In December 2010 when the WikiLeaks cable dump hit the headlines, Prime Minister Julia Gillard declared: “I absolutely condemn the placement of this information on the WikiLeaks website – it’s a grossly irresponsible thing to do and an illegal thing to do.”
A couple of days later, Ms Gillard was at a loss to explain her inflammatory comments.
“The foundation stone of it is an illegal act,” Ms Gillard told reporters in Canberra.
But the “foundation stone” was the leaking of the documents to the website, not the publishing of the cables.
“It would not happen, information would not be on WikiLeaks, if there had not been an illegal act undertaken,” Ms Gillard said.
Mr Assange’s lawyers have said they are considering defamation action against Ms Gillard after she accused the whistleblower of “illegal” conduct over the leak of US documents.
Thus our Prime Minister launched a campaign of misinformation about both Wikileaks and Assange, based solely on her personal opinion and clearly with little if any regard to her legal training.
The government then attempted to find legal cause to withdraw Assange’s Australian passport, in spite of the fact that he had broken no Australian laws.
Hardly surprising then, that Assange and his team of lawyers have come to believe he’s been abandoned by his government. While it may be true that Assange has received whatever consular support is due to him, Prime Minister Gillard had Assange hung, drawn and quartered from the get go, and she has never retracted her accusations and her condemnation.
If we follow Ms Gillard’s logic, then the newspapers who published the leaked cables they obtained from Assange, newspapers such as the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Guardian, The New York Times et al, are also acting irresponsibly and illegally because ““It would not happen, information would not be on WikiLeaks [or in the SMH, the Oz, the NYT, the Guardian et al] if there had not been an illegal act undertaken.”
At this point I quote Anna Funder, winner of this year’s Miles Franklin Literary award: I have spent my professional life studying totalitarian regimes and the brave people who speak out against them. And the first thing that someone with dictatorial inclinations does is to silence the writers and the journalists.
This is a link to an account by The Guardian of the events in Sweden that have led to Assange being accused of sexual misconduct. As you can see, the circumstances as described are unsavoury, though they would not all necessarily be considered sexual offences in Australia. They are also entirely a matter of she said/he said.
I have no idea of their veracity and I believe Assange, for his own sake, ought to have the opportunity to respond to the allegations made against him. As well, the complainants are entitled to have their allegations addressed. It is puzzling that Swedish prosecutors are delaying the resolution of the women’s complaints by demanding, against, apparently, their own Supreme Court decision on interviews (see below) that Assange return to the country, rather than conduct a video link interview with him.
Bjorn Hurtig, Assange’s early Swedish counsel, makes these observations in his witness statement:
I also think it unreasonable that in a case of this kind, where extensive mutual assistance between the UK and Sweden would readily permit a video-link interview, for the prosecution to be so absolutely insistent that Mr Assange return (and at his own expense) to face questions that could easily be put over the video-link.
[Assange has many times offered to do this, and offered to engage in interviews with Swedish officials in person in the UK. The Swedish authorities have consistently refused these offers, demanding extradition instead. Assange continues to offer to answer the allegations via video link from the Embassy of Ecuador.]
I note that at least one of the complainants have been interviewed by telephone and the insistence that Mr Assange come back to Sweden merely for an interview is, therefore, unreasonable and contrary to the decision of our Supreme Court (NJA 2007, p. 337).
The problem for Assange with returning to Sweden is explained here. Briefly:
Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the WikiLeaks founder in the US, said Assange and his legal team considered it highly likely that he would face an onward extradition to the US if he were sent to Sweden.
The concrete reality [is] that he was facing a political prosecution in the US, he was facing the death penalty or certainly life in jail. Faced with that, he had extremely limited choices.
The US empanelled a secret grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks and Assange in May 2011, but has not issued any requests for his extradition to the UK or Sweden. However, Ratner said both he and Assange believed it was “more likely than not” that a sealed indictment had been drawn up.
According to a Human Rights Watch report, Sweden has form. In 2001 Sweden was involved in the illegal US rendition of two asylum seekers suspected of terrorism from Stockholm to Cairo. This involvement violated the global ban on torture. Both asylum seekers were tortured when they arrived in Egypt, despite assurances given to Swedish diplomats.
The UN Committee Against Torture concluded that Sweden violated the Convention against Torture by illegally expelling him [Al Zari] to Egypt, and stated that “procurement of diplomatic assurances [from Egypt], which, moreover, provided no mechanism for their enforcement, did not suffice to protect against this manifest risk.”
The US has imprisoned Private Bradley Manning, the WikiLeaks cables source, in a manner that has been described by Glenn Greenwald as “conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture.”
One need not be a conspiracy theorist to see where this is headed. The bizarre refusal by Swedish authorities to question Assange by video link in an interview which is designed to establish whether or not there are grounds for bringing charges against him. The oft -forgotten fact that Assange has already been questioned on these matters while in Sweden, the allegations were dismissed, and he was allowed to leave the country.
And on the matter of these allegations it’s worth reading this brief interview with Oscar Swartz, author of A Brief History of Swedish Sex: How the Nation that Gave Us Free Love Redefined Rape and Declared War on Julian Assange. Swatrz claims that in Sweden: “Sex is being increasingly used to control communications – and as a political weapon,” and says his book shows “how Sweden descended from one of the western world’s most sexually liberated nations to its most repressive.”
The hatred expressed against Assange in Australia is frightening, and much of it seems to be based on personal antipathy. A great deal of it seems to originate with journalists and has from the start, as I wrote in these two articles in December 2010
It is even more frightening in the US where there have been calls for his assassination and demands that he be hunted down like bin Laden. Hatred such as this, and the unworthy example of presumption of guilt set by Prime Minister Gillard at the start of the story obscures the complexity of the narrative, and reduces it to a George W Bush story of good versus evil.
Personal opinions about Assange and his character ought not to blind anyone to the bigger picture unfolding here. There is something rotten in the manner in which these events have been and continue to be handled by the Australian, Swedish, and US governments. This should sound alarm bells for all of us, especially, one would think and hope, for journalists and writers whose responsibility it is to hold governments to account and protect us from dictators. WikiLeaks efforts to do this may have been clumsy, and at times carelessly cavalier. However, to my mind, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange & WikiLeaks have struck a blow for transparency in high places that in spite of claims to the contrary has struck nerves. For this they have my admiration and my ongoing concern for their welfare.