Source: Why WikiLeaks Is Worth Defending
Julian Assange leaving Royal Court of Justice on July 13th, 2011
Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder accused of rape in Sweden, has sought asylum in Ecuador’s embassy in London. Assange, known for leaking hundreds of thousands of U.S. diplomatic documents through the WikiLeaks Web site, arrived at the South American country’s embassy Tuesday according to media reports. It wasn’t clear how Assange got there, since he was living under strict bail conditions at the country mansion of a wealthy supporter.
The development is the latest twist in Assange’s battle to avoid extradition from Britain to Sweden, where two women claim the international whistleblower raped and sexually assaulted them. Both are ex-WikiLeaks volunteers. Assange denies the allegations, which he claims are politically motivated.
The Ecuadorian government said it would keep Assange under its protection while it evaluates Assange’s application, according to Reuters news agency. Ecuador invited Assange in 2010 to take up residence in the country, but later withdrew the invitation on the grounds that he had violated U.S. laws. Ecuador currently has a leftist government unfriendly to the U.S.
Earlier this month, Britain’s Supreme Court refused to reconsider Assange’s appeal against being sent back to Sweden. Extradition proceedings were scheduled to start June 28.
Ecuador has been cautious in its comments. The embassy released a statement saying that its decision to consider the asylum request should not be interpreted as the country interfering in the judicial processes of Britain or Sweden, according to the British Broadcasting Corp.
Assange believes extradition to Sweden would eventually lead to him being sent to the U.S. to face charges that could lead to the death penalty. Swedish authorities have said that the European Court of Human Rights would prevent “inhuman or degrading treatment or an unfair trial” in the U.S., according to the BBC.
Assange was arrested in London in December 2010 to face a Swedish arrest warrant. Assange turned himself shortly after WikiLeaks started releasing more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables
Assange photo by acidpolly.
They’re about three and a half feet tall and their origins are mysterious, but an isolated group of Ecuadorians with a genetic mutation causing dwarfism are making news for another reason: They hardly ever get cancer or diabetes. Medical researchers say the villagers’ genetic protection from these diseases could lead to preventative treatments for the general population–and could therefore increase human longevity.
The villagers’ condition is called Laron syndrome, which is caused by an insensitivity to growth hormone.
Laron syndrome results from a mutation in the gene that codes for growth hormone receptor (GHR), a protein that binds with the human growth hormone and ultimately results in the production of the insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1), causing cells to grow and divide. When a person has two of these mutated and non-working genes, they can develop the disease. [LiveScience]
Jaime Guevara-Aguirre, the leader of the study about the Ecuadorians appearing in Science Translational Medicine, has been looking into their condition and extraordinary resistance to age-related diseases for more than two decades, since his serendipitous discovery of the people while riding horseback in Ecuador.
â€œI discovered the population in 1987,â€ Dr. Guevara-Aguirre said in an interview from Ecuador. â€œIn 1994, I noticed these patients were not having cancer, compared with their relatives. People told me they are too few people to make any assumption. People said, â€˜You have to wait 10 years,â€™ so I waited. No one believed me until I got to Valter Longo in 2005.â€ [The New York Times]
Longo is the aging expert and study coauthor with whom Guevara-Aguirre began to investigate why these villagers appeared to be diabetes- and cancer-free. First, they had to compare them to nearby Ecuadorians who lived in the same kind of environment but didn’t have Laron syndrome.
The team followed about 100 people with the syndrome, and 1,600 normal-sized relatives in nearby towns. Over 22 years, there were no cases of diabetes and only one non-lethal case of cancer among the Laron group. Among the relatives, about 5 percent developed diabetes and 17 percent developed cancer. [Reuters]
The researchers noted that the Laron patients aren’t producing insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1), which has been shown to play a role in longevity–in one animal study, researchers found that worms lacking an IGF1 gene lived twice as long as normal. Guevara-Aguirre believes that lack of IGF1 is responsible for the Laron patients’ remarkable resistance to cancer and diabetes. From the study:
Family members with the gene mutation have lower amounts of Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 or IGF-I, as well as lower insulin concentrations and higher insulin sensitivity. And when stressed, their cells tend to self-destruct rather than accumulate DNA damage. All of these features are known to promote longevity in lower organisms. Although it’s difficult to prove that major reductions in IGF-I and insulin concentrations are responsible for the lack of cancer and diabetes in this Ecuadorian family, the findings coincide with similar observations in lower organisms like yeast, worms and mice.
