation favored by the ACLU was recently introduced by a GOP state legislator, which attracted the support of numerous Democrats, to regulate the use of domestic drones, including requiring a search warrant before they can be used to surveil individuals. But the aircraft manufacturer giant Boeing sprung into action, opposing the bill and causing the Democratic Speaker of the House to block a vote on the bill. Pratap Chatterjee has a great report on this here. The politics driving the efforts against the abuses of domestic drones are fascinating and will scramble the stale and traditional partisan categories, as these fights will pit the corporate drone lobby, the establishment politicians it owns from both parties, and bipartisan authoritarian apologists for police power against anti-establishment politicians from both parties along with civil libertarian and privacy groups.
(8) For those in New York: I'll be giving the keynote address to the annual event of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in New York, entitled "Upholding the Constitution," on Saturday, April 20; ticket and event information is here. Last month, I spoke at Hampshire College on radical executive power and US political and media culture; that was followed by a conversation on those topics with the writer and philosophy professor Falguni Sheth, as well as a vibrant Q-and-A session with the audience. That event can be viewed here:
I'll have several other speaking events for the week of April 20 for which I will post information as they approach.