NOW with Alex Wagner | August 17, 2012
>>> at this hour, wikileaks founder julian assange remains stuck in london . yesterday, the ecuadorian government granted him asylum. he faces extradition to sweden on sexual misconduct allegations. he's also the subject of an investigation inside the united states . assange of course published documents that expose corruption and were invoked in the arab spring. he's also drawn the ire of u.s. officials for releasing thousands of sensitive cables which undermine diplomacy according to the obama administration. for a year and a half, assange had been living under house arrest in england and fighting this extradition to sweden . then two months ago, he escaped and fled to the embassy , where he has been camped out. his supporters have also been protesting outside this week, sometimes clashing with police. grants of asylum are generally respected but in this case, the british government said it may have the authority to enter the embassy and go ahead and arrest assange.
>> having exhausted all options of appeal, the british authorities are under a binding obligation to extradite him to sweden . we must carry out that obligation and of course, we fully intend to do so. the ecuadorian government's decision this afternoon does not change that in any way.
>> joining the panel now is a member of assange's u.s. legal team, vince warren, executive director at the center for constitutional rights . thanks for being here. vince , let's start at the top . why is julian assange hiding in the ecuadorian embassy in london ?
>> well, julian assange as you know is wanted for questioning in sweden with respect to sexual abuse charges. julian had worked feverishly to try to make sure that he didn't actually have to go to sweden for that questioning, and the reason was is that julian fears persecution in the united states with respect to his leaking activity.
>> so you don't think and he doesn't think that the investigation in sweden is simply about the charges --
>> we can say almost categorically that it's not. the reason why we know that is that when mr. assange asked sweden to make assurances that if he were to go to sweden that he would not be extradited to the united states , sweden would not agree to that. when the ecuadorian embassy -- government asked the uk and sweden to make assurances that mr. assange would not be extradited to the united states , they wouldn't agree to that, either. so it seems clear to us in addition to the fact that we hear a secret indictment has already been issued, that the end game here is bringing julian assange to the united states . there's sort of a silent entity within this.
>> a secret indictment from where?
>> from the united states .
>> but publicly the u.s. is saying they are not putting pressure on london , the uk or any other country in this matter. should we take them at their word?
>> ironically, it's too bad that wikileaks isn't around so we can get to the bottom of this. as we know from the document dumps the u.s. and uk and other governments said a lot of things that simply were not true. the question really is based upon how the u.s. has treated bradley manning, here in the military brig in terms of secret trials and abusive conditions, is it reasonable to expect that julian assange, who we expect would be accused of publishing these documents, would he be treated in the same manner. i think any reasonable person would say he probably would.
>> i want to bring in dana. on the one hand, you have someone who has been part of basically disclosures that many different governments have been completely upset with. vice president biden basically likened assange to some kind of information terrorist so it is understandable that his legal team and others are skeptical of these charges. on the other hand, there are a lot of folks who feel that a sexual conduct violation investigation is important and should be pursued.
>> yeah. i think the investigation absolutely does need to move forward. what he's been accused of, having sex with women against their will without a condom is a very serious charge and it does need to move forward. that said, i'm a journalist. i'm a total first amendment absolutist. i don't trust the u.s. government with him and i wouldn't want to see him put in jail for the crime which i don't think is a crime of releasing these documents.
>> i'm just curious, i don't know if this is for you or for you. i don't understand how the british government could presumably go into another embassy which is sovereign land and take someone out of that that has been granted asylum. isn't that the very underpinning of asylum?
>> that's exactly it. the point is legally, they cannot. the question is politically, do they see an advantage in doing it. ecuador is a sovereign entity and the interplay between extradition which means we want you to send someone to another country to face the music , and asylum is when there is a reasonable fear that the extradition will result in political persecution, another country can grant asylum on humanitarian grounds and essentially, asylum trumps so any activity about storming the ecuadorian embassy with the police or intercepting julian assange really flies in the face of the humanitarian principles that underlie what we're talking about.
>> people who sympathize are assange should be concerned he's getting tied up with governments like ecuador which is actually extraditing a belarus dissident today with russia, whose human rights record is terrible, he's really becoming a pawn in their geopolitical fights with the united states , can he be speaking truth to power when he's sort of on that side and being co-opted by those nations?
>> i think knowing how julian assange has conducted himself with respect to making all of this information public, i'm not as concerned that he is going to be a pawn in this but we do have to acknowledge that there's a whole geopolitical situation that's happening and that it is clear that the united states , sweden and the uk have some sort of deal going, otherwise, there would be no reason why sweden wouldn't be able to conduct and i agree with you, that this is a very important investigation, they should be able to conduct that inquiry in london as opposed to sending him to sweden , where sweden requires him to be imprisoned during the investigation, and then not guaranteeing that he won't be sent some place else.
>> would it be unusual if the u.s. did come out and say that they're not going to honor this kind of asylum in an embassy ? to some people that just sounds like going backwards.
>> not only would it -- it would be shocking, particularly since the united states itself has offered this type of asylum to folks. there is case law with the united states offering asylum to political dissidents in china, political dissidents and reporters in pakistan into the united states .
>> you're saying there's a precedent for this.
>> a complete precedent. there's nothing that is abnormal about this circumstance other than the fact that julian assange seems to be, you know, the person number one that is on the u.s. and the uk's list.
>> vince warren, thank you for coming here and giving your side of the story.
>> thanks very much.
>>> coming up, we are going to talk about jay-z's empire state of mind. how the hip-hop star and nba owner is rewriting the investor's handbook.