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epa03809713 (FILE) A file video grab courtesy of British The Guardian newspaper, London 10 June 2013 showing former CIA employee Edward Snowden during an exclusive interview with the newspaper's Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras in Hong kong. Media reports on 01 August 2013 state that US whistleblower Edward Snowden has left Moscow airport after he has been granted temporary asylum in Russia in a statement by his lawyer. EPA/GLENN GREENWALD / LAURA POITRAS / HANDOUT MANDATORY CREDIT: GUARDIAN / GLENN GREENWALD / LAURA POITRAS, HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES
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Legal battle

Interview: Michael Knigge
August 7, 2013

The US attorney of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange tells DW what it will take for his client to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Michael Ratner also offers some advice for NSA leaker Edward Snowden.


Michael Ratner is the US attorney for WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. He is chairman of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) in Berlin and president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York.

DW: What do you make of the reactions in Europe to the Bradley Manning verdict and the leaks by Edward Snowden?

Michael Ratner: The reaction in Europe generally has been much better than in the United States. The stories in Europe often lead with "NSA doing this…" etc. rather than attacks on Snowden or Snowden is this kind or that kind of a person. I also think Europe's reaction to how the spying affected them has been very important as well. In the US it has made some difference, but in Europe it seems to be stronger. Obviously on some level the governments in Europe are being duplicitous. They knew about some of it, but now that they have it revealed publicly the governments are trying to back off from it.

WikiLeaks and Julian Assange have been aiding Edward Snowden in his quest to escape US authorities. You represent Assange. Are you also representing Edward Snowden now?

No, we don't represent Edward Snowden. Julian has taken obviously a very principled position on Edward Snowden. As you said he has been giving him advice as well as having somebody from WikiLeaks accompany him, Sarah Harrison.

What would you advise Snowden to do if you were his attorney?

I might have started by going to a different country than China and Hongkong to begin with. I might have gone to Venezuela. And now the last place I would come is the United States. If you see how Bradley Manning has been treated: He is probably going to go to jail for a very long time. And you saw his jail conditions and the unfairness of his trial and you see that Julian Assange is really essentially being kept in an embassy, mostly, in fact entirely in my view, out of fears of coming to the United States, getting no bail, and being held incommunicado and getting an unfair trial. So the best advice I could ever give Edward Snowden right now is stay out of the United States.

What message does the verdict against Bradley Manning send to your client Julian Assange?

WikiLeaks and Julian Assange were referenced throughout the trial. Everyday you went there there was some way they wanted to denigrate WikiLeaks and Assange or say that they were essentially co-conspirators of Bradley Manning. And that's an effort to try and differentiate for the public consumption in the United States WikiLeaks and Julian Assange from the New York Times. Because they know they have a problem. While they may want to get publishers on espionage, right now at least it seems to be unacceptable to do so in the United States.

So the only way they can think about getting WikiLeaks and Julian Assange is to somehow say they are not journalists, they are not publishers, they are not like the New York Times. That was a frightening part of the trial, because they are clearly trying to go after Assange and WikiLeaks.

Der amerikanische Anwalt Michael Ratner waehrend einer Pressekonferenz in Berlin am Dienstag, 30. November 2004. Ratner, Praesident des
Michael RatnerImage: picture-alliance/AP

So the message of the trial is that now - assuming they are arguing that somehow Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are co-conspirators with Bradley Manning - they have convicted one part of the conspiracy. Had they not, it of course would have been a much more difficult case against WikiLeaks.

Just to clarify: Since journalists have never been prosecuted for espionage in the US before, you think that the sealed indictment that is widely assumed to exist against Assange will essentially claim that WikiLeaks and Assange are not journalists to justify prosecuting him for espionage. Correct?

Yes. They are going to try and say that Julian Assange is an activist and that they don't fit the definition of what at least the powers that be consider as journalists. Even some of the major media have tried to distance themselves from Julian Assange. They will make an effort to try and make it acceptable to the people in the United States that they can go after a publisher.

Julian Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for over a year now. How optimistic are you that this won't be his fate for the foreseeable future?

Optimistic - I don't know. He thinks he won't be there another year. That is what he says publicly. The key for Julian Assange is to figure out a way to get a guarantee from Sweden and/or the UK that he will not be taken immediately to the United States when he leaves that embassy. If we get guarantees from one or both of those countries, that will make a huge difference. His problem is not Sweden, in the sense that the allegations having to do with sexual misconduct are something he is willing to answer, glad to answer, has offered the Swedish to come to the embassy in London to answer those. But the problem for him is if he goes to Sweden, almost surely they have a one-way ticket to the United States from there.

So he is just going to have to wait it out. Do I anticipate it going on a very long time? I hope not. He has already done a year. He has been very productive in that year as we know, so he is continuing to work and operate from that embassy. But let's just wait and see what happens.

But how likely is it that Sweden, but also Britain with its close ties to the US, will ever give him a guarantee not to extradite him to the US?

So far they haven't done that yet. The UK is close to the United States, but so is Sweden. Sweden essentially does what the United States wants as well. So both countries have a problem in that respect. And we saw in the case of Edward Snowden what it really takes to stand up to the United States. Ed Snowden essentially had to go to a country that was willing to take on the United States. And Russia at least, was willing in large parts to do so.

What do you think Snowden's fate will be?

My hopes for Edward Snowden are that he is able to go to a country that he wants to go to that will give him asylum. And the one that right now looks the most likely is Venezuela. The problem for Ed Snowden is how does he get from Russia to Venezuela without the US pushing the plane down in some fashion. So that's where he is. At the same time, at least he is a free man compared to what he would be in the United States, in an underground prison here.

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