Timeline: the Australian government’s betrayal of Julian #Assange
The existence of a US criminal investigation into the activities of WikiLeaks and its founder, Australian citizen Julian Assange, has been a matter of public record since December 2010, and has been the source of global public outrage.
As well as punishing a pioneering journalist who has revealed evidence of war crimes, corruption and human rights abuses, a US prosecution of Assange would potentially criminalise all journalists who routinely publish leaked, accurate government documents.
However, the Australian government’s standard response to concerns raised by fellow Australians has been to deny all knowledge of US intentions towards Assange. By claiming to have provided “consular assistance” in relation to the Swedish allegations against him, our government avoids answering questions about its failure to challenge the threat posed by the United States.
This deception and obfuscation is designed to conceal the betrayal of an Australian citizen whom our government has a duty to protect, along with a total disregard for the values of free speech and democracy which it purports to uphold.
The timeline on this page details our government’s shameful conduct in relation to Assange, along with the evidence which refutes its position.
Please note: this is not intended to be an exhaustive account of all the aspects of the legal case. For all the facts see:
- Jenifer Robinson’s first brief to Canberra
- Christine Assange’s talking points
This timeline will be updated as the events unfold. Feel free to suggest amendments and additions via the comments box below.
- 28 November 2010: WikiLeaks began releasing over 251,000 US diplomatic cables. The cables reveal the extent to which Australian politics is influenced by the United States. Australian Labour Party (ALP) powerbrokers, Mark Arbib and Paul Howes, who were instrumental in the decision to oust Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, were revealed to be “protected” sources of US intelligence. A cable from the US Embassy in Canberra from June 2009, when Julia Gillard was still Deputy Prime Minister states ,“Gillard recognizes that to become Prime Minister, she must move to the Center, and show her support for the Alliance with the United States.”
- 29 November 2010: US Attorney-General, Eric Holder, announced “an active, ongoing criminal investigation” into WikiLeaks. The existence of a secret grand jury convened in Virginia, USA, for the purpose of indicting Julian Assange has been confirmed by the publication of subpoenas compelling witnesses to testify before it.
- 30 November 2010: Interpol issued a Red Notice for Assange in relation to sexual offences alleged to have taken place in Sweden. The Red Notice was issued despite UK police knowing of Assange’s whereabouts.
- 2 December 2010: When US politicians and commentators were calling for Assange to be harmed and killed, Prime Minister Julia Gillard falsely claimed that Assange had acted illegally.
- 4 December 2010: Then Attorney-General, Robert McLelland, said that the Australian government had considered revoking Assange’s passport, but decided to let him keep it so that he could be more easily monitored. McLelland said “We have also indicated that we will provide every assistance to United States law-enforcement authorities.”
- 6 December 2010: A European arrest warrant was issued for Assange in relations to the Swedish allegations. The warrant was issued in order to extradite Assange to Sweden for questioning, not charge. To date, Assange has not been charged with any offence in any country.
- 7 December 2010: Assange voluntarily attended a police station in England and was arrested and taken into custody. He spent a week in solitary confinement before being released on bail.
- 26 January 2011: Fred Burton, the vice president of Stratfor, a private US intelligence-gathering company, wrote in an email which was subsequently leaked in February 2012: “Text Not for Pub. We have a sealed indictment on Assange. Pls protect.” Burton is a former deputy chief of the counterterrorism division of the US State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, with close connections to Washington.
- 24 February 2011: After a legal challenge from Assange’s lawyers, a UK Magistrates Court upheld Sweden’s extradition warrant.
- 2 March 2011: Assange’s lawyers lodged papers at the High Court of England and Wales challenging the Magistrates Court’s ruling. After a hearing on 12 and 13 July 2011, the High Court reserved its judgment until 2 November 2011.
- 2 March 2011: Assange’s lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, briefed Australian politicians in Canberra on the injustices inherent in the Swedish case against Assange, and the threat of US extradition.
- 2 November 2011: The High Court of England and Wales rejected Assange’s appeal against extradition. Assange was released on bail pending a further appeal.
