Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights
U.S. lawyer for Julian Assange talked to the Voice of Russia’s John Robles regarding the current situation surrounding Julian Assange who remains trapped in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
Michael Ratner -U.S. lawyer for Julian Assange – Interview Feb 9th 2012
Here is the transcript from the interview
Robles: Hello Sir! How are you this evening?
Ratner: I’m good and I’m glad to talk to you John, thank you for having me.
Robles: Very glad to speak with you too, it’s a pleasure. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about how you are involved in the case and what is going on behind the scenes if you could, in the US and in general because news is not coming out?
Ratner: Yes, a lot is not coming out and it is very upsetting to me. I’m sure as a lot of your listeners know Julian Assange who is the editor and publisher of WikiLeaks has been in the Ecuador Embassy now for 234 days, two thirds of a year. He has been in detention or custody of some sort for 796 days and that’s all really primarily because the US wants to eventually get its hands on him and I think put him in jail for the rest of his life.
And so what Julian Assange was forced to do, was to take refuge in the embassy where fortunately the Ecuadorians have been very good to him and where he was given diplomatic asylum by the Ecuadorians so that he is safe while he is in there.
The problem for Julian Assange right now is of course that he can’t leave without being subjected to arrest by the British and then being sent to Sweden.
In Sweden there are allegations of some sexual misconduct but that is not what’s holding Julian Assange up. The problem is if he gets to Sweden, he’ll be in jail and then he’ll be sent I believe very quickly to the United States.
Robles: Can you tell us anything about those allegations very quickly, if you know anything about the alleged victim? Apparently she had connections with the Central Intelligence Agency. Can you tell us anything about that?
Ratner: You know, I don’t know very much about that. I do know that I did read a report that one of the people had gone to Cuba and was working with a group called the Women in White. The Women in White are dissidents in Cuba, if you want to call them that, but as far as I know they are funded by, if not the CIA, certainly by AID which is the US funding source.
So, there is that, I have seen words and the language about one of the people going to that. I don’t know more than that about what is going on in Sweden. I do know that it is allegations now, there are no charges.
And Julian I do know would be willing to go to Sweden and deal with those allegations and give a statement but he is very fearful and I have supported him on this very heavily, knowing my country, knowing the United States, knowing what it does to people like Julian, that if he gets himself to Sweden he is going to be in real trouble if the US gets its hands on him.
So, that’s a really serious issue for me at this point. Unless we can get guarantees, and this is if you are talking about behind the scenes, unless we can get guarantees from Sweden and the United Kingdom that he will not be sent onward from Sweden to the United States, and my recommendation is very strongly that he does not go to Sweden.
Robles: Can you tell us a little bit about what you are doing in the United States to stop his persecution? Is there any chance they would back off? Are they demanding anything in particular? Can you talk about that?
Ratner: The context in the United States is terrible. I’m sure people may remember as the cables started to come out first of course with Iraq War Logs, the Afghan War Logs, the Collateral Murder Video and then ultimately the State Department Cables that were not only embarrassing to the US but showed their hypocrisy, as well as secret wars going on in places like Yemen that the United States became very-very angry at WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. And there were people, politicians, pundits and others who actually said he should be essentially killed with the drone, I mean that’s what they said.
Robles: I heard that not too long ago again.
Robles: I read a lot of the material that was put out myself, I didn’t see anything that was particularly that damaging. Why such a violent reaction?
Ratner: There’s material in there that has obviously been very useful both to people like me who are human rights attorneys. It shows for example that the US was trying to interfere with our efforts to bring the torturers to justice in Spain, it showed that there was a secret war going on Yemen.
But I agree with you, there is nothing in there that is equivalent of what the US would call espionage: troop movements or how to make an atomic bomb or anything on that level at all.
You know, we are in bad period in the United States right now. We are in a period of incredible aggressiveness in terms of: certainly under the Bush administration torture in Guantanamo, in the Obama administration now with the drone policy of murdering people with drones even if they are not an imminent threat to the United States. We’ve just had a hearing on that and the person in charge of that policy Jon Brennan, it looks like he is going to be our CIA person.
It is in a very aggressive posture the United States and also there is a huge amount of secrecy going on so that the amount of classified documents has gone from 8 million a year to 76 million a year.
I have clients, I represent some people at Guantanamo, they were tortured and we can’t even talk about that. People can’t talk about the fact that their own clients were tortured.
