The concerted and orchestrated
campaign to capture Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and ultimately
to hand him over to the tender mercies of a kangaroo court in the US,
where he would likely be tried for spying and other possibly capital
offenses, continues as Britain threatens the Ecuadoran Embassy with
a police assault.
According to the newspaper the Australian, a News Corp. property and
Australian flagship of media baron Rupert Murdoch, Ecuador’s Foreign
Minister Ricardo Patino says he and the Ecuadoran ambassador received
a written message yesterday from the British Foreign Office warning
that Britain might send police to “assault” the country’s embassy and
forcibly remove Assange so as to hand him over to Sweden to face questioning
on several controversial sexual assault claims made by women there.
Although the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, passed in 1961
and signed by Britain, Sweden and the US, along with nearly every country
in the world, clearly grants embassies the status of being considered
the official territory of the country represented by the embassy, thus
putting them beyond all laws of the host country, Britain is citing
a 1987 UK law that states that when a foreign nation ''ceases to use
land for the purposes of its mission or exclusively for the purposes
of a consular post,'' the Vienna Convention no longer applies, and the
building is no longer beyond the reach of British police.
The text of the threatening UK letter, released by the Ecuadoran government,
“You need to be aware that there is a legal base in the UK, the Diplomatic
and Consular Premises Act 1987, that would allow us to take actions
in order to arrest Mr Assange in the current premises of the Embassy.
“We sincerely hope that we do not reach that point, but if you are not
capable of resolving this matter of Mr Assange’s presence in your premises,
this is an open option for us...
“...We need to reiterate that we consider the continued use of the diplomatic
premises in this way incompatible with the Vienna Convention and unsustainable
and we have made clear the serious implications that this has for our
A letter sent to the government of Ecuador by the British Embassy in
Quito was even more explicit, saying:
“We must arrest Mr. Assange and extradite him to Sweden. Should you
grant him asylum, and then request safe passage for him, we will refuse
it. We consider Assange’s use of diplomatic premises to be incompatible
with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and not sustainable.
Under the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act of 1987, we have a legal
basis to arrest Mr. Assange inside your embassy. If you cannot resolve
the issue of Mr. Assange’s presence on your premises, then this route
is open to us.”
Clearly, this threat is ridiculous on its face, given that the <http://untreaty.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/conventions/9_1_1961.pdf>Vienna
Convention is unambiguous in stating that embassies are inviolate. As
Article 22 of the Convention puts it:
1.The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the
receiving State may not enter
them, except with the consent of the head of the mission.
2.The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate
steps to protect the premises
of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance
of the peace of the
mission or impairment of its dignity.
3.The premises of the mission, their furnishings and other property
thereon and the means of
transport of the mission shall be immune from search, requisition, attachment
There's not a lot of wiggle room left there for sending police barging
into an embassy to grab someone. The British government’s assertion
that somehow the Ecuador Embassy, by granting Assange asylum from deportation
to Sweden and possibly to the US (which reportedly has a secret sealed
indictment waiting for him), is “misusing” its embassy grounds and is
thus not protected by the Vienna Convention is both absurd and dangerous.
The ability of embassies to grant people asylum without fear of invasion
by forces from the host country has been recognized for centuries, with
its roots going back to the Greeks and Egyptians, and even at the coldest
period of the Cold War, it was honored by rival states like Britain,
the US, and the Soviet Union. If Assange, whose most serious “crime”
at this point is skipping out on bail in Britain, can be rousted from
asylum in a foreign embassy, what does that mean for those people charged
with “crimes” in countries like China or Cuba who may in the future
seek asylum from persecution or prosecution in a British or a US embassy?
How would the late astrophysicist Fang Lizhi, an acknowledged intellectual
mentor to many of the young activists in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations
of 1989, who after the brutal government crackdown holed up with his
wife for months in the US Embassy in Beijing, have fared under such
a warped interpretation of the Vienna Convention? How would Chen Guangcheng,
the blind dissident in China who escaped house arrest and fled to the
US Embassy, have fared?
