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Cole writes: "The British government's menacing of the Ecuadorian embassy in London ... resembles nothing so much as the Iranian regime's cavalier attitude to the supposed inviolability of embassies."

Juan Cole; blogger, essayist and professor of history. (photo: Informed Comment)
Juan Cole; blogger, essayist and professor of history. (photo: Informed Comment)

Ayatollah Cameron Threatens to Invade Ecuador Embassy

By Juan Cole, Informed Comment

16 August 12


he British government's menacing of the Ecuadorian embassy in London on Thursday morning, with its threat that its police might well come on to the embassy grounds to arrest wikileaks leader and fugitive Julian Assange, resembles nothing so much as the Iranian regime's cavalier attitude to the supposed inviolability of embassies. To be sure, Assange does not himself have diplomatic immunity. But the ground on which the Ecuadorian embassy sits is considered in international law to be Ecuadorian territory, and breaching it is tantamount to an invasion.

There is no question in my mind that President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have pressured British Prime Minister David Cameron into taking this step. The Obama administration's reaction to the Wikileaks release of State Department cables with a relatively low level of classification has been astonishingly wrong-headed. The Pentagon Papers case in the 1970s established the principle that the US government had a right to try to keep its documents secret from us, but that if the documents were revealed, they could be freely published and cited by the public. In contrast, the current stance of the US government is that classified documents remain classified and US government property even if they have been published! And, State Department spokesmen have actually tried to threaten college students about talking about the documents on social media sites, since if they ever wanted to work for the US government, that sort of thing might be held against them. The site has been banned on US government computers via filtering software because of its use of the Wikileaks cables. These measures are petty and ostrich-like. The cables have been released. Get over it.

The US government is anyway classifying too many documents, which is undemocratic (92 million urgent secrets?). And the US more or less tortured Bradley Manning to punish him for the leaks.

The British threats do a great deal to absolve Iran of its bad behavior toward embassies. British Foreign Secretary William Hague fulminated (with some justification) in November, 2011, that the Iranian authorities had "committed a grave breach" of the Vienna convention in neglecting to protect the British embassy in Tehran from being invaded by angry crowds of protesters on November 29.

In the wake of the embassy invasion, then UK ambassador to Iran Dominick Chilcott told the Washington Post, "as a foreign diplomat, you can't work in a country that does not respect the norms of the Vienna Convention."

The incident did not lead to hostage-taking, as had a similar embassy invasion in 1979, when radical youth (including the Mojahedin-e Khalq or MEK members) took the American embassy and kept 52 members of its staff hostage for 444 days.

Now, what is at stake here? What exactly does the [pdf] 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations say? Here is the relevant language:

1.The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission.

2.The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity.

3.The premises of the mission, their furnishings and other property thereon and the means of transport of the mission shall be immune from search, requisition, attachment or execution.

There are many difficult issues around diplomatic asylum, the technical term for the status that Mr. Assange sought and obtained from Ecuador. There is a long tradition of diplomatic asylum in South America going back to the 19th century, codified in treaty. (Diplomatic asylum itself was known in early modern Europe, but its precise legal status was in dispute). South American diplomatic conventions condition Ecuador's attitudes to this unfolding crisis.

But the United States has sometimes accepted the principle, and acted on it. Most famously, the US embassy in Budapest gave diplomatic asylum to Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty for 15 years, beginning during the Hungarian uprising of 1956. Had Communist Hungary sent police onto the grounds of the US embassy and brought the cardinal out in handcuffs, I think we all know how that action would have been received in the United States.

And, ironically, the British embassy in Tehran gave diplomatic asylum to Iranian dissidents during the Constitutional Revolution in Iran in the early 20th century. Again, the Qajar Empire did not invade the embassy grounds to crush the dissidents and ensure absolute monarchy, and if it had, there would have been a war.

