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From 9/11 to Shoplifting: Assange in the Context of the European Arrest Warrant


Nina Cross
21st Century Wire

It is astonishing to think that the many coordinated attacks leveled against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange by the governments of the Britain, Sweden, Ecuador and the US, have all been stacked, in their colossal forms, on the tiny European Arrest Warrant (EAW).  This little manhunt-widget gifted the US and its allies the power to corner Assange like a chess piece.  They have used the EAW in a way that suggests their motto always has been ‘mighty oaks from little acorns grow.’

The origins of the EAW are in the Maastricht Treaty (1993), and in the Treaty of Amsterdam (1999). The EAW was designed to enable quick extraditions across Europe for suspects wanted for terrorism and serious crime under a system that placed procedure above human rights and was recognised as vulnerable to abuse from the outset. However, following the Attacks of September 11 2001, it was hurried through in a panic, forming part of a wave of security and intelligence-sharing agreements. Far from being used to apprehend suspects for serious and violent crimes, the post-9/11 EAW has been used by countries like Britain to apprehend people for such minor offenses as bicycle theft, and shoplifting.

That the EAW legislation was adopted within a few months of September 11 is highly significant. This was intended as part of the Global War on Terror narrative driven by George W. Bush and Tony Blair.  This same narrative was used as a justification for the invasion of Afghanistan, and Iraq, which resulted in the rise of ISIS.  The same ‘war on terror’ narrative has continued while the US government, the UK and NATO allies have funded and armed Islamist extremists in both Syria and Libya, leading to catastrophic consequences for the populations in those regions. The US government has used this same terrorism narrative to justify its aggressive foreign policy, which could easily be viewed as a pretext for US re-colonisation and expansionism. Presently, its aggression against Iran is now reaching dangerous heights, being driven by warhawks such as John Bolton who was also a key operative driving the war on Iraq in 2003. More crucially though, this narrative offered western allies a window of opportunity to increase inter-governmental powers.

It is behind this backdrop that the EAW has been functioning as one of the instruments satisfying the narrative of  ‘EU-US allied fight against terrorism.’  In this sense, Washington’s national security obsession, a smokescreen for imperialist aggression, becomes the impetus for increasing global jurisdiction and influence.  This is seen in the Trump Administration’s attempt to extradite Assange, who is neither a US citizen nor has ever worked in the US, on spurious espionage charges following  exposure of US war crimes by Wikileaks.

No sensible person would oppose extradition of seriously dangerous and violent criminals. However, the irony here is too much to ignore: EAW signatory states that are surrendering citizens under an extradition treaty claiming to fight terrorism – are also arming violent extremists and bloody dictatorships where it suits their agenda and are immune from any prosecution. What’s more, the US has provided a safe haven for terrorists for years while rendering people to authoritarian regimes. Likewise, while MI6 has a history of collaboration with terrorist organisations.

RELATED: Miscarriage of Justice: Why Assange’s Belmarsh Sentence is Wrong

In contrast, truthtellers and journalists are not immune from prosecution.  That Julian Assange, who has exposed direct links between the US government and terrorist groups, should be so abusively targeted by a mechanism aimed at terrorists,  having been caught in one of the ‘war on terror’ fishing nets, surely exposes the hypocrisy behind it.

The ‘war on terror’ has also been the basis for the repeal of civil liberties, and this is a useful context in which to view the EAW.

The arbitrary detention of Assange in the context of EAW injustices 

The 2015 decision by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) that Assange was arbitrarily detained in the Ecuadorian embassy could be given a wider significance, perhaps as a damning statement that this application of the EAW is not serving citizens so much as it is serving the political allies of the US.  The statement also points to the hypocrisy of self-professed liberal governments who have exploited feminist outrage and politicised sexual violence to serve US interests through the capture of Assange, using what amounts to a politically driven sexual allegations case against him.

