Aug 1, 2012 3:11pm
MADRID (AP) — A “controversial” Spanish judge criticized the U.S. investigation into WikiLeaks on Wednesday, saying that the grand jury process which could lead to charges being filed against the secret-spilling site’s founder is undemocratic.
Baltasar Garzon, a human rights lawyer best known for indicting former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, recently agreed to act as an international coordinator for Julian Assange, the embattled WikiLeaks founder.
“A democratic country can’t operate with its back to a person who is suspected of very serious crimes that could deprive him of liberty for a long time,” Garzon told reporters. “The United States should make it known what it is doing so that Mr. Assange can stand up for his rights. We don’t know what we are facing.”
A Virginia grand jury is studying evidence that might lead to charges being filed against Assange for WikiLeaks’ mass disclosure of hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. documents — including a quarter of a million State Department cables whose publication rocked Washington. The grand jury has been investigating the matter for more than a year and could continue for months or even years longer. Witnesses have been called, though the identities of most are unknown.
U.S. grand juries typically operate in secret — something which Assange and his supporters have criticized.
Garzon said he had no idea what was going on in the U.S. — and that troubled him.
“We are very worried about what is happening,” he said.
Assange is currently holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy in London while seeking asylum in the Latin American country. He hopes to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of sexual misconduct. He and his supporters believe he is being persecuted politically for publishing the secret files.
Swedish officials have rejected allegations that they are seeking Assange on Washington’s behalf, but Garzon said he believed that there was a secret plan to have Assange eventually taken to the United States for trial.
The Spanish judge gained fame for taking on international human rights cases in recent decades but he was convicted for overstepping his jurisdiction in a domestic corruption probe this year and barred from the bench for 11 years.
The magistrate said he would travel to Ecuador on Thursday where he will meet Assange*s mother. He declined to specify who else he would meet there.
Garzon said he was not at liberty to discuss the status of the Ecuadorian asylum petition but said Ecuador had demanded certain guarantees from Sweden which so far had not been granted.
Garzon said Assange, whom he met in London July 19, was not afraid of facing Swedish justice. But he said Assange believes that “in the present circumstances the conditions for a fair trial do not exist.”
Raphael Satter contributed to this report from London.