Article by Samaya Chanthaphavong | Published August 16, 2012
Samaya Chanthaphavong spoke to Christine Assange about government transparency, human rights and the possible extradition of her son, Julian Assange, to the United States of America.
Right Now: Julian is seeking political asylum in Ecuador. Can you please explain to our readers why you think the Australian consular or governmental support has abandoned him, and why he has sought such support from Ecuador?
Christine Assange: I’ll do it in a chronological order as it’s probably the easiest way for your readers to understand. From the word “Go” [Prime Minister] Julia Gillard came out and publicly defamed and libelled Julian to the media stating that what he did was illegal, that it was irresponsible, that it was immoral, and dangerous. And over the last 18 months or so, this has been echoed by [Attorney-General] Nicola Roxon who stated that it was potentially dangerous and reckless, and [Foreign Minister] Bob Carr has stated that it was amoral. So you have three public figures at the head of the government.
In fact what Wikileaks has done is not illegal, and even the US Department of Treasury had stated to [US President Barack] Obama that it was not illegal and would not comply with the request to blacklist Wikileaks. Wikileaks is a legitimate online publishing outlet that has won awards all over the world for investigative journalism.
So first we have worldwide defamation. Even though the Australian Federal Police and the US Department of Treasury subsequently found what Wikileaks had done was not illegal they continued to defame him. The Australian Senate voted for the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to apologise, but she has refused.
Secondly, the Australian Government not only collaborated in getting evidence against Wikileaks but have gone further, bringing in the Wikileaks amendment act (Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Bill) which enables more spying on people who would support Wikileaks. They altered the extradition laws in February 2012 to make it easier for Julian to be extradited and for any supporter of Wikileaks to be extradited. The Australian Government has changed the law so that any Australian can be extradited for the first time for minor offences. They have watered down the protection of the word “political”, which would have given you protection against extradition., Now you can fit the box as a terrorist even if you say it is political and the Australian Government can now extradite you.
There is also no safe haven against the death penalty, so initially Australia like Ecuador would not extradite if there was a threat or likelihood of the death penalty being carried out.
Julian has had no consular assistance whatsoever since 2010. All the government has done is to book seats at hearings and collect evidence and scurry back to whoever. We know that a lot of evidence has been sent back to the US in regards to Wikileaks. They don’t acknowledge Julian’s presence in the courtroom, they do not offer any assistance, they do not offer advice or feedback.
Recently Julian’s lawyer requested specific things from the Australian Government in order to help him, which are normal requests asked by most lawyers to governments whose clients are citizens overseas.
Number one – the Swedish Government prosecutor Marianne Ny, despite taking out the European Arrest Warrant for questioning, has refused to question Julian under the normal terms of European law in a situation like this, which is called Mutual Legal Assistance – this is normal protocol. Julian’s lawyers asked the Australian Government to ask Sweden to interview him under the normal terms of the protocol and they refused. They just want to take him back to Sweden and jail him.
Number two – Julian has served all his bail conditions in the UK in the past 18 months which have been extremely strict. Julian’s lawyers have asked the Australian Government to ask Sweden whether, if he is extradited to Sweden, he would be granted bail. They were not going to grant him bail, he would have stayed in jail in indefinite detention, incommunicado and in solitary confinement before even questioning. The Australian Government refused to ask for bail.
Thirdly, the Julian’s lawyers asked that if there be any sentencing in Sweden from the domestic case – the rape allegations – that all or part of it be served in a prisoner exchange in Australia, and asked if the Australian Government would ask about arrangements with Sweden. They refused. The request was made so that he would not be extradited to the US or be subjected to an assassination attempt or an extraordinary rendition attempt by the CIA, which could be possible moving from location to location.
Julian has requested that if he is extradited to the US and jailed that he not be put under “special administrative measures”, which is a nicer term for suicide watch. Suicide watch is a nice term for no touch torture. This is what Bradley Manning was under and what Juan E. Mendez, a United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, wrote about in his report. Julian said he would never be suicidal. What would happen under special administrative measures is that his bedding would be taken, his clothes etc., the light would be on all night, if they turn their head away or turned in their sleep they would be woken up – basically sleep deprivation and humiliation. The US are doing this to Bradley Manning at the moment and his psychiatrist even said that he did not need to be put on suicide watch and that putting him under special administrative measures increased the amount of torture that they are legally allowed to do.
The other great concern is the US-Swedish bilateral agreement which gets around the normal safeguards of the European extradition treaty. There is a little-known clause called Temporary Surrender which is a fast track to rendition. It has fewer safeguards and not a lot is known about it. Julian’s lawyer wrote to the Australian Government concerned about it and Senator Ludlam and the Greens took up the call to protect Julian from this temporary surrender regime. Ludlam wanted to put to the Senate that at least Australia owed it to protect against this particular thing and that if there was to be an extradition it was to be done normally.