So, the Government has just a put a lid on everything. So, if you look at the work of WikiLeaks, other truth-tellers, other whistleblowers, those people are really doing a great service to the United States right now or to the people of the United States by showing all this hypocrisy and illegality.
And so I think the United States right now wants to just put a stop. The Government is saying: we want to keep running our Government in secret, the way we are and we are going to make sure that people get the message.
And look what they’ve done! They’ve got Julian Assange sitting in the embassy. They have Bradley Manning sitting in a brig in Fort Meade. He’s been in prison for 991 days, almost thousand days, almost three years.
Jeremy Hammond who was allegedly another source for WikiLeaks, he’s been imprisoned almost a year here in New York.
There is a secret Grand Jury investigating Julian Assange trying I believe to indict him for espionage. That Grand Jury has been going on for almost three years.
So, you are talking about a major onslaught by the United States against truth-tellers, against publishers of the truth and they want to put a stop to it because as I think as the United States weakens, it gets more aggressive on the international field and that stuff is secret.
Robles: You see this as a weakening and maybe a desperate cling for power?
Ratner: I think so. I think in the United States, if we look historically at both the United States power as well as when countries engage in things like torture and when they engage in assassinations all over the world; it seems to me it is a period of decline in which they are fearful about how they are going to be able to continue to dominate the world.
The US still, for 5% of the world, uses 25% of its resources. Has by far the biggest standing military in the world and it is not going to want let go of that easily. I think what you are seeing here is the recognition by the Government that it is weakening and it is striking out in ways that aren’t always rational but that are certainly inhuman.
Robles: I don’t know if you can even talk about this, but were hit with a “National Security Letter”, or something about Guantanamo?
Ratner: I’ve never gotten a National Security Letter. You are right, it’s a question of: “Can anybody talk about them?”, and it took years to even win the right to tell your attorney about them and go to court.
I’ve never gotten a National Security Letter. But you know, it is conceivable.
They wouldn’t necessarily give it to me, they would give it to places where I go, they would give it to my library, they’d give it to my Twitter account and they wouldn’t necessarily tell me about it. So, I wouldn’t necessarily know if I’ve gotten one.
I’ve personally never gotten one but they give it to your third party record holders your credit card company, your bank, your library, to get records of what kinds of books you check out, what your bank account says, who I’m telephoning. They would give it to your server, so they find out what websites you go to and all kinds of things like that. That happens massively in the United States right now, that happens all the time.
The surveillance state in the United States, is absolutely gigantic right now. And Julian Assange has talked about this. He talked about how they no longer have to target individuals, what they do is they have computers that take in all the information and then they decide how to look at that material. They don’t bother going for me or you, they take everything.
Robles: Can you tell us a little bit about Julian and about the award you received for him?
Ratner: I saw that you wrote a very good piece on the award.
Robles: Oh?! Thank you!
Ratner: “Assange Receives Yoko-Lennon Courage Award for the Arts” I thought that was really important.
I think: two things, I visited Julian about ten days ago in London. I spent a couple of days at the Ecuadorian Embassy and Julian is doing quite well in there.
He is going to sit it out till we can figure out how to get him out of there without putting him in jeopardy of going into some underground prison cell in the United States.
He’s working. WikiLeaks is continuing to function. There are websites still with WikiLeaks that continue to publish documents.
So, he is quite strong. And of course because he is a computer person, you know he is with his computer and he has friends and visitors, and he can speak, etc. So, he is doing well in my view.
How long he can do well for…? You know, I don’t want this to go on forever, we’ve got to get him out of there at some point.
And hopefully something like Yoko Ono who gave Julian the Courage Award this year will help on that because she recognized that Julian Assange despite all the quote “detractors” who are like “fair weather people”, you know, when he is popular: they go with him, and now that he is not so popular: they don’t, she stood up for him and it is really courageous.
She gave him the Yoko Ono-Lennon Courage Award at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, 150 people came. And it is awarded by Yoko every year to people of extraordinary courage whose work has changed the world.
And she believes that WikiLeaks has played a crucial role in changing the world and doing specifically what she thinks ought to be done which is to say government is paid for and should be run by the people of the United States in the United States.
We have a right to that material and Julian Assange and WikiLeaks gave us access to that material. And she gave him the Courage Award and it was accepted on his behalf by myself but also even more importantly by Baltasar Garzon.
Yoko Ono-Lennon presenting Courage Award for the Arts 2013