Your Turn: A Coming Diplomatic Showdown Over WikiLeaks
MR. KOJO NNAMDI
Welcome back. Ecuador has decided to grant asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, which raising several issues any of which you can address by calling 800-433-8850. It's your turn. You can send email to email@example.com, or send us a tweet @kojoshow. The first question is, do you agree with Ecuador and if so, why? Call us, 800-433-8850. Julian Assange has been living in Ecuador's embassy in London for months. Some British leaders think Britain should revoke Ecuador's diplomatic status and stage an assault on the embassy to get Assange.
MR. KOJO NNAMDI
He's wanted in Sweden on charges of sexual assault, and in the U.S., for, well, Wikileaks. Leaking diplomatic cables and all kinds of classified information to the media. Julian Assange says he's willing to stand trial in Sweden but wants assurances that he will not be extradited to the U.S. to stand trial here. And the government of Ecuador says offering Assange asylum because according to today's New York Times Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said, quoting here, "his government has made its decision. After the authorities in Britain, Sweden, and the United States refused to give guarantees that if Mr. Assange were extradited to Sweden, he would not then be sent onto to United States to face other charges."
MR. KOJO NNAMDI
So it's your turn. Call us with your take on this. 800-433-8850. Britain says it has no intention of letting Mr. Assange get on a plane to Ecuador. Should the British assault the Ecuadorian embassy? Should Britain prevent Julian Assange for going to Ecuador? Should Sweden guarantee that Julian Assange will not be extradited to the U.S.? Should the U.S. be trying a foreign national for leaking classified information that ended up in the pages of our own major newspapers what are not prosecuted for it?
MR. KOJO NNAMDI
What's your view? 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. It is your turn. Joining us now by phone is Robert Pastor who is a professor of international relation and director of the Center for North American Studies, and the center for Democracy and Election Management at American University. Bob Pastor, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. ROBERT PASTOR
Kojo, it's great to be with you again.
Bob Pastor, we've got three countries tussling over Julian Assange, but in the midst of all of this is tiny Ecuador which has been put in a tough spot. What kind of message is Ecuador sending to Britain, Sweden, and ultimately to the U.S.?
Well, this is a peculiar case, a mixture of seriousness and silliness. And the great irony is that he should choose to go to Ecuador to assert his rights of freedom of speech in press, and yet this is a country that's been recently criticized by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the OAS Special Rapporteur on Press Freedom for crushing press freedom in Ecuador. It's one more startling and bizarre development to this longstanding case involving Julian Assange.
Is political asylum appropriate for the kinds of crimes being leveled against Mr. Assange in Sweden?
No. It's -- I don't think it is. I mean, the charge of Assange in Sweden is whether or not he raped a young woman, who happened to be somebody with whom he had also a relationship with.
Well, there were two separate incidents it's my understanding involving two different women, yes.
That's correct. Yes, that's correct. You know, that's not usually the charge that one would think that political asylum should be in play with. The U.S. has formally not indicated what it would do if he goes to Sweden, but obviously Assange is worried that the U.S. government may work out an arrangement with Sweden that would permit him to come to the United States and stand trial for espionage, and obviously that is a very serious charge. Whether that deserves a request for political asylum is really questionable.
The more interesting question….
….you say it's really questionable because -- but it's my understanding that if he is so charged in the United States, then he could face the death penalty, and apparently Ecuador has claimed that that is one of the reasons that it is offering him political asylum because he would face the death penalty were he tried in the United States for espionage.
The Europeans by and large have responded to serious requests from the United States involving individuals that could face the death penalty by trying to gain a commitment from the United States that they not do it. Otherwise, the European court on human rights has basically stated that they should not be extradited. So my guess is even if it takes -- even if we go to this next step and he goes to Sweden, and the U.S. requests extradition, I don't believe the Swedish government would turn him over without such an assurance on the part of the United States as well.
By the way, the latest news is that Britain has said at a press conference this afternoon that it will not grant safe passage to Assange to get out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London and to Ecuador itself. The UK foreign office has also warned that it could its Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act of 1987 to revoke the diplomatic status of the Ecuadorian embassy and arrest Julian Assange by force. How likely is that?
Well, it's quite possible, and apparently they did make such a charge in a private letter to the Ecuadorian government which is what apparently may have provoked this recent decision by Ecuador to give him asylum. It would surprise me if the British government would enter the Ecuadorian embassy force. I think far more likely is that the Ecuadorian ambassador and Julian Assange are going to be roommates for a fair period of time.
There are a few layers to this story. You mentioned one of them, the fact that Ecuador is now putting itself in the position of being a protector of free speech and free press. Two aspects of that I would like to ask you about. One is, why would Assange turn to a country like Ecuador for protection?
My understanding, and we don't know this for sure, is that he had a meeting with the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, and I think the two of them agreed that the United States is the source of many of the world's problems, and they may have spoken at some point about asylum, although Correa later said that he did not offer political asylum in that conversation. But based on that conversation, Assange thought that if he turned to the Ecuadorian embassy, they would in effect grant him asylum, and in the end they did, although in the middle the president said he had not done that.
Well, if we talk about a country that is in the position of being a protector of free speech and free press, that is how we, the United States, tends to advertise ourselves. Why would we be seeking to prosecute this Australian?
Well, it's because of the tens and hundreds of thousands of security documents which he made public. This is an awkward question for the United States as well, because these documents have been made public. The U.S. initially...
Many of them made public in U.S. news media.