Another question is whether Julian Assange is a candidate for political asylum. Technically, a British court has ordered him to be extradited to Sweden for an inquiry as to whether he is guilty of sexual crimes peculiar to Sweden, not exactly rape but rough sex in one instance, and in the case of another woman, resisting, during passionate love-making, a request that he use a condom. (In both cases, the sex appears to have been consensual and so he could not have been charged with rape in the UK or the US). The statute under which he would be tried in Sweden does not exist in the same form in Britain.

Since he is Julian Assange of wikileaks, it cannot be ruled out that the UK judges were influenced in their decision to extradite him by their distaste for his release of government secrets, some of which embarrassed the British government. Many observers believe that if he is tried in Sweden, the US will request that he be extradited to the United States for trial on espionage charges of some sort, and could even be executed.

So a case could certainly be made that he is seeking political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy, not just fleeing a criminal complaint.

But it seems to me that the asylum issue is anyway a red herring. Because the Vienna Convention strictly forbids the invasion of the embassy grounds, and the UK can't arrest Assange on those grounds without violating Ecuadorian sovereignty.

The British argument that the Vienna Convention does not apply if the embassy is used for non-diplomatic, criminal purposes is a slippery slope. Cardinal Mindszenty probably did break Hungarian law, after all, and whether laws are legitimate or not is a matter of opinion. Further, everyone knows that governments routinely place intelligence agents in embassies with a diplomatic cover. Spying is not a legitimate embassy function, and is moreover illegal in the host nation, so that you could argue that all embassies can always be invaded in search of the fruits of their espionage there. In fact, that is precisely the Iranian justification for the invasion of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979 - that it was a "spy's nest" not an embassy at all. This assertion is outrageous, but there almost certainly were CIA analysts and operatives based in the embassy. Likewise, Iran arrested UK embassy staff in 2009 on charges that they were playing domestic Iranian politics and not restricting themselves to diplomacy. Once embassies can be violated for ‘criminal' activity that is so open to interpretation, then that seems a slippery slope.

Finally, Assange did not commit a crime in the UK, and what he is accused of in Sweden isn't even a crime in Britain. Violating an embassy merely to support an extradition request by a third party is excessive any way you look at it.

The Ecuadorian government denounced the British threat to invade the embassy grounds as unacceptable, and called a meeting of the Organization of American States to seek support. The government of President Rafael Correa thundered, "We are not a British colony!" The Ecuadorian embassy described the British threats as "unacceptable and a menace to all the countries of the world." your social media marketing partner


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+54 # Activista 2012-08-16 10:57
Cameron, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton treat the rest of "non-western = non-civilized" World as colonies. Would like to see the poll how American image "improved" from Bush administration in the Middle East and Africa - my guess is that it is MUCH Worse.
+6 # RLF 2012-08-17 06:20
I'll bet that Ecuador would do something to the British embassy if this occurred. Imagine them holding the brits inside until Assange is allowed to leave.
+63 # moonrigger 2012-08-16 11:11
The cavalier use of force by the US or Britain greatly diminishes the meaning of "free world nation." Once the strongest, we are now becoming the weakest links in the chain forged by those for whom our Constitution and the rule of law were something worth fighting or dying for, values to aspire to. All that's slip-sliding away.
+63 # DaveM 2012-08-16 11:14
Sovereignty is sovereignty. I suggest that some countries learn to respect it, lest they lose the respect of others for their own.
+44 # Glen 2012-08-16 11:59
The United States of America should be the first to follow your suggestion, DaveM. It's a good one and has been ignored far too long.

The loss of international laws is becoming more and more evident each year, and bodes ill for the future in terms of war and rumors of war. Oh, and the use of drones and assassinations. And and and...
+62 # DaveM 2012-08-16 11:20
The United States, notably, sheltered a group of Russian Pentacostalist Christians in its Moscow embassy for a number of years to protect them from persecution. Other embassies of other nations have taken the same type of action. They have that right.

Perhaps, if it can be done quietly, Ecuador should put Julian Assange into a very large diplomatic pouch under diplomatic seal (and therefore, by international law, barred from opening or seizure by Customs or other authorities). The pouch could then be sent to Ecuador or to any other country willing to grant political asylum to Mr. Assange.

