Julian Assange: Journalist or Terrorist?
Adelaide 6 October 2012, University of Adelaide
Statement by Felicity Ruby on behalf of Senator Ludlam
- Friends, thank you for inviting Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam to this forum held on what always was and always will be Aboriginal land.
- I am sorry that he is unable to be here today because he is in Alice Springs at the meeting of the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance, an Aboriginal led organisation that brings together communities affected by uranium mining and plans to dump nuclear waste on unwilling Aboriginal communities.
- So while he is being an enemy of the nuclear industry, he has asked me to make some remarks on his behalf on Wikileaks and Julian Assange, or as the US military prefers to call him, an enemy of the state, the same legal category as al-Qaeda and the Taliban. And as supporters of Wikileaks, I suspect we are all suspected of being enemies of the state too. It's a pleasure to be here with friends in the pursuit of genuine accountable democracy, enemies to lies and cover ups.
- This is an important gathering at an important time. We are here on the eve of the screening of a telemovie on Channel 10 tomorrow night to a very wide and interested public, which will be preceded by a one hour update on the plight of Mr. Assange and Wikileaks.
- Speaking of television, the ABC series RAKE has also dealt with Mr. Assange recently, fleshing out the dangers he is in through depicting a whistleblowing website called GoodPlumbing.org. In Rake, the Assange character is murdered. That Is Not His Fate, but that is the threat he faces. Let's take that seriously and build more momentum and more pressure on our government to not throw this citizen overboard.
- We are here while, at the UN General Assembly in New York the state of Ecuador is engaging with the UK and others to do what our government should be doing, which is to intercede on behalf of a citizen facing persecution and even torture at the hands of another state.
- We are here when Australian laws to protect whistleblowers promised to us years ago have not been introduced to the parliament, and while an inquiry is underway on proposals that could massively increase the surveillance all Australians are routinely subjected to.
- Senator Ludlam has worked for years now to encourage our government to extend a fair go to Julian Assange, the same kind of political support and diplomatic intervention that Melinda Taylor and Austin Mackell have eventually received.
- Our efforts have included Questions on Notice, Questions without Notice, Freedom of Information requests, visits to Australia's High Commissioner in the UK, visits to the Australian Ambassador in Sweden, meetings with the Foreign Minister, requests for meeting with the Attorney General, requests to meet with the US Ambassador in Canberra.
- Most of these efforts have been met by obfuscation and second-rate theatre. It has long been known a US Grand Jury has been empanelled to seek an indictment on Mr Assange, but the shadow boxing from our own Government has continued. And continued. They repeatedly declare that they have nothing, with the conviction of the wilfully ignorant.
- The Senator's good faith efforts were made because, as he said in his letter to the Ambassador of Ecuador.
"This is a letter I regret writing because I strongly hoped for better from my government, and because I want him to be free to return to this country...I have also made freedom of information requests that would have provided an opportunity for the government to explain and provide evidence of its efforts - they have not been answered to the point of being in breach of the government's own Freedom of Information legislation. For these reasons I believe I am qualified to make the observation that I strongly believe Mr. Assange is in need of a government willing to stand up for his civil and political rights."
- That is, in the face of a reported sealed indictment of a US Grand Jury and the threats against his life made by senior political figures in the USA and media commentators, we hoped that it would do more than throw their hands up in the air and claim it cannot intervene in the legal process of another state - when we know it did in Libya for Melinda Taylor.
- We hoped the government would do more than send texts to Mr. Assange's lawyers and call that consular assistance, he hoped that in fact the government would engage politically and diplomatically with our ally the United States on behalf of one of its own citizens. Labor demanded the Howard government act for David Hicks. In the 2007 election context, it suddenly found the gumption to do so.
- As Scott said in the Senate when the StratFor emails came to light, some conspiracies are not theories. What we learned from the Stratfor files was deeply disturbing because the advice provided by this private Texas based company with senior leadership formerly of the US State Department is unfolding before our very eyes.
