Has anyone ever broken a SAS soldier?
«A murderous system is being created before our eyes»
How did this story come about, that Assange evaded Swedish justice?
This representation was constructed but does not correspond to the facts. Had he withdrawn, he would not have voluntarily appeared on the post. On the basis of the rewritten testimony by S. W., the prosecutor's dismissal order is appealed and the rape proceedings are resumed on September 2, 2010. A legal representative named Claes Borgström is appointed to the two women at state expense. The man was the law firm partner of the previous Justice Minister Thomas Bodström, under whose aegis the Swedish security police abducted people suspected by the USA in the middle of Stockholm without any trial and handed them over to the CIA, which then tortured these people. This makes the transatlantic background of the matter clearer. After the rape allegations were resumed, Assange had his lawyer repeatedly inform him that he would like to comment. The responsible public prosecutor weighs it down. Sometimes the prosecutor doesn't like it, sometimes the policeman responsible is sick. Until his lawyer wrote three weeks later: Assange really has to go to a conference in Berlin. Can he leave the country? The public prosecutor's office gives written consent. He is allowed to leave Sweden for short-term absences.
The point is: the day Julian Assange leaves Sweden, where it is not even clear whether he will leave for the short term or for the long term, an arrest warrant is issued against him. He flies with Scandinavian Airlines from Stockholm to Berlin. His laptops disappear from his checked-in luggage. When he arrives in Berlin, Lufthansa asks the SAS to investigate. However, this apparently refuses any information.
That's exactly the problem. In this case, things happen all the time that are actually not possible, unless you change the viewing angle. In any case, Assange is now traveling on to London, but does not evade justice, instead, through his Swedish lawyer, offers the public prosecutor several dates for an interrogation in Sweden - this correspondence is there. Then the following happens: Assange gets wind of the fact that a secret criminal case has been opened against him in the USA. That was not confirmed by the US then, but today we know it is true. From now on, his lawyer says: Assange is ready to testify in Sweden, but he demands a diplomatic assurance that Sweden will not extradite him to the USA.
Would that have been a realistic scenario at all?
Absolutely. A few years earlier, as I mentioned, the Swedish Security Police had handed over two asylum seekers registered in Sweden to the CIA without any process. Already at the airport in Stockholm they were mistreated, drugged and then flown to Egypt, where they were tortured. We do not know if these were the only cases. But we know the cases because the men survived. Both later sued UN human rights mechanisms and won. Sweden had to pay each of them half a million dollars in compensation.
Has Sweden responded to Assange's request?
The lawyers say they have offered the Swedish authorities over thirty times during the nearly seven years that Assange lived in the Ecuadorian embassy that Assange will come to Sweden in exchange for an assurance of non-extradition to the United States. The Swedes refused, arguing that there was no extradition request from the USA.
How do you assess this requirement?
Such diplomatic assurances are commonplace in international practice. You can be assured that someone will not be extradited to a country where there is a risk of serious human rights violations, regardless of whether the country in question has already applied for extradition or not. This is a political, not a legal process. An example: France is demanding that Switzerland extradite a Kazakh businessman who lives in Switzerland but is wanted by both France and Kazakhstan for tax fraud. Switzerland sees no risk of torture in France, but in Kazakhstan. That is why Switzerland is telling France: We are handing you over the man, but want a diplomatic assurance that he will not be extradited to Kazakhstan. Then the French do not say: "Kazakhstan has not yet submitted an application!", But of course they give the assurance. The Swedes' arguments were haunted. That's one thing. The other is, and I am telling you this with all my experience behind the scenes of international practice: if such a diplomatic assurance is refused, then all doubts about the good faith of the country concerned are justified. Why shouldn't the Swedes be able to guarantee that? From a legal point of view, the USA really has nothing to do with the Swedish sex criminal proceedings.
Why did Sweden not want to give this assurance?