Assange is the most famous victim of the abuse of the EAW, but he is one of many.  The following list, not exhaustive, shows examples of EAW abuses across the EU:

  • Minor crimes and trivial offenses, including failure to pay for petrol, for food in a restaurant, for stealing 2 CDs from a car, for cutting wood to use for fire, for being charged with carrying cannabis over a decade earlier
  • Pre-trial detention for many months
  • Denial of due process – no access to legal counsel for extended periods
  • Surrender for interview only leading to pre-trial detention and individuals left stranded in a foreign country after release 
  • Surrender of people to states with abusive prison systems that do not meet human rights standards of prisons – failure to respect Article 3 of human rights convention
  • Failure to respect specialty, where states have imposed additional charges on surrender
  • EAWs being issued by an inappropriate person 
  • People wrongly accused have been unable to avoid extradition because validity of the warrant has been the only relevance for the court, not the case brought against the individual
  • Guarantees of fair treatment breached by authorities once individuals have been surrendered

There is a presumption of trust and parity that all EU member states provide the same basic fair trial rights, and this has been shown to be false.  The following film explains the problems for a ‘little fish,’ caught-up in one of the EU-US allies’ ‘war on terror’ big nets enforced after 9/11. Watch:

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In this way, EU extradition requests have grown exponentially, although with a consistently wide discrepancy between requests and surrenders.  According to the watchdog organisation Fair Trials International, between 2004 and 2015, the overall yearly number of EAWs issued skyrocketed from 6,894 to 16,144, with the number of extraditions rising from 836 to 5,304.  In terms of percentage increase, this is a huge leap given the original targets of the warrants.

The evolution of the EAW is mirrored in many other systems enforced after September 11.  The US and its allies claim to want to catch the big fish with their nets, but the nets end up catching many more little fish, and meanwhile those doing the fishing are casting bigger and bigger nets further and further afield.  What starts as a means to catch and punish terrorists becomes normalised for everyone: what started off as a measure to prosecute terrorists has gradually expanded to include many other categories of crimes. Some of these have even lacked ‘double criminality’ in other EU member states which means some states might be surrendering citizens on grounds they themselves do not even recognise as criminal. This appears to have also been the case in Assange’s extradition between the UK and Sweden.

Legislation to stop EAW abuses and the legitimised EAW abuse of Assange

In 2010, the issuance of an EAW to extradite Assange for the purpose of an interview was described by Fair Trials as just the tip of the iceberg of abuses. Standard practice of collaboration between Swedish and British police for interview in the UK, a proportionate and less coercive procedure, was not followed.

Add to this the issuance of an Interpol Red Notice so that Assange could be interviewed, despite the fact he had previously acquired permission to leave Sweden to return to the UK, and any concept of proportionality is long gone.

These efforts of the Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Nye, to extradite Assange were described by the former Stockholm chief district prosecutor, Sven-Erik Alhem, as:

“… unreasonable and unprofessional, as well as unfair and disproportionate.”

At the same time as exploiting the EAW to hunt Assange, the British government felt compelled to respond to the pressure mounting around other EAW abuses.  After cases such as that of Andrew Symeneou (interviewed in video above), wrongly extradited for manslaughter, Section 12A to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 was introduced in the UK. This bars extradition if there is no indication of prosecution. What’s more, in an attempt to address the disproportionate use of the EAW for conducting interviews amongst member states, the European Court of Justice in 2014 passed the European Investigation Order (EOI) legislation, which describes the process for gathering information as follows:

Member State A requests evidence located in Member State B
Member State B collects evidence on behalf of Member State A

None of this would be of any help to Assange. The UK government cold-bloodedly refused to make it retrospective, so Nye could keep her net cast – so long as the catch was Julian Assange.


On June 13, 2019, UK Home Secretary Sanjid Javid signed the extradition order which could send WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the Unite States to stand trial on 18 indictments including espionage.

In 2012 Assange’s appeal against his EAW addressed the issue of arrest for interview. Despite the statement by the Swedish prosecutor that the investigation was in the ‘preliminary stage,’ against all common sense, the courts found in effect that Assange was wanted for more than just an interview, despite the statements by Nye that the EAW was for preliminary stage interview.  It is on the face of it simply shocking that the basic meanings of  ‘interview’, ‘accused’, ‘suspect’ and ‘prosecution’ were not clearly defined and understood yet formed the foundation on which to extradite a person, or not.

The courts used linguistic acrobatics, preferring certain nuances in the translation of a Swedish word on the EAW over others to determine just how ‘accused’ Assange was.  A similar game with linguistics was used to arrive at the decision regarding the judiciary authority of the EAW, i.e. whether the appropriate authority issued it, which formed the crux of Assange’s appeal against the EAW.  The court ruled to extradite Assange based on a French version of legislation rather than the English one, which, as pointed out by Craig Murray, was not written for British courts. Because of the EAW legislation, the courts were restricted; they had to rule on the warrant and not on the case itself.  But as has been seen repeatedly, standard legal practice has never been applied to Assange throughout his EAW ordeal and beyond.  Had it been anyone else appealing this EAW, we can guess that outcome.  Just to prove the point, the 2014 legislation now bars extradition if prosecution is not indicated, but the abusive EAW against Assange was legitimised by the court.

