14:40 GMT12 August 2020
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    The anti-war collective defending the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, DC, for over a month nearly came to an end Monday, but police suddenly called off their raid. The activists told Sputnik the police had bluffed, had no legal authority to arrest them and weren’t willing to set a new precedent that would endanger US facilities abroad.

    Monday evening, sirens sounded outside the Venezuelan Embassy, and US Marshals ordered the Embassy Protection Collective inside the building to vacate the premises or be arrested for trespassing. However, after cutting the chains on the front door left by the departing diplomats several weeks ago, US authorities stopped in their tracks and resealed the doors, unwilling to defy international law and contravene the inviolability of diplomatic facilities enshrined in the Vienna Convention of 1961.

    Radio Sputnik's Loud and Clear spoke with three members of the Embassy Protection Collective: Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink; Ann Wright, a retired United States Army colonel and former US State Department official in Afghanistan who resigned in protest of the invasion of Iraq and became an anti-war activist; and Kei Pritsker, an activist with the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition, to find out what happened.

    ​"The whole crowd there, including the pro-[Venezuelan opposition leader Juan] Guaido people, who were just jubilant, thought this was the end. They have been going ‘tick tock, tick tock, the clock's running out,' on us for a while, but they thought this was really the end — and I must admit, so did we," Benjamin told hosts Brian Becker and Walter Smolarek.

    "The police came, and they talked to us — you and me, Brian, and [Mara Verheyden Hilliard, the collective's legal counsel] — and they told us they wanted to negotiate to get the people out of there," Benjamin said. "Mara was able to go and talk directly to the people and to have the police hear their decision, which was to continue to say that it was an illegal order, that they were there legally to talk about the larger issues of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and it was quite remarkable that after all of that, the police turned around, put a lock on the door, and left."

    ​"Everyone in the crowd was stunned," Benjamin said. "It seemed that this notice of trespassing was not part of a larger plan that included an arrest warrant, that they didn't have the right to go into that embassy. And with all of the Trump administration's violations of international law, disdain for international law, especially coming from someone like [US National Security Adviser] John Bolton, it seems in the end they are afraid of violating international law. The police wouldn't even set foot inside the embassy."

    "So it is really quite fascinating how this thing is playing itself out, but there is definitely within the Trump administration a knowledge — by some people — that going in and illegally entering that building and taking people out who are there with the permission of the legal government is a serious — not only violation of international law, but has serious implications for US embassies around the world and all the other embassies here in the United States," Benjamin noted.

    Wright said the notice read to the activists by DC police "interestingly did not have anyone's signature on it; it did not have a letterhead; it didn't have a stamp of anything. It was not coming, officially, from the US government at all, and when we asked all the police, ‘Who signed this?,' they all just kind of went like, ‘Don't bother us.' So it was written, undoubtedly, by the Guaido team, and the DC police and the Secret Service and the protective service — all of these folks — used a paper that had no legitimacy at all to try to encourage people to leave the embassy, saying, essentially, if you don't leave we are going to arrest you. And then, when their hand was called on it, they backed off of it."

    ​Wright told Sputnik that Verheyden-Hilliard and the collective activists inside the doors told the police, "We know who you are. We know that if you implement this piece of paper that has no legitimacy — I mean essentially it's an unlawful thing that you are doing, and we're calling your hand on it right now. And we know who you are, and we know that in history, following unlawful orders can get you in big trouble — so do you want that?"

    "With that, the police officers just kind of backed off," Wright said, noting that in her years in the US State Department she worked on numerous missions involving US embassies overseas, including those that had been attacked by enemy forces. "This sort of action by the Trump administration, that is in total violation of international law on diplomatic facilities — our diplomats around the world are going, ‘Oh my god, this puts us in great jeopardy. No telling what others will start doing to us.'"

    "You know, the US Embassy in Tehran, to me, is the only one that I can think of that has been taken over by another power, and that was during the Iranian Revolution" in 1979, Wright said.

    "When the US normally breaks relations with countries, those embassies stay vacant until something is resolved," Wright said, noting that "the Trump administration, by putting in its little poodle of Juan Guaido, an unelected person from Venezuela, is not satisfying the letter of the international law."

    She noted that, even during the height of such international crises as the US' 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, the US has never seized a diplomatic facility in Washington, DC — nor have US activists intervened to prevent such a seizure.

    Pritsker called the move "desperate," telling Sputnik that like the future of the coup d'etat itself back in Venezuela, the future of the US State Department's plan for seizing the embassy was "uncertain."

    "The Embassy Protection Collective really threw this legal challenge… in the face of the State Department, and they've been scrambling to really react to this. They obviously can't arrest the people inside and violate the Vienna Convention. Last night's attempt was pathetic, to try to trick people inside to just walk out. Our people inside, our lawyers, are a bit more clever than that," he said.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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    international law, police raid, precedent, Embassy Protection Collective, Loud and Clear, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER), Code Pink, Medea Benjamin, Kei Pritsker, ann wright, Washington, DC
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