It’s significant that last year, the US government, including even President
Obama at a press conference, tried to claim that Raymond Davis (whom
they all knew was a contract agent and paid killer from the CIA), was
immune from arrest and prosecution in Pakistan even after he had brazenly
slaughtered two young men on motorcycles, shooting them both in the
back and then executing them with point-blank shots to the head, all
in a crowded street in broad daylight. Their argument: he worked either
for the US Consulate in Lahore or the US Embassy in Karachi. And he
was nabbed at the scene of the crime. He wasn’t even on protected consular
grounds. (In the end, Pakistan let Davis escape the country, after the
US paid death payments to Davis’s victims’ families in accordance with
Actually, when it comes to use of an embassy or a consulate “in a way
incompatable with the Vienna Convention,” the US and Britain, which
post CIA agents or MI6 agents undercover as diplomats in most of their
foreign embassies, and which have long used their so-called diplomatic
“pouches” (which in the US case can often be entire shipping containers!),
immune from customs inspections, to transport weapons to favored terrorist
groups inside countries like Chile or Iraq or Iran, are really guilty
of using their embassies and consulates in ways that are "incompatible"
with the Vienna Convention.
During the US occupation of Iraq, there were a number of solid reports
of weapons being smuggled into the country via diplomatic pouch to both
countries for use by Iraqi operatives working outside the law, and for
smuggling onward to groups inside Iran. Just <http://www.presstv.ir/detail/2012/08/16/256477/us-smuggles-weapons-to-iran-via-iraq/>today,
Iran’s PressTV reports that the US Consulate in the southern Iraqi city
of Basra was found to have obtained, through diplomatic pouch, a shipment
of light and heavy weapons intended for smuggling to terror groups operating
inside of Iran. At one point during the occupation, several British
agents operating out of the British Consulate in Basra, were caught
by Iraqi police driving a car while dressed in local arab garb. Found
in the car were guns, RPGs, and bombs and wiring. They were arrested,
but were later rescued by British military forces who stormed the police
station. No arrests were made by Iraqi police of any British consular
personnel following this incident, because of the Vienna Convention.
Why would Britain risk destroying that same Vienna Convention, which
has been around since 1961, and even longer in other legal iterations,
over such a minor case as ducking out on bail, particularly as Assange
has never even been charged with a crime in Sweden, where a British
Court says he has to be deported on an Interpol warrant? (He’s just
wanted in Sweden at this point only for questioning, technically). After
all, Britain is no longer a global power, and stands to lose a lot if
its own embassies no longer can count on protection under the Vienna
The answer to that would seem to be that it is the US, which despite
its denials seems to desperately want to get Assange and prosecute him
for leaking secret cables, which is behind this farce. The US, unlike
Britain, is a global power to reckon with, and does not have to worry
overmuch about its embassies being over-run (bombed maybe, but aside
from the Iranian US Embassy occupation, which was not entirely government
sanctioned, there has not been a US Embassy taken over by government
action, and there is unlikely to be). The costs to the host country
would simply be too great.
As Ecuador has told Britain, an assault on an embassy is technically
an act of war, as embassies are viewed legally as the territory of the
home country they represent.
Already, there are threats in other countries to invade and take over
British embassies if Britain makes good on its threat and has police
assault the Ecuador embassy. It’s a fair bet that in Latin America,
where there is broad support for Ecuador’s principled stand, and where
asylum in embassies has a hallowed tradition and has saved many people
during coups and dictatorships, it’s a good bet that British embassies
would take a heavy beating if Assange is dragged out of Ecuador’s embassy.
US embassies too could take a hit, since Latin Americans are acutely
aware of America’s role in this affair, and have little love lost for
America and its penchant for pushing its weight around. Ecuador’s President
Rafael Correa has called for a meeting of the Organization of American
States to address the British threat to his country’s sovereignty.
Odds are that Britain is bluffing, although it has massed police and
vans around the Ecuador Embassy building, which, unlike the fort-like
US embassies around the world, sits unguarded and unwalled on a street
in London, though the question of how or when Assange will be able to
escape the embassy and gain safe passage out of Britain and to Ecuador,
and whether he could subsequently avoid being kidnapped there and “renditioned”
to the US, remains. British supporters of Assange have been putting
out calls on social media for people to mass around the embattled embassy
to protect it against a police assault. Some have already been arrested
doing so there.
What this astonishing incendiary reaction by the British Foreign Office
to Assange’s grant of asylum by Ecuador makes abundantly clear is that
Assange and his Wikileaks organization are truly feared by Britain and
the US. His organization’s ability to expose the war crimes, the war
criminals, and the international treachery of these two countries and
their allies around the world is one of the biggest threats they face,
and they are proving it by their desperate efforts to neutralize or
DAVE LINDORFF is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new
independent Project Censored Award-winning online alternative newspaper.
His work, and that of colleagues JOHN GRANT, LORI SPENCER, LINN WASHINGTON,
JR. and CHARLES M. YOUNG, can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net