Rather obviously, the law is being used to harass him for him political activities. The fact that a long search had to be conducted to find a country where something he had supposedly done was technically a crime shows all too well the motivation behind this absurdity.
+72 # PABLO DIABLO 2012-08-16 11:21
THANK YOU Juan Cole. You are right.
Free Julian Assange. We need more leaks, not more supression.
+47 # Archie1954 2012-08-16 12:16
So much for Western democracies' support for international law. It seems that only occurs when and if it is to the benefit of the government doing the supporting. The US and Britain, two empires, are notorious for breaking the rules and being seriously upset when called on it.
+36 # jwb110 2012-08-16 12:33
This could really be the "Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest" for the West/Europeans. The motivations have all the earmarks of the corruption adressed in the novel.
The blowback from this, especially in South and Central America could be more than just in words. This also emboldens a criminal element to attack Embassies and see how much they can get away with. The Embassies are either sacred amongst the Western World or they are not. For sure, this is a slippery slope.
+5 # Majikman 2012-08-16 20:04
My thoughts too, jwb110.
+34 # mrbadexample 2012-08-16 12:37
Thank you for clarifying some important points.

Imho this is not about what Assange has already done. This is about the ‘poison pill’ of wires and information that he has kept unpublished to protect himself. He knows what he has, and so does the United States, and the US will stop at nothing to make sure it doesn’t get uploaded. And it’s odd that the US would try to use Sweden as leverage—Sweden (like most other EU members) will not extradite to countries where a defendant can face the death penalty. But when Ecuador was considering asylum, the Swedish government would not rule out extraditing Assange to the US regardless of EU prohibitions against such action when the countries in question have a death penalty.
+38 # reiverpacific 2012-08-16 12:50
Cameron is every bit as slimy as Ryan/Twit R', and he has a wire-thin coalition majority in the ENGLISH parliament (there's not a single Tory seat in Scotland), with most of the people except for the snotty noses in London and the home counties are on Assange's side.
Gawd forbid that we end up with the poisoned dwarves on both sides of the pond this November as in the dark days of Ray-gun and Thatcher's 'Evil empire of collusion in greed-mongering.
If Assange is to be tried for the alleged sexual stuff fair enough, the Plaintiffs are entitled to their say, but let it be done "En abstentia" like the Malaysian and elsewhere trials of Dimwits/Cheney -we have the electronic media to be able to do this now. But everyone should also be protected from what is almost certain harassment, persecution and continuous extradition to Sweden then the US; this is stressful enough without having to face the full, biased and guilty before proven, vengeful force of the US INJUSTICE system at the end of it.
Just ask Bradley Manning and Leonard Peltier for a kick-off.
+13 # Michael_K 2012-08-16 15:00
I can already see the Labour Party posters, next election... portraying Ayatollah Khameron with his nose firmly ensconced between Obama's nether cheeks!

+13 # Michael_K 2012-08-16 15:02
"this is stressful enough without having to face the full, biased and guilty before proven, vengeful force of the US INJUSTICE system at the end of it."

We need a petition to change the name of the Department Of Justice to "The Department Of Judicial Affairs", in the interest of truth in advertising.
+29 # Larry 2012-08-16 13:06
As you sow, you shall reap. This deplorable breach of diplomatic protocol and international law puts every US embassy and its occupants at risk. These days short-sightedne ss seems to be a litmus test to hold public office.
+17 # Joe Bob 2012-08-16 13:12
I am so tired of this Crap. Big Control of just about everything and Now I've got Ryan up my Butt. I need a Democratic Laxitive
+35 # Peace Anonymous 2012-08-16 13:15
Never mind the politics. How many of you are aware of the damaging results of American foreign policy in Ecuador over the course of the last 50 years? Obama would be much better served in the middle of the campaign to let this all go but it is probably to late for that and it will cost him more votes than any policy to date.
And besides Assange is trying to tell the world the truth. What a breath of fresh air that would be. Hasn't there been enough secrets and scams in the last 50 years? Let Assange go!!
+11 # reiverpacific 2012-08-16 18:21
Quoting Peace Anonymous:
Never mind the politics. How many of you are aware of the damaging results of American foreign policy in Ecuador over the course of the last 50 years? Obama would be much better served in the middle of the campaign to let this all go but it is probably to late for that and it will cost him more votes than any policy to date.
And besides Assange is trying to tell the world the truth. What a breath of fresh air that would be. Hasn't there been enough secrets and scams in the last 50 years? Let Assange go!!