You just have to see how the proceedings were conducted: Sweden was never concerned with the interests of the two women. Even after the refusal of a so-called non-extradition assurance, Assange still wanted to testify. He said: If you cannot guarantee that I will not be extradited, I am available for questioning in London or via video link.
But is it normal or legally possible for Swedish officials to travel to another country especially for such an interrogation?
This is further proof that Sweden was never concerned with establishing the truth: there is a cooperation agreement between Great Britain and Sweden for precisely such judicial issues, which provides that Swedish officials travel to England or vice versa to interrogate people. Or that you do an interrogation via video. This was done in 44 other cases during that period between Sweden and England. Only with Julian Assange did Sweden insist that it was essential that he appear in person.
3. When the highest Swedish court forced the Stockholm Public Prosecutor to finally file charges or to drop the case, the British authorities demanded: "Don't get cold feet now!"
Why did they insist?
There is only one explanation for all of this, for refusing a diplomatic guarantee, for refusing to interview him in London: they wanted to get their hands on him so that they could extradite him to the United States. The amount of breaches of law that has accumulated in Sweden within a few weeks as part of a preliminary criminal investigation is absolutely grotesque. The state has appointed a legal representative for the two women who has explained to them that rape is an official offense, so that the criminal interpretation of their experience is a matter for the state, not theirs. When asked about the contradiction between the statements of the women and the version of the authorities, their legal representative says that the women “are not lawyers”. But the prosecution avoids questioning Assange about the alleged rape for five years, until his attorneys finally reach the highest Swedish court to force the prosecution to either finally bring charges or to drop the case. When the Swedes informed the British that they might have to abandon the proceedings, the British wrote back with concern: "Don't you dare get cold feet !!" Don't get cold feet now.
I beg your pardon?
Yes, the English, namely the Crown Prosecution Service, were determined to prevent the Swedes from closing the proceedings. The British ought to be happy if they no longer had to monitor the Ecuadorian embassy for millions in taxpayers' money in order to prevent Assange's escape.
Why are the English interested in the Swedes not dropping the proceedings?
We have to stop believing that this was really about conducting a sex offense investigation. What Wikileaks has done threatens the political elites in the US, England, France and Russia alike. Wikileaks publishes secret government information - it is "anti-secrecy". And that is perceived as a fundamental threat in a world in which secrecy has become rampant even in so-called mature democracies. Assange has made it clear that states are no longer concerned with legitimate confidentiality, but rather with the suppression of important information on corruption and crime. Take the emblematic Wikileaks case from the Chelsea Manning leaks: the so-called "Collateral Murder" video. (On April 5, 2010, Wikileaks released a classified US military video showing how US soldiers murder several people in Baghdadincluding two employees of Reuters news agency; Editor's note.) As a longtime ICRC legal advisor and delegate in war zones, I can tell you that this is undoubtedly a war crime. A helicopter crew mows down people. It may even be that one or two of these people had a gun with them. But the injured are shot very specifically. It's a war crime. "He is wounded", you hear an American say. "I'm firing" And then people laugh. Then a minibus pulls up to save the wounded. The driver has two children with him. You can hear the soldiers say: It's your own fault if he brings children to the battlefield. And then they fire. The father and the wounded died instantly, the children survived seriously injured. Through the publication we become direct witnesses to a criminal, unscrupulous massacre.
What should a constitutional state do in such a case?
A rule of law would possibly investigate Chelsea Manning for breach of official secrecy for sharing the video with Assange. But he would certainly not pursue Assange, because he published the video in the public interest, in the sense of classic investigative journalism. Most of all, what a constitutional state would do is prosecute and punish war criminals. These soldiers belong behind bars. However, no criminal proceedings were carried out against any of them. Instead, the man who informed the public is in extradition custody in London and could end up in prison for 175 years in the United States. That is a sentence that is completely absurd. As a comparison: The main war criminals in the Yugoslavia Tribunal received sentences of 45 years. 175 years in prison under conditions classified as inhuman by the UN Special Rapporteur and Amnesty International. The really terrifying thing about this case is the legal vacuum that has developed: the powerful can walk over corpses with impunity, and journalism becomes espionage. It becomes a crime to tell the truth.