- 24 November 2011: Foreign Minister Rudd responded to a series of questions about the government’s handling of Assange’s case from Greens Senator Scott Ludlam. The responses suggested the Australian government had sought assurances from Sweden that Assange be accorded “due process” in December 2010 and January and February 2011, but that no further contact with the Swedish government had been made since. Rudd also said that that the Australian government had “no formal advice of any grand jury investigation” against Assange.
- 3 December 2011: Cables released under FOI and reported in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) showed that US officials had told the Australian Embassy in Washington that the investigation into WikiLeaks is “unprecedented in both its scale and nature”. The cables showed that the Australian government did not object in principle to Assange’s extradition to the US, they just asked to be forewarned of US plans.
- 5 December 2011: Assange was granted permission to appeal to the UK Supreme Court as his case was deemed to involve a point of law of general public importance.
- 19 December 2011: Seventy-three public figures including Phillip Adams AO, Mike Carlton, Andrew Denton, Rt Hon Malcolm Fraser AC CH and Professor Stuart Rees AM, wrote an open letter to then Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, conveying their concerns about US intentions towards Assange. The letter noted that a US prosecution of Assange would amount to “a serious assault on freedom of speech and the need for an unfettered, independent media”, and urged Rudd to “convey clearly to the United States government Australia’s concerns about any effort to manufacture charges against Mr Assange, or to use an unrelated criminal investigation as the basis for what may effectively be rendition”.
- 29 February 2012: The Gillard government passed the Extradition and Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Amendment Act which makes it easier for foreign governments to extradite people from Australia, and enables Australians to be prosecuted in Australia for crimes alleged to have been committed overseas. This means the Australian government could prosecute Assange if he was living in Australia and had been charged with a crime in the US. Before this Act, extradition for political offences was prohibited. Now extradition is possible for “any offence prescribed by regulations”. This means Australians can be extradited for offences the government has placed on a list contained in regulations, which are subject to far less Parliamentary oversight than provisions of Acts.
- 16 April 2012: Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, appeared on ABC’s Q&A and was asked how Australian could protect Assange from the United States. Roxon attempted to narrow the subsequent debate down to the question of whether Australia would extradite Assange if he returned to Australia, in order to avoid addressing the immediate threat of US extradition from Sweden. In relation to US intentions to prosecute Assange, Roxon said “so far all we have is assertions” and “there is nothing that is currently on foot”. Roxon also claimed, “we have made our views very clearly known to the Americans”, but would not reveal what those view were. However, her comment that “we have made very clear that we want all the proper process to apply”, suggested her government is not opposed in principle to a US extradition.
- 28 May 2012: Roxon’s claims on Q&A about making representations to the US were contradicted by cables from the US Embassy in Washington published under FOI, sent between 1 November 2010 and 31 January 2012. The SMH reported that the cables “do not contain any references to representations made by Australian diplomats to US officials concerning ‘proper’ extradition processes; only a request in December 2010 that Australia be forewarned of any extradition moves so as to better manage the public relations and media aspects …”. The SMH further reported that Roxon did have discussions with US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and US Deputy Attorney-General James Cole, but these appear to have taken place after her appearance on Q&A to have made. The same cables report that “a broad range of possible charges are under consideration, including espionage and conspiracy”.
- 30 May 2012 Foreign Minister Carr told a Senate estimates committee hearing: “We have no advice that the US has an intention to extradite Mr Assange … nothing we have been told suggests that the US has such an intention.”
- 30 May 2012: The UK Supreme Court dismissed Assange’s appeal against extradition. However, Assange was granted two weeks to make an application to reopen the appeal after his counsel argued the judgments of the majority relied on an interpretation of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties which was not argued during the hearing.
- May 2012: Roxon claimed in a letter to Assange’s lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, that the Australian Government has “no information from the United States to indicate that it has laid, or is about to lay, any charges against Mr Assange”. The same letter confirmed that the Australian government would not intervene if the US sought to extradite Assange from Sweden or the UK: “Australia would not expect to be a party to any extradition discussions that may take place between the United States and the United Kingdom or the United States and Sweden, as extradition is a matter of bilateral law enforcement cooperation.”
