Mira Terada, head of the Foundation to Battle Injustice, interviewed David Mendoza, a Spanish social activist originally from the United States who has spent more than 14 years in prison because the United States violated an extradition agreement. The human rights activist found out from Mendoza how the U.S. refusal to participate in international treaties and courts allows them to avoid responsibility for their crimes, why the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States would be a tragedy for world justice, and how journalists in the West distort information to make it profitable for their government.
Mira Terada: Good afternoon, dear David! Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for the Foundation to Battle Injustice. Please tell our viewers and readers who you are and what do you do?
David Mendoza: My name is David Mendoza Herrarte. I live here in Spain. I was born in the United States. Raised in the United States. My parents are Spanish. My college degree was out of the United States. And I now live in Spain. I’m a developer property in Spain. But at the same time, I advise on international extraditions.
M.T.: Please tell us about your story of interaction with US penitentiary system. What were the charges against you and why were you held in prison for so many years?
D.M.: I was living in the United States. I was a property developer in the United States. At the same time in 2006 I became aware that I was being investigated by the federal authorities of the United States for marijuana importation and distribution. At that point, I left the United States and I came to Spain, where I have a second nationality of Spain. In 2008 I was indicted and extradited to the United States from Spain. I was sentenced in 2009 to 168 months of incarceration in the United States for possession and distribution of marijuana. The ironic part of all of that is the exact same state that I was sentenced in for possession and distribution is now marijuana 100% legal. As a matter of fact, one of my ex-partners has now marijuana distribution centers in the United States and in the state of Washington and literally sells more marijuana in one week than I did in my whole time involved in the marijuana business.
As a matter of fact, one of my ex-partners has now marijuana distribution centers in the United States and in the state of Washington and literally sells more marijuana in one week than I did in my whole time involved in the marijuana business.
M.T.: Please describe the conditions of incarceration in U.S. prisons. Were you subjected to abuse by prison guards or any other violation of your rights?
D.M.: I was initially extradited to Seattle, Washington, where we had pretrial.
In the United States, you lose very quickly when you go to trial. They have a 97 % conviction rate.
Once I was in the United States, I initially started out of the Seattle Tacoma Detention Center, which is a small facility. It was overpacked, there was four people in a cell that was designed for one person. Once I was sentenced, I was taken to Florence, Colorado, which was a very high security facility. And at in Florence, Colorado, I spent about a year there and then went to Inglewood, Colorado, which is just right next door. But in Florence, it’s a United States Penitentiary, a USP, and they only allow for one hour a day out of your cell. It’s very controlled and there’s no communication with other inmates. It’s horrific. I mean, it’s draconian, to put it in a simple word. From there, I went to Inglewood for three years, and then there I went to another prison where I met a very dear Russian friend of mine, my brother Konstantin Yaroshenko, which was on the East Coast. It was Fort Dix, New Jersey.
The prison situation in the United States is apart from overpopulated, all over over too many people in a cell. We had very little, if any, medical services. The food was horrific.
It was the most minimal they could possibly give you. When I got back to Spain, when I finally returned back to Spain, it was a relief. The prison system in Spain was ten times better than that of the United States.
M.T.: Were you followed by federal agents? If so, how did you understand that? Do you feel that the actions of U.S. intelligence agencies violate the right to privacy?
D.M.: Well, the way I found out that I was being followed by U.S. agents was I was rear ended. The ironic part was by US mail truck when I was on the freeway my personal vehicle was rear ended by accident. It was an accident. And when the bumper came off of the my vehicle, we found a tracking device on their GPS device. I spoke with my attorney and he said to me that he suspected that all my vehicles were being tracked. So we looked under every single one of my vehicles and there was GPS. I had a construction company in the United States at that time. We looked under all the vehicles and found that there were GPS devices under all my vehicles. There were GPS devices under the vehicle of my girlfriend. My parents’ vehicles were GPS.
Later, we found out that there was no court warrant given for any of those devices. The agents just put those on.