Unfortunately for the villagers, alcoholism, accidents, and other killers strike their population at a high rate, so their resistance to cancer and diabetes does not afford them special longevity. Fortunately for humanity, however, their peculiar physiology could reveal ways to perhaps block excess growth hormones levels as a way to fight the deadly diseases that spare the villagers.
Image: Science Translational Medicine (some members of Ecuadorian group in 1988, and then 2009)
Villagers living in Ecuador’s remote rainforests won a victory in one of the longest-running, most complex environmental lawsuits ever this week. A judge in Ecuador awarded $8.6 billionâ€”with the possibility of another $10 billion or so on top of thatâ€”to plaintiffs suing Chevron for polluting the Amazon region during decades of energy exploration. But in a turn of events befitting the tangled web of international environmental law and fights over who should pay for pollution, there’s no guarantee the plaintiffs will actually see that money.
Judge Nicolas Zambrano awarded the $8.6 billion to pay for cleanup and for health care for Ecuadorians made sick by the pollution, plus 10 percent of that total added on top as reparations to the Amazon Defense Coalition. If Chevron doesn’t publicly apologize within 15 days of the rulingâ€”and it isn’t going toâ€”the ruling tacks on another $8.6 billion in punitive damages.
The pollution case itself is full of weird twists and turns. The first thing to know about this mess is that “Chevron” didn’t pollute the regionâ€”at least, not under that name.
Chevron does not, in fact, operate in Ecuador today; the American company acquired the lawsuit when it bought Texaco in 2001. Texaco started oil exploration activities with Ecuador’s state oil company Petroecuador back in 1964, and for the next three decades, the 47 plaintiffs say, the company contributed to dumping billions of gallons of waste oil in the region, causing loss of livelihood, widespread health problems and up to 1400 deaths. [TIME]
Texaco paid about $40 million in damages when the company left the region in the early 1990s, but Amazonian communities, unsatisfied, sued for more. Chevron bought Texaco knowing full well this legal action was going on, and has spent the decade since fighting it tooth and nail. That includes arguing that Petroecuador was the majority player who bears most of the responsibilityâ€”a tactic that recalls the circle of blame between BP, Transocean, and Halliburton over who was most responsible for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. And there have been plenty of other legal maneuvers.
Chevron has vowed not to pay, and has persuaded courts in the United States and Europe to issue temporary orders blocking enforcement of the judgment. The company has also filed a countersuit against the plaintiffs in the United States, accusing them of fraud and extortion. [San Francisco Chronicle]
Chevron’s counter-suits aren’t the only thing that might prevent the Ecuadorians from collecting the money. As noted above, Chevron doesn’t operate in Ecuador any longer. So, industry analyst Mark Gilman tells Bloomberg, it’s not as though the courts can seize company assets to force a payment.
â€œItâ€™s probably unenforceable,â€ Gilman said yesterday in a telephone interview. â€œI wouldnâ€™t want to say $8 billion is insignificant in any way, shape or form for Chevron, because itâ€™s not, but given the lack of local assets, Ecuador is going to have difficulty enforcing this.â€ [Bloomberg]
As a result, Ecuador plans to pursue its options in other countries.
Advisers to the plaintiffs said Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela would be obvious candidates to pursue Chevron assets, but they acknowledged it would not be easy. Venezuela, for instance, is a close Ecuadorean ally and its president, Hugo ChÃ¡vez, is a frequent critic of the United States. But Chevron has extensive operations in Venezuela and enjoys warmer ties with Mr. ChÃ¡vezâ€™s government than just about any other American company. [The New York Times]
Chevron not only has powerful friends, it also has deep pockets. Bloomberg reports that Chevron’s near-$200 billion value is triple the size of the entire Ecuadorian economy. So there’s plenty of cash to keep on fighting.
Image: flickr / EdwÃ¥rd
tetrahedrassface writes “According to the Twitter feed for Wikileaks, the attack on the controversial site is increasing and is now at 10 Gigabits per second. In light of the recent release of highly sensitive documents and calls by many lawmakers around the world to swiftly find, extradite, and try suspected rapist Julius Assange for breaches of national security, one nation, Ecuador, has offered asylum.”