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Julian Assange and Albanese’s Intervention

The unflinching US effort to extradite and prosecute Julian Assange for 18 charges, 17 of which are chillingly based upon the Espionage Act of 1917, has not always stirred much interest in the publisher’s home country. Previous governments have been lukewarm at best, preferring to mention little in terms of what was being done to convince Washington to change course in dealing with Assange.

Before coming to power, Australia’s current Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had made mention of wishing to conclude the Assange affair. In December 2019, before a gathering at the Chifley Research Centre, he described the publisher as a journalist, accepting that such figures should not be prosecuted for “doing their job”. The following year, he also expressed the view that the “ongoing pursuit of Mr Assange” served no evident “purpose” – “enough is enough”.

The same point has been reiterated by a number of crossbenchers in Australia’s parliament, represented with much distinction by the independent MP from Tasmania, Andrew Wilkie. In a speech given earlier this year to a gathering outside Parliament House, the Member for Clark wondered if the UK and Australia had placed their relations with Washington at a premium so high as to doom Assange. “The US wants to get even and for so long the UK and Australia have been happy to go along for the ride because they’ve put bilateral relationships with Washington ahead of the rights of a decent man.”

The new Australian government initially gave troubling indications that a tardy, wait-and-see approach had been adopted. “My position,” Albanese told journalists soon after assuming office, “is that not all foreign affairs is best done with the loudhailer.”

Documents obtained under freedom of information also showed an acknowledgment by the Albanese government of assurances made by the United States that the WikiLeaks founder would have the chance to serve the balance of any prison sentence in Australia. But anybody half-versed in the wiles and ways of realpolitik should know that the international prisoner transfer scheme is subordinate to the wishes of the relevant department granting it. The US Department of Justice can receive the request from Assange, but there is nothing to say, as history shows, that the request will be agreed to.

Amidst all this, the campaign favouring Assange would not stall. Human rights and press organisations globally have persistently urged his release from captivity and the cessation of the prosecution. On November 28, The New York Times, the Guardian, Le Monde, El País and Der Spiegel published a joint open letter titled, “Publishing is not a Crime.”

The five outlets who initially worked closely with WikiLeaks in publishing US State Department cables 12 years ago have not always been sympathetic to Assange. Indeed, they admit to having criticised him for releasing the unredacted trove in 2011 and even expressed concern about his “attempt to aid in computer intrusion of a classified database.”

Had the editors bothered to follow daily trial proceedings of the extradition case in 2020, they would have noted that the Guardian’s own journalists muddied matters by publishing the key to the encrypted files in a book on WikiLeaks. A mortified Assange warned the State Department of this fact. Cryptome duly uploaded the cables before WikiLeaks did. The computer intrusion charge also withers before scrutiny, given that Chelsea Manning already had prior authorisation to access military servers without the need to hack the system.

But on this occasion, the publishers and editors were clear. “Cablegate”, with its 251,000 State Department cables, “disclosed corruption, diplomatic scandals and spy affairs on an international scale.” They had “come together now to express [their] grave concerns about the continued prosecution of Julian Assange for obtaining and publishing classified materials.”

Very mindful of their own circumstances, the media outlets expressed their grave concerns about the use of the Espionage Act “which has never been used to prosecute a publisher or broadcaster.” Such an indictment set “a dangerous precedent, and threatens to undermine America’s First Amendment and the freedom of the press.”

The same day of the letter’s publication, Brazil’s President-elect Lula da Silva also added his voice to the encouraging chorus. He did so on the occasion of meeting the WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson and Joseph Farrell, an associate of the organisation, and expressed wishes that “Assange will be freed from his unjust imprisonment.”

The stage was now set for Albanese to make his intervention. In addressing parliament on November 30 in response to a question from independent MP Monique Ryan, Albanese publicly revealed that he had, in fact, been lobbying the Biden administration for a cessation of proceedings against Assange. “I have raised this personally with the representatives of the US government.”

