MARK COLVIN: The US government has confirmed that it’s trying to find a way to charge the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with espionage.
The vice president, Joe Biden, has described Mr Assange as being more terrorist than whistleblower.
Australian human rights lawyers are angry at the comments.
They’ve accused Prime Minister Julia Gillard of standing by while an ally takes away Mr Assange’s presumption of innocence.
Paula Kruger reports.
PAULA KRUGER: Late last week, US vice president Joe Biden said there had been no substantive damage to US foreign policy since the release of diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks.
But now, in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press program, Mr Biden described WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as being a high-tech terrorist who has put lives and jobs in jeopardy, not to mention making diplomatic work rather awkward.
JOE BIDEN: For example, in my meetings, you know I meet with most of these world leaders, there is a desire now to meet with me alone rather than have staff in the room. It makes things more cumbersome. And so it has done damage.
PAULA KRUGER: Joe Biden has confirmed the US government is actively trying to find a way of charging Mr Assange with espionage.
JOE BIDEN: We’re looking at that right now. The Justice Department is taking a look at that and I’m not going to comment on that process.
DAVID GREGORY: Do you think he’s a criminal?
JOE BIDEN: If he conspired to get these classified documents with a member of the US military, that’s fundamentally different than if somebody drops on your lap, “Here David, you’re a press person, here is classified material.”
PAULA KRUGER: Australian human rights lawyer Kellie Tranter says it’s unclear if the Australian-born WikiLeaks founder can be charged.
KELLIE TRANTER: At this stage, it appears from an objective observer’s point of view that Assange has not broken any law. And if he had, you can bet your boots that the United States would have put the extradition process in train.
PAULA KRUGER: Late last week an investigation by the Australian Federal Police found Mr Assange had not broken any Australian laws. That’s despite the Prime Minister Julia Gillard having previously described his actions as illegal.
After the AFP announced its finding, the Prime Minister was talking up efforts to charge Mr Assange under US law.
But Kellie Tranter says both Ms Gillard and the US vice president are denying Mr Assange his presumption of innocence.
KELLIE TRANTER: Joe Biden’s comments are utterly unacceptable, and I think Prime Minister Gillard should be objecting to them having been made in relation to an Australian national, particularly when we’ve already heard calls for Mr Assange’s assassination.
So this is not behaviour we would expect of an ally towards one of our own.
PAULA KRUGER: Mr Assange is currently out on bail in Britain. He is fighting extradition to Sweden on sex assault charges.
MARK COLVIN: Paula Kruger.