week's Supreme Court hearing in the Julian Assange case has profound
meaning for the preservation of basic freedoms in western democracies.
This is Assange's final appeal against his extradition to Sweden to face
allegations of sexual misconduct that were originally dismissed by the
chief prosecutor in Stockholm and constitute no crime in Britain.
consequences, if he loses, lie not in Sweden but in the shadows cast by
America's descent into totalitarianism. In Sweden, he is at risk of
being "temporarily surrendered" to the US where his life has been
threatened and he is accused of "aiding the enemy" with Bradley Manning,
the young soldier accused of leaking evidence of US war crimes to
The connections between Manning and Assange have been
concocted by a secret grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, which allowed
no defence counsel or witnesses, and by a system of plea-bargaining
that ensures a 90 percent conviction. It is reminiscent of a Soviet show
The determination of the Obama administration to crush
Assange and the unfettered journalism represented by WikiLeaks is
revealed in secret Australian government documents released under
freedom of information which describe the US pursuit of WikiLeaks as "an
unprecedented investigation." It is unprecedented because it subverts
the First Amendment of the US constitution that explicitly protects
truth-tellers. In 2008 Barack Obama said, "Government whistleblowers are
part of a healthy democracy and must be protected from reprisal." Obama
has since prosecuted twice as many whistleblowers as all previous US
accounts of Twitter, Google and Yahoo, the threat to Assange, an
Australian, extends to any internet-user anywhere. Washington's enemy is
not "terrorism" but the principle of free speech and voices of
conscience within its militarist state and those journalists brave
enough to tell their stories.
"How do you prosecute Julian
Assange and not the New York Times?" a former administration official
told Reuters. The threat is well understood by the New York Times, which
in 2010 published a selection of the WikiLeaks cables. The editor at
the time, Bill Keller, boasted that he had sent the cables to the State
Department for vetting. His obeisance extended to his denial that
WikiLeaks was a "partner" -- which it was -- and to personal attacks on
Assange. The message to all journalists was clear: do your job as it
should be done and you are traitors; do your job as we say you should
and you are journalists.
Much of the media's depiction of Bradley
Manning illuminates this. The world's pre-eminent prisoner of
conscience, Manning remained true to the Nuremberg principle that every
soldier has the right to a "moral choice." But according to the New York
Times, he is weird or mad, a "geek." In an "exclusive investigation,"
the Guardian reported him as an "unstable" gay man, who got "out of
control" and "wet himself" when he was "picked on." Psycho-hearsay such
as this serves to suppress the truth of the outrage Manning felt at the
wanton killing in Iraq, his moral heroism and the criminal complicity of
his military superiors. "I prefer a painful truth over any blissful
fantasy," he reportedly said.
Assange is well-documented, though not the duplicitous and cowardly
behaviour of his own government. Australia remains a colony in all but
name. Australian intelligence agencies are, in effect, branches of the
main office in Washington. The Australian military has played a regular
role as US mercenary. When prime minister Gough Whitlam tried to change
this in 1975 and secure Australia's partial independence, he was
dismissed by a governor-general using archaic "reserve powers" who was
revealed to have intelligence connections.
WikiLeaks has given
Australians a rare glimpse of how their country is run. In 2010, leaked
US cables disclosed that key government figures in the Labor Party coup
that brought Julia Gillard to power were "protected" sources of the US
embassy: what the CIA calls "assets." Kevin Rudd, the prime minister she
ousted, had displeased Washington by being disobedient, even suggesting
that Australian troops withdraw from Afghanistan.
In the wake
of her portentous rise ascent to power, Gillard attacked WikiLeaks as
"illegal" and her attorney-general threatened to withdraw Assange's
passport. Yet the Australian Federal Police reported that Assange and
WikiLeaks had broken no law. Freedom of information files have since
revealed that Australian diplomats have colluded with the US in its
pursuit of Assange. This is not unusual. The government of John Howard
ignored the rule of law and conspired with the US to keep David Hicks,
an Australian citizen, in Guantanamo Bay, where he was tortured.
Australia's principal intelligence organization, ASIO, is allowed to
imprison refugees indefinitely without explanation, prosecution or
Every Australian citizen in grave difficulty overseas is
said to have the right to diplomatic support. The denial of this to
Assange, bar the perfunctory, is an unreported scandal. Last September,
Assange's London lawyer, Gareth Peirce, wrote to the Australian
government, warning that Assange's "personal safety and security has
become at risk in circumstances that have become highly politically
charged." Only when the Melbourne Age reported that she had received no
response did a dissembling official letter turn up. Last November,
Peirce and I briefed the Australian Consul-General in London, Ken
Pascoe. One of Britain's most experienced human rights lawyers, Peirce
told him she feared a unique miscarriage of justice if Assange was
extradited and his own government remained silent.
The silence remains.