The rule of law is not being applied in Julian Assange’s case, just as it was not applied in mine, says lawyer Steven Donziger.
Donziger gave the following address to the Belmarsh Tribunal on Friday night at the National Press Club in Washington. A transcript follows.
Our next speaker is the American human rights attorney, Steven Donziger, who is part of a team that won a historic $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron Corporation, for polluting the Ecuadorian Amazon. In 2019, hee was targeted in New York with the first corporate prosecution in the history of the United States. Overall, he would serve 993 days under house arrest and in prison for a charge where the maximum sentence under law was 180 days: Steven Donziger.
Thank you, Amy and Srecko. And this wonderful panel, you know, half the battle when you sort of deal with the attacks – and I and I don’t mean to compare in any way my situation to the cruelty that Julian is enduring right now – but half the battle is this, you know, it’s the solidarity. There’s so many people here.
When I was in this long, you know, this long period of detention that I never could have imagined would happen in this country, because maybe I was a little naive. So many people came through for me and my family, just like people are here today for Julian. And I cannot tell you how completely uplifting that was. You know, part of the challenge when truth tellers speak truth to these entrenched pools of power is how to turn the attacks into opportunities.
And as I sort of watch the trajectory of Julian’s case, and I really hadn’t dug into it very deeply until the last year or two, by the way, when I read a book by Nils Meltzer. I don’t know if you folks know the book [from the] former U.N. special rapporteur on Torture, who has completely and meticulously documented that the U.S. government narrative about Julian is a complete fraud.
It is a complete fraud from A to Z. And Nils is not someone who comes at this from a movement perspective, like he’s a serious clinical lawyer. And I would recommend, by the way, to all the journalists out there watching this that if you have doubts about Julian and if you have doubts about the case, and if you’ve been sort of maybe a little bit taken with like, well, I don’t know about that guy, that you read Nils’s book, because I can tell you as someone who, you know, represented indigenous people, peoples in Ecuador for many, many years against Chevron – and for those who don’t know there’s a bunch of stuff online – but Chevron, over a period of years through Texaco, deliberately dumped billions of gallons of cancer-causing waste into the Amazon.
And, you know, I went down there as a young lawyer in 1993, just like Julian started WikiLeaks. You know, you start thinking, hey, man, we can do these big things and make a big difference in the world. And when you’re a little too effective at what you do, suddenly these entrenched interests of power, whether they be the national security apparatus or the fossil fuel industry, they figure out ways to just forget the rule of law.
The rule of law, as is normally understood to be applied – and I get the fact that in this country, we’ve had a lot of problems through history of not applying the rule of law, not just recently – but as normally understood, the rule of law is not being applied to Julian’s case.
It was not applied to my case. I am the first person in U.S. history, the first lawyer ever to be detained pretrial on a misdemeanor charge. And my misdemeanor charge was that Chevron had figured out a way to get a judge to order me to turn over my computer to their lawyers in the middle of the case, with all this confidential information.
And when I appealed that order to a higher court, the judge charged me with criminal contempt of court, he took his charges to the federal prosecutor in New York who refused to prosecute me. And then the judge appointed a private corporate law firm to prosecute me in the name of the U.S. government without disclosing the fact that that corporate law firm had Chevron as a client.
I was prosecuted in the name of the U.S. government by a corporation. And when I go through the experience, and I’m so happy to be through that piece of it, although I’m still dealing with a lot from Chevron, but I don’t have my ankle bracelet. And I look at what Julian is dealing with. All I can say is it is absolutely vital that we understand the importance of Julian feeling all of our love and, and that we continue to spread the word.
It is critical. And I will say, as I look at Julian – I met Julian one time, by the way, a few years ago in the Ecuadorian embassy when he was there – but there is something big happening, whether he realizes it or not, through the process of fighting for his freedom. You know, it is a process of consciousness raising around the world.
It can be seen as an opportunity to strengthen our freedoms, to strengthen freedom of the press as is happening. And I just want to point out before closing, that there is an increasing corporatization of these types of attacks happening in this country. Just this week, just this week in the United States, we had the first police killing of a climate activist in Atlanta.
I don’t know if folks know about this Cop City project. And there are now 15 people, by my count, peaceful climate activists who have been charged with domestic terrorism in the United States of America. We see three the protests in Minnesota, the pipeline company pouring millions of dollars into public police to arrest protesters. So whether it’s the national security state, the fossil fuel industry or other elements of the corporate class, we have a serious problem with our government in this country, essentially being co-opted by elements that couldn’t give a damn about freedom for the rest of us.
And a few blocks from here at the Supreme Court, the show, which by the way, is meeting today to discuss whether they’re going to take my appeal of my misdemeanor contempt conviction. But that court, if you really think about it, has six justices now, four of whom were appointed by presidents who did not win their elections. They’re unelected and they’re making decisions about almost every critical issue related to the freedom for 330 million people, including what happens, by the way, in Julian’s case ultimately.
So we need to fight harder – and I don’t mean to leave a message that might demoralize people – because whenever I’m asked to talk about my experience, like the law students, I’m like, “No, no, no. You can really do this work. This work must be done”. And it must be done. And as we see this increasing oppression, we must continue to organize, fight, spread the word, and really try to turn the resistance into opportunities to advance the cause of justice. So I call on President Biden to step up. Come on, this is ridiculous. Drop the charges and free Julian Assange. Thank you very much.