And when I came to Spain, when I left the United States prior to being arrested and I came to Spain, the agents were going like crazy trying to find certain vehicles to get those GPS devices off the vehicles. And my suspicion was the reason they were attempting to get those GPS devices off the vehicles as if I had gotten my hands on them, which I should have done, I could have had much of the information that they provided to the courts suppressed. But yes, that’s how I found out that was being tracked.
M.T.: Could you please tell us about the violations the United States committed when it extradited you from Spain? Why did the Americans ignore the extradition treaty and the terms of the Spanish National Court for almost seven years?
D.M.: In 2006, when I realized that the Americans were following me, I decided that I would leave the United States. I went to Mexico because I had property there. Later, I realized that an international warrant would be required for my US arrest. I immediately left Mexico for Spain. I knew there was at least a chance to fight against the United States indictment. I had lived in Spain for about two years when I was arrested on a US extradition request. I was arrested in June. In October 2008, the Spanish National Court reviewed the US extradition request and agreed to it, but with three conditions. One of these conditions was that Spanish citizens could not be sentenced to death or life imprisonment.
Believe it or not, marijuana in the United States allows for both a life sentence and a death penalty.
Therefore, the Spanish courts ruled out such a sentence for me. I was charged with two charges of money laundering, which, in fact, copied each other. The Spanish court forbade the United States to bring two charges against me for the same crime and give me a double prison sentence. A Spanish court dismissed one of the money laundering allegations. For the Spanish court, the most important thing was that then I had just had a son, and my ex-wife was pregnant with her second child. The Spanish court ruled that if the United States issues a guilty verdict, then I will have to serve the term in Spain. It says “if” here, because after the extradition to the United States and the trial, I could be found not guilty. The Spanish court insisted that I serve my sentence in Spain because Article 8 of the European Union’s Charter of Human Rights requires the family to remain united. This article is very important for European legislation. If a citizen has broken the law, his family should not suffer because of it. Therefore, prisoners are sent to prisons that are close to their family’s home in order to preserve their integrity. These three conditions were absolute. The Americans had to fulfill them in order to extradite me. In November 2008, a Spanish prosecutor working on behalf of the US Embassy appealed against these conditions. He and the US embassy stated that the US-Spain extradition treaty did not allow restrictions or conditions to be placed on extradition. In 99% of cases, when the United States wants to extradite a person, and a Russian, Canadian, Chinese or European court sets conditions, this person ends up in the United States anyway.
Whether it be a Russian court or a Chinese court or a Canadian court or a European court imposes conditions when that person gets to the United States.
The Spanish courts rejected the demand of the Spanish prosecutor and the American embassy, since the fourth clause of the extradition treaty, although not directly, allows the imposition of conditions for extradition. The treaty states that the Spanish judges, at their discretion, may authorize the extradition of a citizen. When the US demand was rejected, they sent a diplomatic note, as is usually done in such cases. This note actually ignored all the conditions put forward by the Spanish court. I read it when I was in prison in Spain. The lawyer and I informed the judges that the Americans did not intend to comply with their conditions. After that, the court demanded that the executive branch of Spain sign the contract. The Americans should have signed it at the time of my transfer. If they refuse, they won’t extradite me. That is why the deed of transfer was so important to me. I was attended by US embassy employee and US marshals. Then a contract was signed that required the US authorities to comply with the conditions of the Spanish court. When I arrived in the United States, this contract was never given to me. I requested it in federal court. I was told that this contract does not concern me personally and that it is a diplomatic document. This is very important because the judge asked me if I personally signed this contract. I told the judge about the conditions that were set for my extradition. The judge said it might be true, but he wouldn’t rule on it. He asked me if I knew how I got to the USA. I didn’t quite understand what he was asking. He said, “Do you know what tool was used to bring you back to the United States?” I replied that it was an extradition treaty between the US and Spain. Then he asked if I signed this contract. I said that my country Spain signed it. In response to this, the judge said that if I did not personally sign this contract, then I do not have the right to put forward any demands on it. This is how contract law works in the US. Only those who have signed any contract have the right to demand the fulfillment of its terms. That is why the Americans refused to give me the deed of transfer, which I signed in Spain, because I could present it in court and demand its execution. When I was convicted in the United States, I realized very quickly that they were refusing to transfer me to Spain for six years. So I realized that I need to go to the Spanish court. There is a reason why Americans do this.