The Australian PM was hardly going to muck in on the issue of the WikiLeaks agenda. Australia remains one of the most secretive of liberal democracies, and agents of radical transparency are hardly appreciated. (Witness, at present, a number of venal prosecutions against whistleblowers that have not been abandoned even with a change of government in May.)

Albanese drew a parallel with Chelsea Manning, the key figure who furnished WikiLeaks with classified military documents, received a stiff sentence for doing so, but had her sentence commuted by President Barack Obama. “She is now able to participate freely in society.” He openly questioned “the point of continuing this legal action, which could be caught up now for many years, into the future.”

For some years now, the plight of Assange could only be resolved politically. In her address to the National Press Club in Canberra delivered in October this year, Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson acknowledged as much. “This case needs an urgent political solution. Julian does not have another decade to wait for a legal fix.” This point was reiterated by Ryan in her remarks addressed to the prime minister.

The telling question here is whether Albanese will get any purchase with the Washington set. While enjoying a reputation as a pragmatic negotiator able to reach agreements in tight circumstances, the pull of the US national security establishment may prove too strong. “We now get to see Australia’s standing in Washington, valued ally or not,” was the guarded response of Assange’s father John Shipton.

 

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15 comments

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  1. New England Cocky

    FREE JULIAN ASSANGE IMMEDIATELY!!

    It is never a crime to expose war criminals, even when those persons are Presidents or Prime Ministers. ALL must be equal before the law, even though in too many democracies the politicians believe that they are above the law.

  2. Nerodog1

    Dr Binoy, I think you are too generous to the PM. I note that Prime Minister Albanese abused his position in Australia’s parliament yesterday to cast more gratuitous slurs on Julian Assange.
    “I, sometime ago, made my point that enough is enough. It is time for this matter to be brought to a conclusion.”
    What, for instance, does ‘Enough is enough’ mean in the context of someone being held illegally even for one minute? What does ‘enough is enough’ mean in the context of someone being held in solitary confinement, whose only crime was to jump bail in order to seek asylum to save his life – a misdemeanor for which he served out his full unreasonable sentence years ago? “I don’t express any personal sympathy with some of the actions of Mr Assange. […] As I said, I don’t have sympathy for Mr Assange’s actions, on a whole range of matters.” What purpose does it serve for the Australian Prime Minister to mention and repeat again that he does not ‘express any personal sympathy with some of the actions of Mr Assange’? What actions? The action of exposing US war crimes? The action of seeking asylum? What is the purpose of this totally unspecific slur, except to abuse a public platform in order to throw yet more mud on the courageous Assange? And what is the purpose of that? “[…]when you look at the issue of Mr Assange and compare that with the person responsible for leaking the information, Bradley Manning, now Chelsea Manning, she is now able to participate freely in US society.” And, what’s this statement about ‘leaking the information’ – you mean exposing massive war-crimes?? And then noting that ‘the person responsible’ – Bradley Manning – is now able to participate freely in US society. In this way, Albanese implies that Assange is guilty because Manning was guilty and obviously Albanese thinks people should be punished for exposing war-crimes. His position seems to be that the US should not be punished for its war-crimes, and that we should not even know about them. What on earth does the Prime Minister stand for then? Any British or American hearing the PM’s weasle-words on Assange would rightly derive the idea that Albanese does not give a stuff about Assange, or truth, or justice, or false imprisonment, or torture, or asylum, or democracy, or war-crimes. Albanese delivers this message loud and clear, through the parliamentary megaphone. Source of excerpts in Albanese’s full response to Dr Monique Ryan: “I, sometime ago, made my point that enough is enough. It is time for this matter to be brought to a conclusion. In that, I don’t express any personal sympathy with some of the actions of Mr Assange. I do say though that this issue has gone on for many years now, and when you look at the issue of Mr Assange and compare that with the person responsible for leaking the information, Bradley Manning, now Chelsea Manning, she is now able to participate freely in US society. The government will continue to act in a diplomatic way, but can I assure the member for Kooyong that I have raised this personally with representatives of the United States government. My position is clear and has been made clear to the US administration that it is time that this matter be brought to a close. This is an Australian citizen. As I said, I don’t have sympathy for Mr Assange’s actions, on a whole range of matters. But, having said that, you have to reach a point whereby what is the point of this continuing, this legal action, which could be caught up now for many years into the future? So I will continue to advocate, as I did recently in meetings that I have held. I thank the member for her question and for her genuine interest in this, along with so many Australian citizens who have contacted me about this issue.”