SEE ALSO: Julian Assange: The UK, Sweden and the ‘Illusion of Justice’

Written a year later, this BBC article in March 2015, quotes Nye regarding her U-turn decision to finally interview Assange to avoid completely sabotaging her own investigation after six years of delay.  She shows no sign of urgency, no indication that she wants to charge Assange and no sense of timeliness:

“The lead Swedish prosecutor explained the change of strategy by saying some potential charges against Mr Assange would expire under the statute of limitations in August.

My view has always been that to perform an interview with him at the Ecuadorian embassy in London would lower the quality of the interview,’ Marianne Ny said in a statement.”

In effect, Nye was saying even in 2015 that where Assange was concerned, she could have her fishing expedition where and when she wanted, all on the back of an abusive EAW which had already been rubber-stamped by the courts in 2012.  There was no possibility, under the 2014 legislation, that Nye could have said this about anyone else in Europe. Nye’s fancy for how to interview Assange would have been unacceptable for anybody else in March 2015.

The removal of Assange from the context of EAW abuses

From the onset, corporate media outlets have been concerned enough to report on injustices from EAWs but have never applied them to Julian Assange, despite years of opportunity.  On the one hand they would report on issues as seen here, here , here and here, while completely ignoring the abusive nature of the EAW used against Assange, as if it were normal practice, airbrushing Assange from that conversation about EAW miscarriages of justice.

The removal of Assange from the conversation about EAW injustices implies a legitimate use of it in his case.  This has been aided by the British courts who stamped their approval on Nye’s specious warrant. We know following the 2014 legislation that Assange was and is still being abused as a result of that warrant.

All of this becomes even more crucial when you consider that Assange was rendered by UK police from Ecuadorian soil, their embassy in London, based on what is a process crime – a UK bail skipping charge which derives from a dubious and politically motivated application of the European Arrest Warrant. On that shaky basis, he was placed in custody and is currently serving his 50 week sentence in London’s Belmarsh Prison, now well within the grasp of the United States.

The case of the EAW diamond treasured by empire

The case of Assange raises the question:  is the empire’s diamond the EAW or is it a key operator like Marianne Nye?  As senior prosecutor, Nye’s actions regarding one single case speak for themselves:

  • Reopen a case already rejected by the chief prosecutor
  • Write out a warrant using inflammatory terms that do not accurately relay the wording on the allegations held by the police records
  • Issue the arrest warrant for the purpose of interview
  • Fail to seek court authorisation when issuing the warrant
  • Send out an Interpol red alert stating “SEX CRIMES” for the purpose of preliminary stage interview despite agreeing the suspect could leave the country
  • Refuse to talk to the suspect for several years

That one senior professional could carry out all of these against one individual through incompetence must be extremely unlikely.  These actions paint a pattern of deliberate personal targeting.

And yet, other than condemnation by peers and concerns voiced by human rights organisations, there seems to be no consequences for abusing EAWs.  In 2010 just how easy was it for someone in the right position to use this little manhunt mechanism to trap a target?  It was designed to make extradition easy and could be abused in multiple ways, a fact human rights organisations had been highlighting since day one.  There were many forms of abusing a warrant to catch someone:

  • The wording on the warrant could be strategic and exploitative – the system is designed so that courts cannot look into the case of the accused
  • The warrant could be written up by someone with an agenda who was in a position and the right place to sign it
  • The warrant could be issued for interview and just left hanging indefinitely, a common abuse  – warrants have been kept alive for years – there was no comeback.  2014 legislation prohibits this in theory, but in practice the abuse continues in some states

The UK not only enabled this catalogue of EAW abuse to go unchallenged; it legitimised it, indicating collaboration and coordination at the political level.

Whatever methods of coercion and bribery the US government has used on Sweden, the UK and Ecuador, at the end of the day the mighty powers relied on this relatively small device, the European Arrest Warrant, to net Assange.  In the case of Assange, this little widget has served empire well, and to top it off, they can simply claim “it’s the law.”

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Author Nina Cross is an independent writer and researcher, and contributor to 21WIRE. To see more of her work, visit her Nina’s archive.

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