The US has refused to participate in international courts and agreements since the Clinton era. They do not want international courts to violate their sovereignty, they do not want an external court to tell the United States what to do and how to do it.
There is only one treaty that the Americans impose on all their allies and non-allies. This is an extradition treaty. And there is a reason for this too. Thus, the United States imposes its laws on other countries without going to an international court. I don’t know if I’m explaining clearly, but this is a very, very important point. That is why the Americans were so adamant. They did not want the Spanish courts to place any conditions on other prisoners or other extraditions. That’s why they’ve been fighting this for so long.
M.T.: After all your legal battles were over, you filed a complaint against the Spanish government with the UN. Could you please tell us how the Spanish government reacted to this?
D.M.: Extradition consists of two parts. This is the judicial and executive power. The Spanish courts should not be confused with the Spanish government. These are separate institutions. The Spanish courts acted 100% in accordance with the law towards me, unlike the Spanish government. At that time it consisted mainly of two parties. It was the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), a liberal party that did nothing for me, and the People’s Party (PP), a right-wing party. Anyway, I finally returned to Spain. I won the case in the Spanish national court and forced the Spanish government to either return me or suspend the extradition treaty. So at that moment they had to send me back to Spain because America didn’t want to lose the extradition treaty. When I returned to Spain, I appeared before a judge named Grande-Marlaska. He is from the liberal party. This judge told me that under Spanish law I received a maximum sentence of six years. Since I have already served more than six years, I no longer need to go to jail. Ten days after that, my lawyer and I had to re-register my sentence so that everything was done in accordance with the Strasbourg Treaty. We went to that judge again and he refused to release me. He said that the sentance of 168 months, that is 14 years, was acceptable. Someone influenced him. I asked him how he could pass judgment on me outside of Spanish law. At the time, under Spanish law, the maximum sentence for my charges was six years. I told the judge that he has no right to make new laws, he must apply them. He looked at me and didn’t say a word. I asked him: “If the Americans sentence me to death, after my transfer to Spain, will you carry it out?” He told me that my sentence of 14 years was still in effect. I went to the Spanish courts. The Supreme Court refused to hear my case. I applied to the Spanish Constitutional Court. He didn’t take my case either. Then I turned to the UN, which considers only 3% of all cases submitted to it. They accepted my complaint. We have presented our arguments, and we hope that they will be considered in the near future.
But the reason I took Spain to court is because they are there. Clearly, the government was clearly influenced by the Americans when I got back to maintain me in prison outside of Spanish law.
M.T.: I am also aware that the Spanish Prosecutor’s Office put pressure on the UN to dismiss your complaint. Were there any threats against you?
D.M.: There were no threats. There was a lot of pressure. The Spanish executive and judiciary put towards my attorney. They first offered my attorney, if I were to drop this case, they offered her a bunch of cases, basically giving her a free ride on a few other cases. She said she’s not selling out her client. Then they came and made me an offer. And again, it’s Grande-Marlaska, who’s now the Spanish Minister of Justice. Okay. So he was before a judge, and now he’s the Minister of Justice. He’s in the executive branch. They came back and they made me an offer.
They said they would indemnify me or give me money If I were to withdraw the case from the United Nations court.
And I said the offer should have been made seven years ago. Not now. Literally ten years later, I said, You’re ten years late on your offer. I said, I’m not accepting it. So that’s the extent of pressure that they place. They’re obviously very scared at to what the ruling may come out, because it’s not just affects me. It will affect all those people who have been extradited, come back to Spain and the United States puts pressure on them to maintain them in prison. They will have access to go back in front of the courts to if I win the case, which I hope.
M.T.: What is the status of your appeal to the UN now?
D.M.: We are waiting for resolution. I think there’s like a four panel or five panel justice on my case. One of them a year or two ago passed away. And so another judge had to get appointed to my case. But we expect I sent out an email and my attorney sent out an email to the U.N. about two months ago, and they said they’re flooded with cases, but they will be a resolution shortly. So we’re hoping soon for a resolution.