- 30 May 2012: Foreign Minister Carr claimed “there has been no Australian who has received more consular assistance in a comparable period than Mr Assange”.
- 31 May 2012: WikiLeaks issued a statement via Twitter responding to Foreign Minister Carr’s claims about “consular assistance”:
“Bob Carr hopes to manipulate the Australian public. In the last 12 months the Australian government has provided no legal, financial or logistical assistance or advice to Mr. Assange, whatsoever. There is a reason that Bob Carr will not explain what he means by ‘consular assistance’.
In the last year it has meant sending DFAT minders to Assange’s hearings the minders do not communicate their observations to Mr. Assange or his legal team. They do not even say hello. Their job is to provide the Minister of Foreign Affairs with a heads up, so he can better spin to the Australian public.
Similarly, according to the SMH, when DFAT asked Washington for info on US extradition plans, it was only within the explicitly stated context of knowing prior to the media. Not knowing in time to assist Mr. Assange or with a view to assist Mr. Assange. But knowing with a view on how to manipulate the Australian public.”
- 6 June 2012: A transcribed record of courtroom proceedings for alleged whistleblower, Private Bradley Manning, revealed that the FBI currently has a file on WikiLeaks that is “42,135 pages or 3,475 documents”, excluding grand jury testimony. According to Michael Ratner, Assange’s US lawyer, this is what the number allocated to the WikiLeaks Grand Jury means: “There’s a Grand Jury currently sitting in Alexandria, Virginia and the Grand Jury’s number – and its interesting the Grand Jury’s number is 10 standing for the year it began, GJ which is Grand Jury and then 3793. Three is the Conspiracy Statute in the United States. 793 is the Espionage Statute. So what they’re investigating is 3793: conspiracy to commit espionage.”
- 14 June 2012: The UK Supreme Court rejected Assange’s application to reopen the case making extradition to Sweden a near certainty.
- 18 June 2012: Foreign Minister Carr visited Libya to personally lobby for the release of Australian lawyer, Melinda Taylor, who had been detained there with three of her International Criminal Court Colleagues on accusations of spying and breaching Libyan national security.
- 19 June 2012: Ecuadorian foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, announced that Assange had entered the Ecuadorian Embassy in London seeking political asylum on the basis of his fear of persecution by the US government.
- 21 June 2012 A motion was passed in the Australian Senate calling on the Prime Minister to “[r]etract prejudicial statements regarding the illegality of Wikileaks publishing endeavours, found to be groundless by the Australian Federal Police, which have the potential to seriously jeopardise the potential for any fair trial or hearing for Mr. Assange”. Prime Minister Gillard has so far failed to act on this motion.
- 20 June 2012: Foreign Minister Carr gave an interview on Lateline where he claimed “There has been no hint of an American interest” in prosecuting Assange. Asked whether he considers Assange to be a journalist, Carr replied: “I have not a view on that, I’d need to get a lawyer’s advice on whether journalists have that immunity or whether we would stand … subject to espionage legislation.”
- 24 June 2012 Appearing on The Insiders, Carr claimed to have asked a “senior US official” if the US has plans to prosecute Assange. Carr said: “They haven’t said they have plans to extradite him. They haven’t been able to rule out that one corner of the American administration might not be considering it …”. Given this admission, the interviewer asked Carr why he could not just say to the US government: “this guy is an Australian citizen, so keep your hands of him”? Carr replied, “That would be a position we’d take when we heard that the US had the remotest interest in touching him.” Asked about whether Assange had acted illegally, as falsely claimed by PM Gillard, Carr said: “that’s between the United States and Assange.”
- 1 July 2012 The chairwoman of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Dianne Feinstein, renewed US calls for Julian Assange to be prosecuted for espionage in a written statement to the SMH Feinstein said: “I believe Mr Assange has knowingly obtained and disseminated classified information which could cause injury to the United States … He has caused serious harm to US national security, and he should be prosecuted accordingly.”
