Ecuador considers it vital for the OAS, whose foreign ministers will meet in Washington this Friday 24th, to "defend a country that is under threat and that is a member of their organization," said foreign minister Ricardo Patiño, on Monday. While the UK Foreign Office has informed that they do not intend to forcibly enter the Ecuadorian embassy in London to arrest Julian Assange, Ecuador has not yet received any official communication retracting the threat received the previous week, a step they consider necessary in order to resume dialogue in pursuance of a negotiated solution concerning political asylum for Assange, granted by Ecuador last Thursday 17th.

The U.S. government, meanwhile, has reiterated that it disagrees with the call by Ecuador for a meeting of foreign ministers, considering it a bilateral issue that does not concern the OAS. Victoria Nuland, State Department spokesperson, regretted that Ecuador is seeking to stir up trouble in the OAS; "we have very important business that we do in the OAS that has to do with the strength and health and democracy in the region," she said.  This viewpoint that a direct threat to the sovereignty of a country in the region does not concern democracy is clearly not shared by the majority of countries in the region, as expressed in the strong statements of solidarity that ALBA and UNASUR issued in Guayaquil, last weekend.

Nuland also dismissed as "wild assertions" the statement made by Assange that the US is conducting a "witch-hunt" against Wikileaks. However, she declined to say whether it is true or not that her government intends to seek Assange’s extradition to try him for publishing classified documents.

The Australian communicator’s fears are not groundless. His defense attorney, Baltasar Garzon, recently reported in Quito that they are aware that a grand jury constituted in Alexandria, Virginia, has been carrying out a secret investigation on the founder of Wikileaks. Although they have not received any official confirmation about it, media reports have revealed the existence of this investigation, (among others based on documents leaked by Wikileaks itself). It is not known what the possible charges would be; moreover, the alleged evidence and testimony are secret, which amounts to a situation of utter defenselessness, according to the lawyer.

"It appears that the charges may be spying, even treason, or collaboration with the enemy; such accusations would be completely untenable under the rule of law, and with the right to defense, especially when it comes to issues that, from our point of view, concern the First Constitutional Amendment: freedom of expression and information," claimed Garzon. "There are reports from the prosecutors themselves and from people who have had access to U.S. information that there is already a sealed dossier, ready to indict Mr. Assange at whatever time is politically expedient …. And that means that it is clearly a matter determined by political interests," he added.

Garzon believes that one of the motivating factors for the US delay in making an extradition request could be that it would be more difficult in England than in Sweden. "I don’t think that Britain would be willing to directly confront an extradition based solely on what has been the Wikileaks phenomenon … It would be very costly for Britain to deal with such a process, with Julian Assange in London," he said.

The U.S. and Sweden have a bilateral extradition treaty containing a little-known temporary rendition clause, that is fast tracked and without safeguards. Garzon recognizes that this clause could be applied only in the event of an eventual terrorism or similar accusation, while other charges would go through the normal extradition treaty.

In fact, Sweden, in contrast to its long history in defense of human rights, was the first country to give in to the U.S. policy of "extraordinary rendition" under the war on terror, when they allowed the CIA to forcibly remove two Egyptian refugees from the country, who were then transported to Egypt and tortured.

Among the sources that corroborate the version of the pending grand jury indictment, are cables released by Wikileaks itself, in particular the new batch of thousands of emails from the intelligence firm Stratfor, which they uncovered earlier this year. Information on this was revealed, among others, by the Spanish newspaper Público in an article published in late February, where the vice president of Stratfor, Fred Burton -a former head of the counterterrorism division of the State Department Diplomatic Security Service-, recognizes that a year earlier, the grand jury had issued a sealed accusation against Assange.

– Sally Burch, a British journalist based in Ecuador, is correspondent of ALAI.

 

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