Ecuador attempted to give Assange diplomat post in Russia: document

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Britain, in this May 19, 2017 file photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 22 September 2018
0

Ecuador attempted to give Assange diplomat post in Russia: document

  • “Special designation” refers to the Ecuadorean president’s right to name political allies to a fixed number of diplomatic posts even if they are not career diplomats

QUITO: Ecuador in 2017 gave Wikileaks founder Julian Assange a diplomatic post in Russia but rescinded it after Britain refused to give him diplomatic immunity, according to an Ecuadorean government document seen by Reuters.
The aborted effort suggests Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno had engaged Moscow to resolve the situation of Assange, who has been holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy for six years to avoid arrest by British authorities on charges of skipping bail.
The incident was revealed in a letter by Ecuador’s foreign ministry to a legislator who had asked for information about Ecuador’s decision last year to grant Assange citizenship.
Ecuador last Dec. 19 approved a “special designation in favor of Mr. Julian Assange so that he can carry out functions at the Ecuadorean Embassy in Russia,” according to the letter written to opposition legislator Paola Vintimilla.
“Special designation” refers to the Ecuadorean president’s right to name political allies to a fixed number of diplomatic posts even if they are not career diplomats.
But Britain’s Foreign Office in a Dec. 21 note said it did not accept Assange as a diplomat and that it did not “consider that Mr. Assange enjoys any type of privileges and immunities under the Vienna Convention,” reads the letter, citing a British diplomatic note.
Ecuador abandoned its decision shortly after, according to the letter.
British authorities have said they will arrest Assange if he leaves the embassy, meaning he would have needed to be recognized as a diplomat in order to travel to Moscow.
Lawyers for Assange in the United States and Britain did not respond to requests for comment. WikiLeaks website did not respond to an email seeking comment. The Ecuadorean foreign ministry could not be reached for comment.
The plan to make Assange an Ecuadorean diplomat was made public last year, but the effort to send him to Moscow has not been previously reported.
US intelligence agencies in 2017 said they believed WikiLeaks was an intermediary used by Russia to publish emails hacked from top Democrats to embarrass 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
US President Donald Trump faces an investigation into whether his campaign colluded with Russia to win that election. Assange denies receiving the emails from Russia, but has not ruled out having obtained them from a third party. Trump and Russia deny collusion.
The Guardian newspaper on Friday reported that Russian diplomats held secret talks in London to help Assange flee Britain through an operation tentatively scheduled for Christmas Eve, 2017.
The story, which cited unidentified sources, said “details of the plan were sketchy” and that it was aborted because it was deemed too risky.
“The Embassy has never engaged either with Ecuadorian colleagues, or with anyone else, in discussions on any kind of Russia’s participation in ending Mr.Assange’s stay within the diplomatic mission of Ecuador,” Russia’s embassy in London wrote on its web site in a response to The Guardian story.
It was not immediately evident if Ecuadorean officials had any contact with Russia as part of the Assange appointment.
Reuters was unable to obtain comment from Russia’s foreign ministry on Ecuador’s plan to make him a diplomat there.
The letter from Ecuador’s foreign ministry was a summary of 28 documents that were sent to Vintimilla in response to her request.
Among those documents is a Dec. 4 letter from Assange in which he renounced his request for political asylum from Ecuador in preparation to become an Ecuadorean diplomat. The letter, which was seen by Reuters, said he ultimately planned to travel to Ecuador.
Vintimilla, who discussed some of the documents during a Thursday press conference, said Assange should lose his citizenship as a result of that letter.
Assange sought asylum in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questions about allegations of sex crimes, accusations that were later dropped.
Ecuador’s president Moreno has said Assange’s asylum cannot be eternal, but has also been reluctant to abruptly halt it on concerns that Assange’s human rights could be at risk.


Guantanamo prison takes on geriatric airs

Updated 20 October 2018
0

Guantanamo prison takes on geriatric airs

  • The population still imprisoned at the military base in Cuba range from middle-aged to elderly
  • With a budget of $12 million, a prison annex has been transformed into a public hospital, complete with modern equipment

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba: The controversial Guantanamo Bay prison still houses 40 aging inmates — and with no plans to close it, many of them will probably remain there until they die.
The population still imprisoned at the military base in Cuba range from middle-aged to elderly — the oldest inmate is 71 — so the prison with a history of torture has taken on some airs of a geriatric facility.
The US Army — directed to ensure Guantanamo can stay open at least another 25 years — has revamped parts of the institution home to terror suspects to include a dedicated medical center and operating rooms.
“There has been a lot of thought put into what preparing for an aging detainee population looks like and what infrastructure we need to have in place to do that safely and humanely,” said Anne Leanos, the public affairs director for Joint Task Force Guantanamo.
With a budget of $12 million, a prison annex has been transformed into a public hospital, complete with a radiology room equipped with an MRI scanner, as well as an emergency room and three-bed intensive care unit.
During a journalist visit to the new clinic, a walker sits in the corner of a room, which has a hospital bed, wheelchair and medical equipment akin to any other infirmary.
But there is no window, and wire mesh serves as a partition, recalling that this is still very much a detention center.
Congress will not allow sick prisoners to travel to the United States for treatment: Guantanamo inmates are considered highly dangerous by the government, which accuses them of participating in various attacks including those of September 11.
No prisoner needs a wheelchair yet — but if the need arises, the clinic is prepared with ramps.
Patients suffer from ailments common for their age: diabetes, hypertension, gastrointestinal diseases and motor disorders.
The second-floor psychiatric ward is equipped with two cells converted into consultation rooms.
A third, completely empty cell is padded and serves as the isolation room for prisoners experiencing psychotic episodes.
Like any staff deployed to Guantanamo, prison psychiatrists usually stay just nine to 12 months on site, limiting the scope of their interaction with prisoners.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visits Guantanamo about four times a year to make sure the prison is complying with detention standards and to assess detainees’ treatment.
Since the infamous detention center opened in 2002, nine inmates have died: seven committed suicide, according to the military, while one died of cancer and another had a heart attack.
The largest contingent — 26 inmates — at the military complex have never been charged with anything, but are considered too dangerous to be released.
One “highly compliant” inmate was on a “non-religious fast,” at the moment of the visit — a euphemism used at the prison to describe hunger strikes prisoners regularly observe in protest.
Acts of rebellion are fairly common — and base commander Admiral John Ring said one inmate was currently under disciplinary action.
“These are the ones that could not be released,” said Ring. “Many of these gentlemen are still at war with the United States.
“Any act of resistance, no matter how small — they are still fighting the war through these minor acts of resistance.”