- 3 July 2012: Australian Lawyer Melinda Taylor was released from detention in Libya. Foreign Minister Carr welcomed “a swift end to Melinda Taylor’s detention and the resolution of what has been a protracted diplomatic negotiation”.
- 19 July 2012: the Australian government replied to a letter of 29 May 2012 from Assange’s solicitor, Gareth Peirce, rejecting all of Ms Peirce’s requests in relation to Assange. The Australian government refused to:
- seek an undertaking that Assange not be extradited to the US from Sweden;
- inquire why Sweden has not used the Mutual Legal Assistance program to question Assange in the UK;
- ask the Sweden authorities to grant Assange bail instead of holding him in custody;
- obtain undertakings from Sweden concerning prison detention, including undertakings in relation to access to visitors, computer etc;
- seek an undertaking from Sweden in relation to Assange serving any potential sentence in Australia under normal prisoner treaty transfer arrangements;
- object to continual adverse public comments from senior members of the Swedish government which prejudice Assange’s chance of a fair trial;
- negotiate safe passage for Assange to Australia after leaving Sweden, should he be sent there;
- ask the US not to prosecute Assange, saying this would be interference in the legal processes of the US;
- seek an undertaking from the US that if Assange was extradited, he would be granted bail;
- ask the US that, in the event of extradition trial and conviction in the USA, Assange could serve the sentence in Australia under normal prisoner treaty transfer arrangements;
- ask the US for an undertaking that Assange not be placed under special administrative measures, and be permitted free confidential access to his lawyers and visitors pending trial, as well as to a computer and necessary work/case requirements;
- ask the US for prejudicial statements by US officials, including the Vice-President, to be retracted;
- ask the US for an undertaking that individuals associated with WikiLeaks or Assange not be further targeted or harassed by FBI agents;
- seek an undertaking from the UK that Assange would not be surrendered to the US from the UK;
- seek an undertaking from the UK that if extradited to another country, the UK would gain diplomatic assurances that Assange would be returned to Australia and not be surrendered to any other country;
- seek an undertaking that the UK government provide safe passage to Australia, should Assange be able to leave the UK.
- 15 August 2012: UK authorities threatened to breach international law and violate the sovereignty of Ecuador by threatening to invade the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in order to arrest Assange.
- 16 August 2012: The government of Ecuador found that Assange has a well-founded fear of political persecution and he became the first Australian to be granted political asylum by another state. Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patino, delivered a statement which noted: “That there is strong evidence of retaliation by the country or countries that produced the information disclosed by Mr. Assange, retaliation that may endanger his safety, integrity, and even his life; … That Ecuadorian authorities are certain of the possibility that Mr. Assange could be extradited to a third country outside the European Union without proper guarantees for their safety and personal integrity”, and in relation to Australia, “Ecuador has observed that Mr. Assange lacks the protection and assistance that should be received from the State of which he is a citizen”.
- 17 August 2012 The SMH described how cables from the Australian Embassy in Washington, published under FOI, “reported the existence of the grand jury as a matter of fact” and show that “Australian diplomats expect that any charges against Assange would be carefully drawn in an effort to avoid conflict with the First Amendment free speech provisions of the US constitution …”. The SMH reported, “The cables also show that the Australian government considers the prospect of extradition sufficiently likely that, on direction from Canberra, Mr Beazley sought high-level US advice on ‘the direction and likely outcome of the investigation’ and ‘reiterated our request for early advice of any decision to indict or seek extradition of Mr Assange’.” US responses to Australian representations were redacted from the cables on the grounds that publication would “cause damage to the international relations of the Commonwealth”.
- 18 August 2012 Trade Minister Craig Emerson confirmed that the Australian embassy in Washington had been “getting prepared for the possibility of an extradition” of Assange, whilst claiming that “there’s no evidence, no evidence that the United States is seeking to extradite Julian Assange”.