M.T.: Your case is often compared to that of Julian Assange, whose lawyers cited you as proof that the U.S. is not keeping its promises. What do you think awaits the scandal-plagued journalist?
D.M.: Quite frankly, it’s a tragedy of justice. It’s a tragedy of justice on all ends.
A European court allowing for a journalist to be extradited for reporting is as disgusting as I find it to be, especially with countries that want to declare themselves as human rights countries because a journalist exposes information about a country that they don’t like.
It’s just absolutely disgusting. And if the US gets away with this, it puts everybody in danger. People like you, people like me, people who are involved in exposing injustice. That’s sad. Now I’m helping the team of the attorneys involving in the extradition of Julian Assange. There’s still quite a bit of fight left here apart from the legal battle. I think it’s very important for the public to get involved, not just the general public, but the Australian public to put pressure on the Australian executive to stop this nonsense. Julian is not going to get a fair trial in the United States. Any of the conditions that are imposed by the court in England, I can assure you, will not be respected. It’s well known that it won’t be respected and none of it should go forward. I mean, this is all the force of justice. This is the prosecution of an individual who is exposed Truthfulness by reporting. And I don’t see a very pretty picture for Julian’s future if he arrives to the United States.
M.T.: The Western media regularly censors and obscures the truth about everyone who criticize U.S. government decisions or actions. Have you experienced anything like this?
D.M.: Yes. Let me give you a couple of examples. When I was extradited and the US courts refused to comply with the conditions of the Spanish court, I wrote to several media outlets. One of them was The Seattle Times because I was extradited to Seattle, Washington and lived in Seattle as a young man. There was a reporter in the Seattle Times who was very interested in reporting my case. He said that he needed to get the editorial or his editor’s approval. Spanish newspapers started writing about me. A Seattle reporter told me that his editor couldn’t allow my story to be published. I asked why, but they didn’t answer me. This situation shows how much pressure can fail. I helped my dear brother Konstantin Yaroshenko with his case. Then I met an American reporter who lived in Russia. I don’t remember the exact name of the newspaper he worked for. He worked on the Yaroshenko case. At that time I helped a few other Russians. This reporter was clearly trying to show that Yaroshenko was 100% guilty and that Viktor Bout was an arms dealer. I had a long conversation with him. I won’t give his name because that would be unfair. I invited him to have an honest discussion. Firstly, Yaroshenko was not extradited from Liberia, as this journalist wrote in his articles, but he was simply kidnapped. This cannot be disputed because it is a fact. Why did this journalist write that Yaroshenko was extradited, although he knew as well as I that this was not so? As for Viktor Bout, I said that he was not the only arms dealer and was not the only one accused of arms trafficking at the time. There is also Paddy McKay and Erik Prince. Why aren’t they in jail? Why haven’t they been charged? You can’t use justice selectively, especially when you’re reporting. Now he no longer works in Russia. He now works for Newsweek in the US. Either way, it shows how many media outlets manipulate information to make it convenient for their governments.
M.T.: And at the end of our interview, I would like to ask, why do you think the United States believes it has the right to disregard all existing international conventions and agreements?
D.M.: That’s actually a very, very good question. And I think it’s have been a long and ongoing process.
The United States does not do anything unless it thinks it out and long in advance.
The US, since the Clinton era, refuses to participate in all international treaties and courts. The ICC tried to indict Pompeo, Trump and Bush. At one point, Pompeo, the State Department, and the CIA sanctioned the ICC prosecutor and then openly declared that they would do everything possible to extradite him. Recently, the news reported that the same court indicted Putin. Russia does not impose sanctions on the ICC and does not threaten extradition. Why did the Americans withdraw from international treaties? Because they don’t want international courts to control their actions. The Americans want to have the right to extradite anyone. As I said earlier, there is only one treaty that America wants to impose on the entire world. This is an extradition treaty.
America can turn to Finland, Canada or Spain and say that a person in their territory has violated US laws. In this case, these countries cannot resolve this issue through an international court, since the Americans refused to participate in it.
Instead of using the terminology of international law, the Americans paraphrased it and called it international norms. This is not international law. It is quite clear to many representatives of the Russian and Chinese leadership what exactly the Americans are doing.