I know Ecuador well and am so glad that they have pulled via the lefty alliance del sur, away from US and it's corporate masters (like Chiquita a.k.a. "United Brands" formerly United Fruit who, prompted by the appalling Dulles bro's, fucked up Arbenz's Guatemala and so many other countries subsequently just for one.
This is my favorite S. American country, now firmly in progressive hands and likely to remain so.
I hope that Assange can make it there and conduct his defense on other charges from a place where his life and liberty are respected.
We could use a few more of him and Wilkileaks, who constantly expose and affirm that "All governments lie".
THAT's why they are after him!
And BTW, don't think it would have been different if "New Labor" å la Blair (Brown) were still in charge. They were simply Clintonite cyphers who will roll over as required when the US power structure belches.
+9 # geraldom 2012-08-16 22:22
Let me remind you that the coup in Honduras was backed and supported by the Obama administration as well as the recent coup in Paraguay, and you can be sure that both Bolivia and Venezuela are at the top of the list for the next coups supported and backed by the United States no matter who is president. And you can be sure that Ecuador is also at the very top of the list, most especially after it kicked the United States off that military base in their country. The U.S. hasn't given up on Central or South America. It has almost infinite patience.
+20 # mainescorpio 2012-08-16 13:21
We are witnessing the pulling out of all stops to prevent Julian from seeking asylum in Ecuador. What he knows but hasn't revealed is much more relevant than what he has. I fear death squads will follow him to Ecuador and his demise will be the same as Trotsky in Mexico.
+19 # indian weaver 2012-08-16 13:26
Looking a little bit longer term, the UK and USA have irrevocably damaged themselves internationally now, even if nothing else is done by both nations. Their hand has been revealed to the entire planet. This criminal threat by the UK will have reverbrations forever, alerting worldwide nations and peoples to what the UK and Amerika are now, and have been a long time: unacceptable parties to the world community, if not despicable and terroristic fascists. This threat cannot be rescinded. It's on the world stage, done but lasting forever.
+16 # geraldom 2012-08-16 13:32
The U.S. & its crony allies & puppet govts like the UK, with the possible exception of Russia & China, are now, for all intents & purposes, rulers of the whole world, & I do not exaggerate when I say this.

International law like our Constitution & our Bill of Rights, & I might as well add the Magna Carta to that list, has been consigned to the trash heap. Like the Dems allowing the Repubs to take full control of the U.S. over a period of 45 years, I have to blame both Russia & China for allowing the U.S. & its crony proxy armies throughout the world, NATO being the biggest one of them all, to use, not just military force to force weaker nations to do what we demand, but monetary & financial force as well.

Who appears to be in full control of the sanction weapon when military force is not yet practicable? Who determines what countries & what leaders are good & which ones are evil? Who now determines what actions & by whom are in violation of international law & what actions & by whom are not? What country is now in full control of the U.N. & its head, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and is in full control of the IAEA headed, Yukiya Amano?