- 20 August 2012: Foreign Minister Carr met with Ambassador of Egypt Omar Metwally in Canberra and personally raised the issue of Australian journalist, Austin G Mackell’s, who had been charged with inciting illegal protests and effectively detained in Egypt since February 2012.
- 23 August 2012: Responding to criticism in the wake of Ecuador’s decision to grant Assange asylum, Foreign Minister Carr again claimed “No other Australian has had more assistance than Mr Assange in a comparable time”.
- 29 August 2012: The charges against Austin G Mackell were dropped, only a week after Foreign Minister Carr raised the issue with the Egyptian Ambassador.
- 31 August 2012: Austin G Mackell wrote, “If Carr wanted to help Assange, he could”. Mackell took issue with Foreign Minister Carr’s claims about the amount of consular assistance provided to Assange, citing the 52 separate representations to Egyptian authorities that were apparently made by the Australian Embassy in Egypt on Mackell’s behalf. Mackell commented, “When Carr really wanted a result, he took action himself rather than leaving it to consular staff, who toil admirably but lack the clout to get a result, even in a relatively minor case like mine. If he really wants a result in the Assange case, he will do the same. It is unlikely he has the courage. The forces at play in Julian Assange’s case are far greater than those which were at play in mine.”
- 27 September 2012: The SMH reported on declassified US Air Force counter-intelligence documents which showed that Assange has been designated an “enemy of the state” by the US military.
- 28 September 2012: While denying that Assange had been designated a military enemy, Pentagon spokesman, George Little, suggested that the very existence of WikiLeaks is an ongoing crime: “it is our view that continued possession by WikiLeaks of classified information belonging to the United States government represents a continuing violation of law… We regard this as a law enforcement matter.”
- 22 October 2012: Annette Willing, Assistant Secretary, Security Law branch, Attorney-General’s Department, wrote to her colleagues in preparation for a Four Corners interview with Attorney-General Nicola Roxon: “… What is your response to the fact that there is now evidence in the form of a published subpoena that a US grand jury is examining Wikileaks activities with a view to issuing indictments.” The official response to this question confirms Australian government knowledge of an ongoing investigation: “We are aware of reports that a US Justice Department spokesperson has said there continues to be an investigation into Wikileaks.”
- 7 November 2012: US federal judge in Virginia ruled in a hearing that documents relating to WikiLeaks associates’ twitter accounts could not be unsealed, as they “would damage an ongoing criminal investigation”. This was the first official US confirmation that the grand jury investigation is continuing since Assange was granted political asylum by Ecuador.
- 11 October 2012: DFAT replied to lawyer and human rights activist, Kellie Tranter’s letter, which highlighted Australia’s failure to abide by its international obligations to protect free speech, and asked a number of questions in relation to Assange. DFAT’s reply ignored Kellie’s request to provide a “direct and genuine response” to each of her questions, and repeated the claim that “we have no advice that the US Government intends to take legal action against Mr Assange”.
- 4 December 2012: Documents published under FOI showed DFAT “sought clarification” from the Pentagon about the designation of Assange and WikiLeaks as an “enemy of the state”. In other cables reported in the SMH, Australian officials described WikiLeaks as “broken” and said that Assange would have no choice but to go to Sweden eventually.
- 16 December 2012: A Washington Post article about Neil H MacBride, US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, confirmed the ongoing criminal investigation into Assange and WikiLeaks. The Post reported that: “Federal prosecutors working for MacBride are … handling a critical aspect of the biggest leak case in U.S. history. The investigation is focused on whether the anti-secrecy Web site WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, violated U.S. laws in posting hundreds of thousands of military and diplomatic cables on the group’s Web site and sharing them with mainstream news organizations.”
Please contact your MP and relevant government members asking them to take action to defend Assange. You can use one of our template letters or write your own:
The Hon Julia Gillard MP
Canberra ACT 2600
The Hon Nicola Roxon MP
3-5 National Circuit
Barton ACT 2600
Senator The Hon Bob Carr
Minister of Foreign Affairs
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Canberra ACT 2600
Contact details for all Australian MPs and Senators here: http://australia.gov.au/directories/contact-parliament