Greens back Assange asylum plea, but US has already won

Thursday, 21 June 2012 – by Bernard Keane

Julian Assange’s request for asylum in Ecuador has been strengthened by a letter from Greens Senator Scott Ludlam supporting his case that he has been effectively abandoned by the Australian government.

The Ecuadorian embassy in London has been swamped with letters of support, some from high-profile supporters, for Assange’s request for asylum since news broke that he had sought refuge there early yesterday morning. However, Ludlam’s statement as an Australian parliamentarian is significantly more important given the basis on which Assange has sought asylum.

Ludlam’s letter (copy here) describes his extended process of asking parliamentary questions and making FOI requests made to determine the government’s attitude towards Assange, including why the Prime Minister made her discredited claim that WikiLeaks had behaved illegally. On that basis, Ludlam concludes “with regret”: “I strongly believe Mr Assange is in need of a government willing to stand up for civil and political rights.”

Assange remains inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London awaiting the determination of his application, said to be within the next 24 hours. He is there with a small group of supporters, including Australian human rights lawyer Jen Robinson and British journalism veteran Gavin MacFadyen.

The Australian government’s strategy in response to the request appears to be to use its consular support to Assange as evidence of its bona fides. Nicola Roxon this morning was insisting the government had provided adequate support and that anything else was a demand for intervention by the government in the legal process of the UK and Sweden.

This is the straw man already used by Bob Carr in his deflection of questions about the issue. The problem is that at no stage has the government indicated its willingness to defend Assange from an open campaign of intimidation by the United States purely on the basis of his journalism. That campaign has so far consisted of:

  • A financial blockade of WikiLeaks instigated by the Obama administration
  • A grand jury investigating WikiLeaks and Assange
  • US State Department claims that Assange is not a journalist and therefore not entitled to First Amendment protections
  • The description of Assange as a terrorist by the Vice-President.

Further elements of the campaign have recently come to light. French cyber activist Jeremie Zimmermann was detained by FBI agents while travelling from the United States back to France after he filmed an episode of Assange’s television show and interrogated about Assange. Icelandic activist Smári McCarthy, who also appeared on the program, was stopped while entering the US and later approached in Washington DC to become an informer against Assange. Crikey is investigating further incidents where people with links to WikiLeaks have been stopped while travelling.

The Gillard government’s response has been to insist the US is not doing anything in relation to Assange, a narrow legal point that defies the public reality of a multi-pronged campaign, one that the government insists it can’t see and therefore can do nothing about. “Wilful blindness” is the phrase that comes to mind. However, that strategy briefly lapsed in 2010 when Julia Gillard made the error of declaring WikiLeaks’ activity illegal. That claim, which Gillard has pointedly never retracted and that  was clearly contradicted by advice from the AFP, may also prove crucial to demonstrating Assange’s case that the government will not protect him.

Late this morning, the Senate approved a motion calling on the government to provide the same level of support to Assange it had provided to other Australians and for the retraction of the government’s claims of illegality.

Regardless of the outcome of Assange’s application, the blunt truth about the Obama administration’s campaign against WikiLeaks and Assange is that it has been enormously successful. The financial blockade has strangled the organisation.

Assange’s strategy in relation to extradition to Sweden — and now his attempted flight to Ecuador — has been dictated by the very real concern that the US wants to get him, and that his own government won’t lift a finger to prevent it. Assange has thus entangled himself in litigation in an attempt to avoid placing himself in a position where Sweden could surrender him to the United States. The work of WikiLeaks has thus been superseded by the soap opera-like story of Assange, of which Ecuador is only the latest exotic backdrop.

That’s just how the Obama administration wants it. And, quite likely, the Gillard government too.

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