What does Assange expect when extradited?
He will not get a legal process. This is another reason why he must not be extradited. Assange is on trial in Alexandria, Virginia. Before the notorious Espionage Court, where the USA handles all national security cases. The location is no coincidence, as the jury has to be selected proportionally to the local population, and in Alexandria 85 percent of the residents work for the national security community, i.e. the CIA, the NSA, the Department of Defense and the State Department. If you are charged with violating national security in front of such a jury, the verdict is clear from the start. The proceedings are always conducted by the same single judge, behind closed doors and on the basis of secret evidence. Nobody there was ever acquitted in such a case. Most of the defendants therefore make a deal in which they at least partially plead guilty and receive a lighter sentence for it.
You say: Julian Assange will not get a due process in the USA?
Without doubt. As long as US officials obey orders from their superiors, they can commit war of aggression, war crimes, and torture knowing that they will not be persecuted. Where is the lesson from the Nuremberg Trials? I've worked in conflict zones long enough to know that mistakes happen in wars. This is not always unscrupulous crime, but a lot happens out of stress, overload and panic. That is why I can understand it when governments say: We may bring the truth to light and we as a state take responsibility for the damage caused, but if the individual fault is not too serious, we do not impose any draconian penalties. But when the truth is suppressed and criminals are no longer held accountable, it becomes extremely dangerous. In the 1930s, Germany and Japan left the League of Nations. Fifteen years later the world was in ruins. Today the United States withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council, and neither the collateral murder massacre, the CIA torture after 9/11 or the war of aggression against Iraq led to criminal investigations. Great Britain is now following this example: In 2018, its own parliament, the Intelligence and Security Committee, published two large reports that proved that Great Britain was much more deeply involved in the secret CIA torture programs than previously assumed. The committee requested a judicial investigation. Boris Johnson's first act was to have that investigation canceled.
4. In England there are usually only fines for bail violations, at most a few days in prison. Assange, however, is sentenced to 50 weeks in a high-security prison with no opportunity to prepare his own defense
In April 2019, Julian Assange was dragged from the Ecuadorian embassy by the English police. How do you rate this approach?
In 2017 Ecuador got a new government. The US Congress then wrote a letter: We would be delighted if the US could cooperate with Ecuador. Of course, there is also a lot of money involved. But there is an obstacle: Julian Assange. They are willing to cooperate when Ecuador hands Assange over to the USA. From this moment on, the pressure on Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy began to grow massively. Life is made difficult for him. But he stays. Then Ecuador lifts its asylum and gives England the green light for arrest. Since the previous government had granted him Ecuadorian citizenship, Assange had to have his passport withdrawn, because the Ecuadorian constitution prohibits the extradition of its own citizens. It all happens overnight and without any legal process. Assange has no opportunity to comment or appeal. He is arrested by the British and brought before an English judge on the same day, who convicts him of bail violation.
This quick judgment - how do you judge it?
Assange only had 15 minutes to prepare with his lawyer. The procedure itself also took 15 minutes. Assange's lawyer put a thick dossier on the table and appealed because one of the judges involved was biased because her husband had been exposed in 35 cases by Wikileaks. The judge brushed the concerns off the table without any scrutiny. Accusing his colleague of a conflict of interest is an affront. Assange had said only one sentence during the trial: "I plead not guilty." (In German: I plead not guilty.) The judge turned to him and said: "You are a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own self-interest. I convict you for bail violation. " (In German: You are a narcissist who only thinks about your own interests. I am convicting you of bail violations.)
If I understand you correctly: Julian Assange never had a chance from the start?
