By now, anyone following the extraordinary twists in the WikiLeaks story will have heard the Government, from the Prime Minister on down, insisting that they have provided full consular assistance for Julian Assange, and don’t know anything about US plans to prosecute him.
These statements tend to be delivered in a tone of wounded innocence, as though the Government can’t believe that people don’t appreciate the strenuous efforts they’re making to support this Australian citizen.
It is a peculiar form of consular assistance that is being delivered here. It extends to the Prime Minister pre-emptively judging the work of WikiLeaks as illegal, a remarkably prejudicial statement given Ms Gillard’s legal background. Helpfully, the Attorney General then instructed the Federal Police to investigate whether Mr Assange’s passport could be torn up.
The Government has steadfastly refused to face up to the existence of a Grand Jury that was empanelled in Alexandria, Virginia late in 2010. Even evidence that this entity had sealed an indictment, potentially on charges of espionage, has been enough to tweak the Australian Government’s interest.
“Not for Pub – We have a sealed indictment on Assange. Pls protect,” reads the email from vice president of intelligence for Stratfor, a shadowy private intelligence organisation with links to senior intelligence and defence officials in the US.
It’s not proof of course, but you’d have thought the Australian Government would take an interest if they thought our closest ally was about to prosecute an Australian citizen for offences that carry the death penalty or decades in a supermax prison. Not so much: as this edgy and frankly, slightly creepy exchange I had with Foreign Minister Bob car demonstrates.
Senator Bob Carr: We have seen no evidence that such a sealed indictment exists.
Senator LUDLAM: Have you sought such evidence?
Senator BOB CARR: We have not sought evidence, but we have seen no evidence that it exists.
This is when the ‘consular assistance’ line goes from being disingenuous to having an edge of hostility about it.
It’s not well understood in Australia just how toxic the media and political culture has become in the United States, a country still traumatised by the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001. Accusing an individual of terrorism in the United States carries a severe and visceral resonance.
But from the Vice President of the US down, that is exactly what has been occurring. These are not simply fringe voices from the far right – although there are plenty of those – but elements of the mainstream press are rich with death threats and propositions for the extrajudicial killing of Julian and the whistleblowers who gave the WikiLeaks organisation such potency.
These are extremely serious charges that are potentially about to be levelled by the US government against an Australian citizen. Given the enormously prejudicial comments that saturate the media environment in the United States, he is not guaranteed of anything like a fair trial. Given the dismal experience of alleged whistleblower Bradley Manning, the WikiLeaks legal team believes Mr Assange will be exposed to similar conditions if he is deported or extradited to the United States.
Julian Assange isn’t after consular assistance. He is after a Government that will look after his human rights. In the absence of any indications the Australian Government is interested in doing so, perhaps it’s not surprising he’s looking elsewhere.