  3. LambsFry Simplex.

    Amazing how much political capital conservatives have been prepared to burn in the malicious pursuit of whistle blowers?

  4. leefe

    You have wonder about those who spend more time, effort and money in persecuting and prosecuting people who reveal wrongdoings than the people who commit them.

    Well, not really. It’s generally pretty obvious that they’re desperate to ensure their own arses remaiin covered.

  5. Caz

    Albanese’s remarks are disappointing. He is half hearted in his attempt to bring Julian home

  6. Anthony Judge

    How does a country prove to its people and to the world that its justice is not primarily vindictive? Is there a case for an index of vindictiveness in justice to facilitate comparson between countries in the present and from a historical perspective? By contrast, how might the action against Assange be presented as a vindication of justice as variously practiced?

  7. A Commentator

    People seem to ignore the fact that Trump, to a very significant degree, owes his presidency to the actions of Assange.
    I’m not advocating further dentition of him, but he’s hardly a hero.
    I hope the government doesn’t use too much credibility in advocating on his behalf. There are more pressing issues than helping a Trump enabler

  8. Barry

    Another bull artist, he don’t want to ruffle any feathers with his masters, for sure we know where his loyalty stands when he says, Albanese said he did not have sympathy for Assange’s actions “on a whole range of matters, especially exposing his buddies for the war criminals they are, another weak Australian Prime minister

  9. Michael Taylor

    AC, none of us have ignored that… we’ve just moved on.

    You should try it some time.

  10. A Commentator

    MT, it’s a matter of balance to me. There a comments here praising Assange, presenting him as a man ethics and integrity.
    In my view, that’s a long way from the truth. He timed his intervention into the 2016 presidential election specifically to provide Trump with an advantage.
    This tipped the scales in his favour in that close election.
    I hope his action in getting Trump into the Whitehouse will prove to be what he is best remembered for.
    I find it strange that so many people that apparently self identify as left/progressives admire a Trump enabler

  11. Michael Taylor

    AC, I don’t think the issue here is what Assange did six years ago that helped Trump, but what Australia can do now to help Assange.

    But you might see it different to me.

    I’m cool with that.

  12. Jack sprat

    It’s the same old story ,the persecution of whistleblowers to maintain the status quo
    by preventing the people in power from having to answer for their crimes .

  13. Claudio Pompili

    When Albo was in Opposition, he proved admirably that he was a factional warrior within NSW and Australia. Never had a real job, grew in a ‘housing estate’ was his middle name, and an opportunist at heart. Nothing in his Opposition role nor his weasel words (‘enough is enough’) or his outright condemnation (Albo doesn’t agree with Assange’s methods aka his whistleblowing) suggest that Albo will go in batting for Assange with the UK/US. There has been a trove of info regarding the US dirty tricks including a trumped up rape charge in Sweden to outright assassination, thanks to Pompeo et al. Everything that the warmongering troika Albo/Marles/Wong have done since taking federal government in May 2022 is to message loud and clear to the USA that it’s ‘all the way with LBJ”. Unfortunately, Albo’s weasel words, ““I have raised this personally with the representatives of the US government.”, says it all. The troika anxiously awaits the news of Assange’s death in Belmarsh, which they hope will fix all their problems. We, however, can keep fighting the good fights, no thanks to the evil troika. #freeassangenow

  14. New England Cocky

    @ Claudio Pompili: Sadly, I have to agree. Ever since Albanese picked up the Deputy Dawg USA mantle from Julia Gillard and Scummo, thus selling out Australian sovereignty and political independence, Australians are coming to realise that the politicians may change but the polices remain the same.

  15. Pingback: This week – Australian and overseas nuclear news | Nuclear Australia

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