That is the point. I'm not saying Julian Assange is an angel. Or a hero. But it doesn't have to be either. Because we are talking about human rights and not angelic or heroic rights. Assange is a person, he has the right to defend himself and to be treated humanely. Whatever you accuse Assange of, he has a right to a fair trial. He was consistently denied that, both in Sweden and in the USA, in England and in Ecuador. Instead, he was left to stew in a room for almost seven years.Then he is suddenly torn out and, within hours and without any preparation, convicted of a bail violation, which consisted of the fact that he had received diplomatic asylum from another UN member state for political persecution, just as international law provides and as countless Chinese people do , Russian and other dissidents in Western embassies. It is obvious that this is a political persecution process. In England there are hardly any prison sentences for violating bond requirements, but usually only fines. Assange, on the other hand, was sentenced to 50 weeks imprisonment in a maximum security prison in a fast-track trial - an apparently disproportionate sentence that had only one purpose: to detain Assange until the US could calmly complete its espionage allegations.
As the UN Special Representative on Torture, how do you assess his current conditions of detention?
England refuses Julian Assange access to his lawyers in the USA, where a secret trial is pending against him. His UK attorney also complains that she doesn't even have enough access to go through the court filings and evidence with him. Until October he was not allowed to have a single document of his legal acts in his cell. He has been denied the fundamental right to prepare his defense, as required by the European Convention on Human Rights. Added to this is the almost complete solitary confinement, the completely disproportionate prison sentence for breach of bail. As soon as he left the cell, the corridors were cleared to avoid any contact with other inmates.
Such conditions for a simple bail violation: When does detention become torture?
Julian Assange was deliberately psychologically tortured by Sweden, England, Ecuador and the USA. First with the kind of deeply arbitrary litigation. The conduct of the proceedings in Sweden, with the active aid of England, was aimed at putting him under pressure and detaining him in the embassy. Sweden was never about finding out the truth and helping these women, it was about cornering Assange. It is the abuse of judicial processes to put a person in a position where they cannot defend themselves. Then there were the surveillance measures, the insults, humiliations and attacks by politicians in these countries, including death threats. This constant abuse of state power caused tremendous stress and anxiety in Assange, and left measurable cognitive and neurological damage. I visited Assange in his cell in London in May 2019 with two experienced, globally respected doctors who specialize in the forensic and psychiatric examination of victims of torture. The diagnosis of the two doctors was clear: Julian Assange showed the typical symptoms of psychological torture. If he is not taken into protection soon, a rapid deterioration in his health can be expected, up to and including death.
When he has already been in deportation custody in England for six months, Sweden suddenly stopped the proceedings against Assange in November 2019 very quietly. After nine long years. What has happened there?
For almost a decade, the Swedish state deliberately and publicly denounced Julian Assange as a sex offender. Then the proceedings are suddenly stopped with the same argument that the first Stockholm public prosecutor had provided in 2010 after just five days when she first dropped the proceedings: the woman's statement is credible, but there is no evidence of a criminal offense. It's an incredible scandal. But the timing was no coincidence. An official letter that I had sent to the Swedish government two months earlier was published on November 11th. In this letter I asked the Swedish government to explain the compatibility of its conduct of proceedings with human rights on around 50 points: How is it possible for the press to find out everything immediately, even though it is forbidden? How is it possible that a suspicion becomes public even though the questioning has not yet taken place? How is it possible for you to say it was rape if the woman objected? On the day of publication, I received a meager reply from Sweden: The government has no further comments on the case.
What does this answer mean?
It's an admission of guilt.
As the UN Special Rapporteur, I am mandated by the states to examine individual complaints from victims of torture and, if necessary, to ask the governments for explanations or investigations. This is my daily work with all UN member states. From experience I can say that states which act in good faith are practically always very interested in providing me with the desired answers in order to emphasize the legality of their behavior. If a state like Sweden does not want to answer the questions of the UN Special Investigator on Torture, then the government is aware of the illegality of their behavior. Then she doesn't want to take responsibility for her actions. Knowing that I was not going to let up, they pulled the rip cord a week later and stopped the case. If states like Sweden allow themselves to be manipulated in this way, then our democracies and our human rights are fundamentally threatened.
