According to a new report from Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept, Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno traveled to the United Kingdom last Friday for the supposed purpose of speaking at the 2018 Global Disability Summit in London (having been shot during a 1998 robbery attempt which left the man paralyzed.) This isn’t the full story, however. A source close to the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry, protected under the conditions of anonymity, confirmed to The Intercept it was all just a ruse to hold secret meetings with British officials regarding their political asylum for journalist Julian Assange.
Held within the London Embassy of Ecuador since 2012, it’s believed the WikiLeaks founder is riding on borrowed time as the president is preparing to give in to British authorities in the potential withdrawal of asylum protections in the coming weeks. This is consistent with a report from RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan who cited sources claiming “Assange will be handed over to Britain in the coming weeks or even days.” In a tweet from Wikileaks she continued to state: “Like never before, I wish my sources were wrong.”
In fact, the source claims President Moreno is on what could be seen as some Assange apology tour. Greenwald cites the president’s schedule which shows meetings with Spanish officials from Madrid who are royally pissed at Assange’s tweets condemning the country’s human rights abuses against protesters marching for Catalonian independence.
(Presidential decree signed on July 17 by President Moreno, outlining the trip to London and Madrid.)
By May, Ecuador began blocking Assange from internet access and visitor requests, stripping the Australian journalist of outside communication (which he’s entitled to under the conditions of asylum) for over three months. It was confirmed in a print interview with President Moreno that this was all the result of pressure from Spain to silence Assange’s continued Catalonia tweets. It begs the question - how independent is Ecuador when their president remains the willing puppet of Spain?
The same couldn’t be said of former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, the man who condemned Moreno’s administration for practices he labeled a form of “torture” and a violation of Ecuador’s asylum duties of care. “Once we give asylum to someone, we are responsible for his safety, for ensuring humane living conditions,” Correa said in his interview with Greenwald. “Without communications to the outside world and visits from anyone, the government is basically attacking Julian’s mental health.”
When pressed on negotiations with the U.K., the former president described Moreno, his former political protege, of wielding a “subservient and submissive” Ecuador willing to cooperate with abusive Western governments. This could mean actions Correa once thought “unthinkable,” such as handing Assange over to U.K. authorities without protections from United States extradition - where President Donald Trump’s administration has vowed to destroy the media outlet which exposed the corruption of a Clinton-controlled DNC.
It was British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt who told The Australian newspaper that the journalist is free to walk outside the doors of the embassy… and receive a warm welcome from the police. “He’s wanted on serious charges laid against him,’’ Hunt said. “We want him to face justice.”
But what are Assange’s crimes?
Greenwald notes it’s odd for Assange to be forced into years of effective imprisonment within the embassy, despite the man having no conviction or charge to his name. It’s been well over a year since Swedish prosecutors dropped the Assange rape investigation, later proven to be a false narrative in the text exchanges between the women who accused him.
Currently, Assange remains within the embassy walls for some minor bail violation against a 2012 arrest warrant for “failure to surrender,” issued back when he sought asylum from the Ecuadorian government during the investigation. This is a simple offense that carries three months in jail and a fine. Assange’s lawyer, Jen Robinson, told The Intercept they’ll argue the journalist has already served this time during the 10 days he spent in Wandsworth Prison and 550 days he spent under house arrest at the home of a fellow Wikileaks supporter. Greenwald continues to note the best case the government has for these “serious offenses,” if they’re not planning on U.S. extradition, is that Assange was in “contempt of court.” This carries a prison term of only two years, which, if the case of controversial right-wing journalist Tommy Robinson is remembered, can be lowered to around 13 months under U.K. precedent.
So why is there such sustained pressure for some petty offenses?
“The problem the department has always had in investigating Julian Assange is there is no way to prosecute him for publishing information without the same theory being applied to journalists,” former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller told The Washington Post in 2013. “If you are not going to prosecute journalists for publishing classified information, which the department is not, there is no way to prosecute Assange.”
There is a nuanced case about where we draw the line between public interest reporting and leaks which could cause harm through government infiltration. The nuclear codes, linked to weapons funded by the U.S. taxpayer, are technically their weapons. The position of military troops, who are funded on their dime, are technically their troops. Is it wise to leave this information, which we know can cause harm, to the hands of an unstable public? Or is the current method of leaving it to elected representatives, decided democratically as best suited to the job, more beneficial? The answers seem obvious. Scale this down to other government interactions, however, and information sensitivity is far more subjective.
Greenwald cites 18 § 798 of the U.S. Code where, technically, it can be considered a crime for sources and journalists to publish sensitive classified information. Consider the case of The Washington Post and their journalist David Ignatius, charged with a felony offense for reporting on the contents of intercepted phone calls, obtained by the NSA, between former national security adviser nominee Michael Flynn and the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. There’s a conflict of values between freedom from government surveillance and public officials being held accountable for their lies (as Flynn was caught doing to the FBI within his intercepted talks).
The criminal law of 18 § 798 quite clearly bumps up against the First Amendment:
“Whoever knowingly and willfully communicates … or otherwise makes available to an unauthorized person, or publishes … any classified information … obtained by the processes of communication intelligence from the communications of any foreign government … shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.”
The constitution should, in theory, overrule the whims of governments who want to take down leakers and publishers under random laws here and there. This hasn’t stopped those administrations from trying those crackdowns on the press. There are the Nixon days of The Pentagon Paper, going after The Washington Post and The New York Times for the leaks of U.S. official Daniel Ellsberg, to the current opposition to Wikileaks. The Trump administration, a unique force in U.S. government, are not known for their subtlety or ethical behavior. While outlets like Mirror are ready to call Trump supporting YouTubers like Sargon Of Akkad and Paul Joseph Watson “free speech extremists” — an absurd label if there ever was one — the president says the same of Wikileaks.
It was former CIA Director turned favoured Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who delivered a speech calling Wikileaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” soon declaring, “We have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us. To give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now.” This was echoed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in his 2017 speech calling for leakers, including associating journalists, to be prosecuted under The Espionage Act of 1917.
There is no proof of an indict for Assange’s arrest, sealed or unsealed, but there’s a genuine reason for Assange to resist such dubious governments without reassurances. If those in the White House and the DNC can go after Wikileaks, the exact way they’ve pursued their sources like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, they’ll be damn sure to try their hearts out again. The White House and their allies are playing with fire, which is nothing new from the “fire and fury” administration. The question remains whether sovereign states, from the United Kingdom to “independent” Ecuador, will submit to their commands.