Recent confirmation that Australian diplomats have long known that the United States is intent on pursuing Julian Assange lends the lie to Government assurances to the contrary. It’s no wonder the Federal Opposition is getting stuck into Foreign Minister Bob Carr, given his unabashed representations to the contrary. This sort of hedging and duplicity is bad enough when viewed by reference to the standards of honesty and accountability we should be entitled to expect from our elected representatives – and even from our unelected representatives, like Mr Carr – but when a Government tries to pull the wool over its citizens’ eyes while engaging in political play without regard to the dire personal consequences of such actions for an Australian citizen, we are seeing politics and diplomacy at their most base.
The United States Government want Assange and they want him badly. They must make an example of him to other undesirables who challenge or threaten the integrity of their political, banking and corporate institutions. Particularly in an era where the 1% are still letting it rip.
Assange lost the benefit of the presumption of innocence in 2010 when our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and others, described the release of WikiLeak’s cables as an “illegal act”, notwithstanding that Mr Assange had not been charged with any crime in any country. A subsequent Australian Federal Police investigation could not identify any illegality, but the Prime Minister has never retracted her comments. Sweden only want him for questioning, so we’re still waiting to hear of any offence he is said to have committed, apart from jumping bail to seek political asylum.
Why did Assange feel compelled to seek assistance from the Ecuadorian Embassy rather than the Australian Embassy in the United Kingdom? It’s not surprising after our Prime Minister’s opening shot, after the repeated – and repeatedly refuted – representations about offering him consular support, or after our Attorney General made it clear that Australia would not seek to involve itself in any international exchanges about his future. Assange’s reticence has been vindicated by the revelations that the Australian government has at least suspected, if not known all along, the US agenda.
The obviousness of the conspiracy appears from the fact that Assange offered to go to Sweden if he was given a diplomatic guarantee that he would not be handed over to the United States, that Ecuador offered to allow him to be questioned by Swedish authorities at the Ecuadorian embassy and that Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino confirmed that Ecuador was unable to obtain assurances from the countries involved that he would not be extradited from Sweden to the United States.
And there is a very real risk that if Assange somehow was returned to Australia he would be extradited to the United States to face prosecution there for his role in exposing highly questionable activities of the United States, both diplomatically and whilst at war. The fact that the Australian Government has refused to state openly and clearly the position it takes in relation to Assange, along with its failure to take any real steps to provide him with assistance or even to ensure that he is treated fairly by other governments, clearly suggests that he would not be afforded any real protection even if he was returned to Australia.
More recent assurances from our Prime Minister don’t cut the mustard. Saying that “Australia opposes extradition in death penalty cases and would do it for any Australian citizen. The position of the Australian government on death penalty cases is well known and applies to every Australian citizen” would be of little comfort if the United States Government tried to extradite Assange from Australia; it isn’t so long ago that Australians were being assured that David Hicks would not face the death penalty if found guilty by a US military commission, and all the while he was subjected to prolonged incarceration and systematic torture at Guantanamo Bay.
The United States Government have already presaged Assange’s fate by their treatment of Bradley Manning in relation to his alleged involvement in the WikiLeaks releases.
Even apart from that, the Extradition and Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Amendment Act 2012 does not prevent extradition if the person faces cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which is not severe enough to amount to torture and has a potential effect on people who might be extradited for political offences.
In the face of these risks to his liberty, and perhaps to his life, it is regrettable but necessary to say that asylum in the Republic of Ecuador represents Assange’s only real hope of achieving personal safety, and of providing him with some protection from what seems to be co-ordinated international political persecution that, at the very least, is tacitly accepted by his own country.