It went to the Senate – all the Greens voted to protect Julian, all the ALP and Liberals voted against it. They won’t even protect him from the fast track rendition.
Why do you think the Greens are supporting him?
The Greens know all the facts. Senator Ludlam took the time to talk to me, took the time to talk to Julian’s lawyers, to go over and see Julian and came back with the understanding that this was merely a holding case for extradition to the US. He was surprised with the fact that Julian had requested to be interviewed in Sweden for five weeks before he was given permission to leave – they would not interview him as they didn’t want to clear his name. Julian had offered to fly back in on 9 or 10 October as he had work to do with Cable Gate but Ny had refused to interview him, saying it was a weekend. So Julian offered to come on 11 October, however she refused and said it was too far away. He offered an interview via Mutual Legal Assistance and Ny refused to interview him via the normal protocol and has said that he has fled the country when he didn’t. Ny then refused to question him for the entire 18 months that he has been under house arrest in the UK – and neither Scotland Yard nor the Swedish embassy have agreed to question him. I’ve asked Julian why Ny won’t speak to him and he has said “it’s very simple, if she interviews me she has to either charge me or drop the case. If she charges me she’s got to give my lawyers the evidence and she hasn’t got any.”
I sent all of this information off to all members of parliament but it was only the Greens that decided to take up the fight. They have a history of wanting more Australian independence, they have a history of fighting for civil rights. At the moment they are fighting a number of data collection legislations, the transpacific partnership agreement which will disadvantage Australian companies over American companies – it would appear that generally speaking they can be considered to be fighting for protection of Australian rights rather than protecting US rights.
Do you think that US policy is perhaps intervening a little more than it should into Australian politics and policy?
I think that’s a massive understatement! One of the reasons that the Gillard Government is not happy with Wikileaks is that Wikileaks cables had revealed the deal that she was preparing with the US to take over and become Prime Minister in the 2009 cable. This stated, via the US diplomat to Washington, that Gillard knows that to become Prime Minister she must move to the right, support ANZUS and support Israel. This was in 2009! The Prime Minister is no fan of Wikileaks because it exposed her and the government.
Is this why governments are looking towards getting Julian as the public face of Wikileaks and trying to cut down on transparency of government?
Well they can’t actually attack Wikileaks – unlike many media organisations, Wikileaks has an impeccable record for the truth. Not one government has been able to state that any publication is not true – every one of those documents was a real document. The other thing is that the Red Cross has stated that not one person anywhere in the world has been physically harmed as a result of Wikileaks publications. Wikileaks has won many international awards including surprising ones – many people don’t know that in 2010 Julian won a Sams Adams Award which was unanimously awarded – only one person in the world gets and an Julian got it. It was awarded for Wikileaks releasing the Iraq War Logs and Afghan War Diaries. The panel convened each year to do this is made up of senior retired US military and intelligence personnel. They are the ones that really know what goes on in war and a lot of the time most it is covering up what is going on there.
I think Australia has always had a problem since the Second World War when the US stepped in to our aid in the end of the war. From that point in time we’ve always had a problem with transitioning from a colony under the United Kingdom to a fully-fledged independent nation. Australia has really just moved its subservience over to the United States. In the last number of years it has become historical fact that the US has dragged us into wars that we tend not to substantiate as credible in hindsight like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. It costs Australian lives, their sanity, their health and we shouldn’t be doing this.
The American Government is acting like a rogue government at the moment under Obama and even the American Congress are concerned that he is a dictator out of control.
Is there a real threat then that Julian will be extradited to the United States and prosecuted under the Espionage Act?
Absolutely. They are changing legislation to enable it and the prosecution of anyone standing up against the US. The US Ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich, was asked about a possible extradition from Australia in relation to Julian and his reply was that Australia would have to consider their extradition obligations. The Australian Extradition Act has also been changed, just ahead of the Supreme Court ruling where either Julian was going to be coming home or going to Sweden. We all saw the disgraceful display by Abbott and Gillard when they visited the US where Gillard said in a coy schoolgirl manner that “Americans can do anything”. That’s the problem! When Obama is saying “yes we can!” we should be saying “No, you cant!” Not with our citizens. Not with our award winning journalists. When Obama came to visit, Gillard looks at him adoringly. Then Abbott gets up and says glowingly “you’re the President of the World”. It’s not in the Australian psyche to grovel. We don’t have an adoration of the upper classes the way some other countries do, and the display made everyone nauseated.
Does this idea of an independent Australian psyche feed into your Open Letter to the Australian People?
