Faced with extradition from London to Sweden to face sex-abuse
allegations, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange fled to the Ecuadorian
embassy and asked for asylum, what ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern considers
an artful dodge to avoid possible U.S. persecution.
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 Chávez.
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
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
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].”
Like Mother, Like Son
Assange’s mother not only applauded her son’s decision to seek asylum, but summed up the situation concisely, telling the press:
“I hope Ecuador will grant him asylum, and if not, another
third-world country. I hope the third world can stand up for what’s
morally right when the first world can’t and won’t because they’ve got
their snouts in the trough, rolling over for U.S. greed and big
“Julian is a political prisoner, a journalist, a publisher of the
truth about corruption, war crimes, kidnapping, blackmail, and
manipulation. … He remains uncharged and unquestioned on a crime which,
if you explore it, has absolutely no basis. Of course he would seek
She added that her son was a victim of decisions by the United
States, Britain, Sweden and Australia to abandon proper legal process.
How 20th Century!
Abandoning proper legal process? Such thinking seems so — to borrow
words from the eminent legal scholar Alberto Gonzales — so “quaint,” so
“obsolete,” so pre-9/11! Abandoning proper legal process post-9/11 has
become the “new paradigm” adopted not only by the Bush, but also by the
Not only is Julian Assange within his rights to seek asylum, he is
also in his right mind. Consider this: he was about to be sent to
faux-neutral Sweden, which has a recent history of bowing to U.S.
demands in dealing with those that Washington says are some kind of
threat to U.S. security. Glenn Greenwald on Tuesday provided an example:
“In December 2001, Sweden handed over two asylum seekers to the CIA,
which then rendered them to be tortured in Egypt. A ruling from the U.N.
Human Rights Committee found Sweden in violation of the global ban on
torture for its role in that rendition (the two individuals later
received a substantial settlement from the Swedish government).”
For those of you thinking, Oh, but that was under the Bush
administration and that kind of thing is over, think again. In 2010 and
2011, the hysteria surrounding WikiLeaks’ disclosures of U.S. misconduct
and crimes around the world brought cries from prominent American
political figures seeking Assange’s designation as a terrorist, his
prosecution as a spy and even his assassination.
Rep. Peter King, R-New York, chairman of the House Homeland Security
Committee, has called for WikiLeaks to be declared a terrorist
organization and Assange to be prosecuted under the Espionage Act of
1917, a position shared by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, chair of
the Senate Intelligence Committee, who wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed:
“The release of these documents damages our national interests and
puts innocent lives at risk. He should be vigorously prosecuted for
Others have gone even further, demanding that Assange be put to
death, either by judicial or extrajudicial means. For instance, a former
Canadian official Tom Flanagan has urged Assange’s assassination.
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin denounced Assange as an
“anti-American operative with blood on his hands” and said he should be
treated no differently than an al-Qaeda terrorist.
In a Facebook posting, Palin said Assange was no more a journalist
than “the ‘editor’ of al-Qaida’s new English-language magazine Inspire
is a ‘journalist.’” She added: “His past posting of classified documents
revealed the identity of more than 100 Afghan sources to the Taliban.
Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaida and
So, put yourself in Julian Assange’s place. If the New York Times accurately described President Barack Obama as saying it was an “easy”
decision to authorize the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen
alleged to have participated in terrorist operations against U.S.
targets, how confident would you be that the onetime constitutional
scholar would resist the political pressure to get rid of you?
A drone strike over London can be ruled out. But Assange
understandably could fear a covert operation by Britain’s FBI and CIA
counterparts — MI-5 and MI-6 — to eliminate him “with extreme
prejudice,” in old CIA parlance.
As melodramatic as that might sound, it should be remembered that
nine years have gone by since British Ministry of Defense biologist and
U.N. weapons inspector Dr. David Kelly’s “suicide.” Yet there remains
considerable circumstantial evidence that his “suicide” was not
Kelly was found “guilty” of disclosing accurate information regarding
the bogus nature of the “evidence” of Iraqi WMD and, conveniently, was
removed from the scene, supposedly by his own hand. Ecuadorian embassy
dwellers may wish to hire beefeaters to taste the foie gras, truffles,
or cakes ordered from nearby Harrods.
Correa on TV With Assange
Four weeks before Assange sought asylum, he interviewed Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa for Episode 6 of The World Tomorrow (Assange’s
program Tuesdays on RT). Assange asked Correa why he has advocated that
WikiLeaks release all its cables. Correa responded:
“First, you don’t owe anything, have nothing to fear. We have nothing
to hide. Your WikiLeaks have made us stronger” with the damaging
revelations showing the attitude of the U.S. embassy toward the
sovereignty of the Ecuadorian government.
Correa continued: “On the other hand, WikiLeaks wrote a lot about the
goals that the national media pursue, about the power groups who seek
help and report to foreign embassies. … Let them publish everything they
have about the Ecuadorian government. You will see how many things
about those who oppose the civil revolution in Ecuador will come to
light. Things to do with opportunism, betrayal, and being self serving.”
Correa made the point that when WikiLeaks cables became available to
the national media in Ecuador, they chose not to publish them — partly
because the documents aired so much “dirty linen” about the media
themselves. He added that when he took office in January 2007, five out
of seven privately owned TV channels in Ecuador were run by bankers. The
bankers were using the guise of journalism to interfere in politics and
to destabilize governments, for fear of losing power.
Ecuador and the United States
Correa, 49, educated in Belgium at the Université Catholique de
Louvain and at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign (for four
years, where he earned both a masters and a PhD), said he “admires the
American people a great deal.” But the U.S. government can be a
Assange and Correa discussed Correa’s decision to send the U.S.
ambassador, Heather Hodges, packing as a result of the disclosures in
the WikiLeaks cables, as well as her “arrogance,” and the Ecuadorian
president’s unilateral closure of the U.S. military base at Manta.
Still, Correa seems to have had high hopes that things would improve
under the Obama administration. The Ecuadorian president once commented
that Hugo Chávez’s description of George W. Bush as Satan was unfair to
the Devil and that the previous administration had made Latin America
Regarding Ecuador’s general relationship with the U.S., Correa
underscored on Assange’s program that it must be “a framework of mutual
respect and sovereignty.” That wished-for mutual respect and especially
Washington’s regard for Ecuadorian sovereignty are likely to be put to
the test in the coming weeks.
Hillary Clinton may be having second thoughts about the energy she
expended earlier this month on her first visit to Sweden as Secretary of
State. If Assange succeeds in skirting Sweden and makes it to Ecuador,
she may now have to put Quito back on her travel schedule.
A Clinton visit to Ecuador two years ago was marred by protests, but
she found President Correa a gracious host. But that was before
WikiLeaks disclosed Ambassador Hodges’s pejorative comments on Correa et
al. and Correa decided to expel her from the country for “arrogance.”
Correa does seem to have developed an allergy to arrogance, so
Clinton may wish to consider sending someone in her stead to try to
persuade Ecuador to surrender Assange to the tender mercies of American
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of
the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. An Army
officer and intelligence analyst for 30 years, he now serves on the
Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
Full disclosure: he also served on the nominating group of Sam Adams
Associates for Integrity in Intelligence that selected Julian Assange
for SAAII’s annual award in 2010.