You say: Sweden deliberately played this game?
Yes. From my point of view, Sweden has clearly acted in bad faith. If they had acted in good faith, there would be no reason to refuse to answer me. The same goes for the British: it took them five months to answer me after my visit to Assange in May 2019. In a one-page letter that was essentially limited to denying any allegation of torture and any procedural violation. My mandate is not required for such games. I am the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. I am tasked with asking clear questions and demanding answers. What is the legal basis for denying someone the fundamental right of their own defense? Why is a harmless, non-violent man held in solitary confinement for months when the UN standards generally prohibit solitary confinement of more than 15 days? None of these UN member states initiated an investigation, answered my questions or even sought dialogue.
5. 175 years in prison for journalism and impunity for war crimes. The possible consequences of the USA vs. Julian Assange precedent
What does it mean when UN member states refuse to provide information to their own torture special rapporteur?
That it's a set game. One would like to make an example of Julian Assange with a show trial. It's about intimidating other journalists. Incidentally, intimidation is one of the main uses of torture around the world. The message to all of us is: this is what happens to you when you copy the Wikileaks model. A model that is so dangerous because it is so simple: People who have obtained sensitive information from their governments or companies transmit it to Wikileaks, and the whistleblower remains anonymous. How threatening this is can be seen in the reaction: four democratic states, USA, Ecuador, Sweden and Great Britain, to use their concentrated power to turn a man into a monster so that he can be burned at the stake afterwards, without anyone screaming. The case is a huge scandal and the declaration of bankruptcy of the western rule of law. If Julian Assange is convicted, it is a death sentence for freedom of the press.
What does this possible precedent mean for journalism?
In concrete terms, this means that you as a journalist now have to defend yourself. Because once investigative journalism is classified as espionage and can be prosecuted anywhere in the world, censorship and tyranny follow. A murderous system is being created before our eyes. War crimes and torture are not prosecuted. Youtube videos are circulating in which American soldiers brag about having routinely rape captured Iraqi women into suicide. Nobody is investigating. At the same time someone with 175 years in prison is threatened who exposes such things. For a decade he is covered with unproven accusations that break him. And nobody is liable for it. Nobody takes responsibility. It is an erosion of the social contract. We hand over power to the states, delegate it to the governments - but for that they have to answer our questions about how they exercise this power. If we do not ask for this, we will lose our rights sooner or later. People are not inherently democratic. Power corrupts if not monitored. Corruption is the result if we don't insist that power be monitored.
You say: the attack on Assange threatens the freedom of the press at its core.
Look where we will be in 20 years if Assange is convicted. What else you can write as a journalist. I am convinced that we are in serious danger of losing press freedom. It's already happening: suddenly, in connection with the “Afghan War Diary”, the ABC News headquarters in Australia is searched. The reason? Again the press exposed the misconduct of state officials. In order for the separation of powers to work, state power must be monitored by a free press as the fourth power in the state. Wikileaks is a logical consequence of a process: if the truth can no longer be worked up because everything is covered with secrecy, if investigation reports on the US government's torture policy are kept secret and even the published summary is extensively blacked out, it inevitably comes to one at some point Leak. Wikileaks is the result of rampant secrecy and reflects the lack of transparency of our modern state. Sure, there are tight areas where confidentiality can be important. But if we no longer know what our governments are doing and according to what criteria and if criminal offenses are no longer prosecuted, then that is incredibly dangerous for social integrity.
What are the consequences?
As a UN special rapporteur on torture and previously as an ICRC delegate, I have seen a lot of horror and violence. How quickly peaceful countries like Yugoslavia or Rwanda can turn into hell. At the root of such developments are always structures of a lack of transparency and uncontrolled political or economic power, combined with the naivety, indifference and manipulability of the population. Suddenly, what happens only to others today - unpunished torture, rape, displacement and murder - can just as easily happen to us or our children. And no rooster will crow for it. I can assure you of that.
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