We all know the answer, don't we? The U.S. of A. Perhaps with the possible exceptions of Russia & China, there are no such entities left in the world known as sovereign nations, and, because of the way they've been acting, I'm not so sure about Russia & China being sovereign nations.
+15 # tomo 2012-08-16 13:59
That Cameron and Murdoch have been cronies--if that's true--makes me doubt that Cameron is a principled man; makes me doubt he has any ethics to steer by.
+13 # dick 2012-08-16 14:38
London SHOULD NOT have been given the Olympics! Their support for Bush's OIL war, Operation Iraqi Liberation, shows they have not shed their colonial heritage. London banks, & bank laws, were instrumental in the Great Collapse. Still GOING ON. Why reward/legitimi ze the plutocrazy with Olympics, for counting medals won by privileged athletes in privileged nations?London is Wall St. branch office, or vice versa.
+8 # dick 2012-08-16 15:58
Thanks. Another excellent reason for NOT giving CORRUPT Londoners the Olympics. Rupert Murdoch, & the slime he has bribed. London is "the belly of The Beast." Don't go there.
+17 # billeeboy 2012-08-16 16:25
The United States has a very long history of invoking international law when it suits them and completely ignoring it when that suits them. The American Empire under Bush AND Obama has taken flaunting international to new heights - extraordinary rendition, secret overseas prisons, holding prisoners without charging them (Gitmo), drone executions, other targeted executions - all in the name of security. The American troops in 150 countries around the world are not there for security but to protect the business interests of the oligarchs of the American empire. Of course, empires always overextend themselves and become corrupt internally (as in the children of the oligarchs never serving in the military....) and ultimately fall.........
+14 # Ed 2012-08-16 17:55
Well what do you intend to do about it? You voted for that toad running the US regime. I thought you were a democracy? If so many of you are for peace and goodwill to all, why do you insist on appointing heads of state who treat extra-judicial killing as a family sport, and attack sovereign states with impunity? And why does Obama, and wannabe-preside nt Romney, make a point of kissing Zionist ass in public? What is it you love so much about the state of Israel? Why do they hold the kryptonite to your superman ego?
+6 # Majikman 2012-08-16 20:25
Don't you understand that we have not been a democracy for quite some time? Elections are theatre and window dressing, completely rigged, to lull us into believing the people are "in charge". As to why the US "loves Israel"...we don't... with the exception of the wacko fundies who are waiting for their Jesus to return there (or some such nonsense) and the dual citizenship zionists who have infested the upper structures of this government. If you've never read PNAC (Project for the New American Century), try explains their entire agenda which is coming to pass.
When the good people of the US finally figure out how they've been hoodwinked and decide to'll be the first to know.
+2 # Ed 2012-08-17 04:17
Yeah, I forgot, thanks for reminding me. Re PNAC, OK, I’ll check it out, ta.
+7 # in deo veritas 2012-08-16 18:04
Hopefully Assange will put forth everything else he has on the corrupt and stupid things done by "certain governments" but would anything really surprise us any more after what we have been subjected to so far in this century? The world will not tolerate the arrogance of those hypocrite regimes who try to preach to them. Are there any decent role models left? LOL
+2 # JackB 2012-08-16 20:04
The British government will authorize an invasion of an embassy - on British soil no less???

This is being taken seriously?????

Somebody honestly believes it may happen???

Damn, I love this blog.
+7 # Rick Levy 2012-08-16 20:23
What in the hell is Cameron thinking for uttering such a threat?
0 # Peace Anonymous 2012-08-16 23:42
Quoting Rick Levy:
What in the hell is Cameron thinking for uttering such a threat?

Assange have pictures of Cameron....with the sheep.
0 # bingers 2012-08-18 19:00
Quoting Peace Anonymous:
Quoting Rick Levy:
What in the hell is Cameron thinking for uttering such a threat?

Assange have pictures of Cameron....with the sheep.

+2 # Ed 2012-08-17 04:19
Quoting Rick Levy:
What in the hell is Cameron thinking for uttering such a threat?

That’s easy. Check out the leaked cable from Washington to London two days back: “Get that b@stard Assange at any cost or we’ll give the special relationship badge to Sweden”. Cameron, at the behest of the CIA, then called up that sad pathetic vassal creature Hague and updated him. Hague, however, already knew what to say to his press gathering because La Clinton has her hand so far up his ass she cleans her nails on his eye-teeth.
-2 # SBader 2012-08-16 22:06
Ecuador is not trying to organise coup d'etat's in the UK. Mr Cole should be more careful with his similes.
+2 # jerryball 2012-08-17 16:06
So Ecuador is nothing more than a colony of the U.S. and Britain cabal? Our Imperialism is surfacing more every day and the Real Criminals are showing their face to the world for what they "really" are: Fascists!

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