The first letter I wrote was in response to Michelle Grattan in The Age. I forecast what was going to happen in that letter. There are many people in Australia that have fled from overseas where it has been totalitarian, where they have been frightened of the Police State and many of them have said to me that they are very concerned and they want Australians to know that after having come from these countries they can smell the winds of fascism blowing from America. This is how it starts. They start to change the legislation, start to crack down on the freedom of the press, on peaceful protests. We need to stand up now and stop it. The only way to do that is to let our members of parliament know in no uncertain terms that we won’t put up with it – and that the most important thing to us is that there is a transparent active democracy and an independent country. Independence from the interference of foreign policy. What we’ve got now is Gillard, we’ve turned into a military base, a base in Darwin, drones on Cocos Island, a new nuclear submarine in Brisbane.
Do you think there could be some potential human rights abuse against Julian if he is extradited?
Absolutely. I was on a panel a couple of weeks ago about Wikileaks and Julian, with David Hicks – an Australian who spent six years in Guantanamo Bay, and the other was Aloysia Brooks who is an expert on torture. Both of them recounted what could happen to Julian … David Hicks was not able to say the worst of it in public but you can read it in his book Guantanamo.
So you’re saying that there is a real mortal threat?
Absolutely. Just in the last couple of weeks a news commentator was screaming for Julian to be executed. That was on Channel 10. Diane Feinstein, head of the powerful Intelligence Oversight Committee in the US Senate is calling Julian to be prosecuted on espionage or criminal offences. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is visiting associates of Wikileaks and asking them to turn informant to get to Julian … They want to make an example of him so that no one will do the same thing.
Do you think that the US will make an example of Julian and Wikileaks as whistleblowers?
As an example, when Wikileaks released the Stratfor (private company) it was revealed that they had journalists and diplomats they employed in all levels of government. They are one of the two major clients of the US military and US Government and had over 6000 emails just on Julian. They stated that the US Government has a sealed indictment and they are waiting for the right moment to serve it. They were discussing that if Julian went to jail he would be sexually abused, waterboarded and advising, in their words, to “bankrupt the bastard” – referring to Wikileaks funds through the credit card companies. They said they would ruin his life, that sex allegations would ruin his life.
Do you think that the US Government is trying to protect their corporate and commercial interests?
Absolutely. Number one, Goldman Sachs paid out $15 million last year as number one contributor to both the Republicans and Democrats campaign, millions and millions of dollars, so whichever party gets in they will have influence.
We know that the same firms that make all of the weapons for wars are the same ones involved in reconstruction after the wars – it’s the same with selling spying equipment over to other countries, including oppressive regimes. It’s business, the world is a business and it’s what Wikileaks has revealed. A few people have the money and those few people are manipulating the governments and the mainstream media. One of the reasons that Wikileaks is so important to those interested in making the world a better place including environmentalists, human rights activists, people concerned about world poverty and diseases, free media and democracy, is that Wikileaks reveals the causes for all of those. It’s all been a big learning curve for me; I didn’t know all of this stuff. You can’t fix a problem unless you know what the problem is.
Do you think then that there is a sense from the US that if they do prosecute Julian that these sorts of issues will go away? That people will forget about them?
I’m not sure anyone in the US Government at the moment is thinking rationally at all. It’s like a knee jerk reaction. The reason I say that is that, alongside many other people I have spoken to, I have become politicised partly through the Wikileaks exposés but even more so by the reaction to the US Government against free speech. That has exposed a lot more, more about the fact that we don’t have democracy. They have a repressive reaction to the truth, rather than investigating the allegations. Col. Ann Wright wrote in Stars and Stripes, the American magazine, that we (the US) should be investigating these crimes that Wikileaks exposes, not persecuting Wikileaks.
Julian is actually an admirer of the US constitution, especially the first amendment. The reason why the US constitution is so strong about this is that democracy is so much more then the ability to vote. It relies on a free and courageous press, holding government accountable, it relies on an independent judiciary and independent police force.
Do you think that that’s why people around the world are holding rallies and showing support for Julian? Because of the perceived threat of governments?
What I’ve found is that sometimes people are against Wikileaks until I tell them the facts, they will say “oh he forced the women to have sex without a condom” or some other false information they got from the mainstream media. However after I have told them the facts I’ve not had one person turn around and not support him. Many have actually turned around and actively showed their support. All we need is to get the facts out, the facts are terrible enough. That’s why the government wants to cover the facts by coming out saying “we’ve given all consular support” which is a fabrication. Attorney-General Roxon came on Q&A saying Julian fled Sweden when she knows full well he didn’t. They are trying to join in the persecution of Julian, but the facts don’t support their case!
And the only two people that have been hurt from the Wikileaks exposure have been Bradley Manning and Julian Assange. A lot of people have been embarrassed and a lot of people have been shown to have their hands in the cookie jar where they shouldn’t have it, a lot of people have proven involvement in war crimes, kidnapping, torture, rorting of countries, environmental catastrophes and degradation. But nobody has been hurt.
At 10pm (AEST) the government of Ecuador is expected to announce its decision on Julian Assange’s bid for asylum.
Update: The Ecuadorian government announced Julian Assange was officially granted asylum just before 10:40pm (AEST).