Exactly. And the U.S. and the United States government made the point that this would spell the doom of American national security, but here we are more than two years later, and I think the United States is no weaker because of that, and I think most of the documents that were released may have lead to some embarrassment by particular diplomats, but certainly did not -- or at least it's not been shown that they have really injured the United States in any way.
But, prosecution of Assange for publicizing documents that are now in the free press, does impugn American credibility with regard to freedom of the press as well.
Bob Pastor stay on the line while we talk with some of our callers. It's their turn. We'll start with Adam in Arlington, Va. Adam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
Hi there. Thank you for having me.
Go right ahead, Adam.
Hi. This entire issue just worries me a lot, mainly because Julian Assange has not been charged with espionage or treason. He's being charged with a rape, and the U.S. government is showing so much flex and strength and trying to influence both the Swedish and British governments into having him extradited for, at least in the general sense of national security, is a small crime, and it makes me scared for what kind of power it influences over our countries.
What kind of precedence do we have for diplomatic standoffs like this, Bob Pastor?
Well, there are a few. I mean, most recently in 2007 when the Honduran president was deposed and deported by the military of that government, he snuck back in the country and presented himself before the Brazilian embassy and asked if they would keep him there, and there was a standoff for a long period of time before that was negotiated. I'm sure that, you know, there was the case of Manuel Noriega, of course, who fled to, of all places, the papal nuncios in Panama when the United States forces invaded but eventually he was turned over to U.S. forces. Well, there's several other cases in which the embassy was used for purposes other than one would expect.
You too can join the conversation, it's your turn. Call us a 800-433-8850 to offer your view on Ecuador offering political asylum to Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange. Adam, thank you for your call. We move onto Lee in Accokeek, Md. Lee, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
Yes. Thanks Kojo. There are couple of things about this that really bother me. He's being extradited to Sweden for questioning. For some reason they don't want to send a couple of detectives to London, and that needs to be stressed. And the second is that the Ecuadorian prime minister had asked Sweden for assurances that he would not be extradited to the United States and was refused. And to me, this just makes us look impossibly small, just as does the maltreatment of Bradley Manning. It makes us look tiny, and I'm embarrassed.
Well, Bob Pastor, talk a little bit about the nature of extradition treaties. Can the government of Sweden offer Julian Assange assurances that he won't be extradited to the United States if indeed the government of Sweden has an extradition treaty with the United States, or an extradition agreement.
Well, I'm not an international lawyers, and the extradition treaties are very a satiric art as well. But my impression is that Sweden cannot guarantee, cannot give assurances about the use of an extradition treaty before another government i.e. the United States were to make a particular request. So it's not a surprise that from a legal standpoint they didn't offer assurances whether, you know, and my guess is that they don't really want to make that decision unless and until they do. And the great irony -- the final irony of this is that I'm not sure that anybody really wants to have this thing go forward.
I think that most of the parties are probably feeling reasonably assured that Assange is in the Ecuadorian embassy and hopefully will stay there for a while, because it embarrasses every single party that's a part of this.
Onto Jack in Falls Church, Va. Jack, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
Thanks for taking my call. I just had a simple question, and that is, do we know the Ecuadorians have taken this position? In other words, are we sure that the only issue here is that they, as a government, believe that they need to obstruct the United States pursuing this guy for espionage, or is there something else going on that's making them harbor this rapist? That's the question.
You refer to him as a rapist, but he not yet faced a court of law in that situation, so I think it is unfair to label him as such at this point. But Bob Pastor, any other reason that you can think of?
Well, we don't -- the short answer is we do not know for sure why Ecuador has offered this. I mean, as I put the dots together, and they may not fit properly, I think it has to do with this meeting that Julian Assange had with Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador where he apparently believed as a result of that, and as a result of the conversation in which they obviously shared a certain anti-American bias, that Ecuador was offering him asylum.
That did not turn out to be the case. Correa later denied it. But when the British went with the very strong message saying that they might assault the embassy to get him out, they then decided to grant them asylum. So it was not quite a comedy of errors, but I think it didn't seem to be like there was a conspiracy at work either.
Here is Paul in McLean, Va. Paul, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
Yes, hi. I'm an American diplomat. I just returned from several years in Asia in a country I won't identify because I have not been authorized by the State Department to speak on this issue, but I did want to just say that the great impact that Wikileaks had on our operations there at the embassy that I was at, in particular, on the people that talked to us, our sources, or contacts, and they were many -- we had dozens of them that contacted us and were fearful of the government reprisals, and we in fact helped several of them escape from the country because they were in fear of their lives.
And so the idea that this did not have an impact on our foreign policy is just not true. It had a very bad impact, and particularly on those individuals, and that's to me the great crime here.
Well, do you see the U.S. news media as being involved in that crime since the U.S. news media, the New York Times and other major newspapers published parts of Wikileaks?
Well from what I could tell, now, I was overseas at the time, and so I didn't, you know, couldn't cover the American press that well, but from what I could see, most of the things that were covered in the American press, they seemed to be responsible about it. It was the foreign press. Once Wikileaks dumped all the cables onto the Internet, it was the foreign news services and papers that would pick up on these things, and they would print whatever they wanted and would name names of the sources and so on. So the American press, as I said, seemed to be fairly responsible about this, but the foreign press was not.
Okay. And I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Paul, thank you very much for your call. Bob Pastor, thank you for joining us.
Thank you for having me.
Robert Pastor is a professor of international relations and director of the Center for North American Studies and the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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