Assange faces legal action in Australia

Published Date: 04 September 2011
By Gareth Rose, Home Affairs Correspondent
WIKILEAKS founder Julian Assange could face prosecution in his home country following the publication of 251,000 unredacted US Government cables, Australia’s chief prosecutor has warned.
Attorney General Robert McClelland has confirmed that officials are scouring the cables for sensitive information about intelligence staff. It is a criminal offence in Australia to publish anything that could identify intelligence officers, he added.Prosecutors already believe one Australian Secret Intelligence Officer (ASIO) has been jeopardised.”I am aware of at least one cable in which an ASIO officer is purported to have been identified,” McClelland said.The move follows the publication by WikiLeaks of more than a quarter of a million US cables without, as in previous cases, redactions. The move has been strongly condemned by media partners of the whistleblowing organisation, as well as human rights group Amnesty International, as it potentially exposes thousands of individuals named in the documents to detention or a risk to their lives.

Assange claims its principal British media partner, the Guardian, “forced his hand” when a journalist published a password that gave access to raw WikiLeaks material.

McClelland said yesterday that ASIO and other Government agencies officers were working through the material to see the extent of the impact on Australian interests.

“On occasions before this week, WikiLeaks redacted identifying features where the safety of individuals or national security could be put at risk,” he said.

“It appears this hasn’t occurred with documents that have been distributed across the internet this week and this is extremely concerning.”

The archive contains more than 1,000 cables which identify individual activists. There are several thousand cables marked with a tag which the US used to identify sources it believed could be placed in danger.

There are also 150 cables which include references to whistleblowers, and others which contain references to people persecuted by their governments or who have allegedly been victims of sex offences.

Some also identify the locations of sensitive government installations and infrastructure.

Assange’s problems are multiplying.

He is currently under house arrest in the UK fighting extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges and Wikileaks’ main media partners have turned on him over the unredacted disclosures.

Assange’s own source, Private Bradley Manning, who is in a US military prison facing 34 charges, also appears critical.

His supporters have said that any source who provides secret information has the right to expect it be “handled with care”.

Wikileaks blamed the Guardian, the main publisher of Wikileaks cables in the UK, for forcing its hand.

It said the newspaper’s journalist David Leigh revealed a password that would unlock all the documents in a book about Wikileaks.

However, Leigh said the claim was nonsense and none of Wikileaks’ media partners would have agreed to the wholesale release of such sensitive material.

“Our relationship with WikiLeaks was based on the agreement that we would be allowed to redact these things and nothing would be published that hadn’t been carefully redacted for reasons of personal safety,” he said.

“We’re extremely upset that Assange, on his own responsibility, has now published everything.”

The news agency Reuters claims to have seen a written record of a discussion in which Assange was “insistent all cables must somehow be eventually released”.

Following their publication, Guardian journalist James Ball, who worked at WikiLeaks for three months from November, wrote: “WikiLeaks has done the cause of internet freedom – and whistleblowers – more harm than US government crackdowns ever could.”

In a joint statement, the Guardian, New York Times, El PaĆ­s, Der Spiegel and Le Monde, the whistleblowing organisation’s main media partners, condemned the latest release. “We deplore the decision of WikiLeaks to publish the unredacted state department cables, which may put sources at risk,” it said.

“Our previous dealings with WikiLeaks were on the clear basis that we would only publish cables which had been subjected to a thorough joint editing and clearance process.

“We will continue to defend our previous collaborative publishing endeavour. We cannot defend the needless publication of the complete data – indeed, we are united in condemning it. The decision to publish by Julian Assange was his, and his alone.”

The Scotland on Sunday, and sister newspaper the Scotsman, published stories on Wikileaks cables which were carefully redacted so as not to disclose sensitive information.

McClelland’s announcement means Assange is running out of safe harbours.

Even if his fight against extradition to Sweden is successful he will have to leave the UK anyway, as by then his visa will have expired.

He already faces possible legal action in the United States, where a grand jury in Virgina is to decide whether to prosecute him over the alleged disclosures.

Be Sociable, Share!