- "Take down the money. Go after his infrastructure," says the former deputy chief of the Department of State's counterterrorism division." The charming Mr. Fred Burton goes on, "Ferreting out [Julian Assange's] confederates is also key. Find out what other disgruntled rogues inside the tent or outside. Pile on. Move him from country to country to face various charges for the next 25 years. But, seize everything he and his family own, to include every person linked to Wiki.
- Conspiracies are not theories when bankrupting strategies are unfolding, when associates of Wikileaks and Julian's lawyers are harassed at airports and under more surveillance than can be imagined, when smear campaigns are unfolding, when government's threaten to invade embassies, it's not a conspiracy theory, it's a conspiracy.
- And why? Because Wikileaks disclosures have turned a spotlight on how power really works, on how corporations and governments work together to further their own interests at the expense of citizens and those of other countries. The naked emperors have been caught stealing and lying to their people, and theirs is the devastation of losing power or acute embarrassment. For citizens unable to slip back into illusions, ours is the devastation of knowing government's deliberately suppress truths, routinely lie and manipulate with a breathtaking cavalier business-as-usual attitude.
- Even the most cynical and conspiratorial among us have found devastating detail to justify further re-examination of our belief systems, trust in leaders, governments and their pretexts and execution of wars with partners in profit. Anyone who has watched the Collateral Murder video or has searched through the Cablegate files knows what I mean.
- Wikileaks' disclosures about the UN, including the theft of biometric data of UN personnel, have shown why diplomacy at the UN has so often failed - the institution has been corrupted, infiltrated and attacked. I suspected this; now I know.
- As a feminist, a rape survivor and a former UN staffer I personally have been devastated by the utilisation of feminist goals and principles to attack Wikileaks, because Wikileaks has provided the peace and women's movements with many gifts - troves of evidence, example after example of the crimes and culture of militarised masculinity on the battlefield, in the board room, in the Embassy.
- I would be less worried if the epidemic of violence against women was being addressed quite as athletically by governments, the media, courts and police as it is in Assange's case, if arrest warrants and man hunts were occurring with quite the same fervour. Because they are not, I don't find this selective and concerted effort on one man to be a feminist victory. Rather than something being better than nothing, selectivity damages and delegitimises real efforts to address violence against women.
- Instead of a feminist victory, I see the violations we named, and the laws and standards we agitated and marched for being cynically utilised by forces that are not feminist, to essentially shut down Wikileaks, to punish the organisation for revealing the truth about war and the corruption and ineptitude of governments and corporations.
- And because I'm someone who works in parliament I'm going to mention Dorothy Dixer and say that if anyone wants to ask me more about feminism and Mr. Assange, please do so in the Q&A because I would very much like to give some of the answers from a feminist perspective.
- Recently in the Senate, a motion from Scott, a resolution calling on the Prime Minister to withdraw prejudicial statements about the work of Wikileaks was passed, with the support of the Opposition.
- The motion noted that inconsistent or selective application of the Consular Services Charter leaves Australian citizens in doubt about the level of assistance they may receive if facing difficulties overseas and called on the government to make the same efforts and engagement on behalf of Mr. Assange are consistent with the highest levels of support provided to other Australians in difficulty overseas.
- The point of the motion was to notice that the potential for a fair trial or hearing for Mr. Assange is seriously jeopardised when the head of state makes prejudicial statements regarding the illegality of the work of Wikileaks. And in fact we have seen - in Australia, in the US and in Sweden also - the Executive arm of those respective governments interfering with legal process by making prejudicial statements. If that isn't interfering with due legal process of another country, I don't know what is.
- We are yet to hear anything from the Prime Minister on retracting those prejudicial statements. Given the AFP's investigation was quick to notice that indeed no Australian law had been violated, not one, the Prime Minister, a lawyer, should do what the Senate has asked. And we should encourage her to do that, to set a standard of non-interference from the executive, and to let her know that Australians care about what happens to this man, and that we won't tolerate him ending up in Guantanamo Bay.
- Before closing, I wish to point out to you what the possible alternative government's views on Mr. Assange are by sharing with you the words of George Brandis QC, the Shadow Attorney General. He spoke recently in the Senate, quite unprovoked, while amendments to a piece of legislation were underway about "the puerilities and narcissism of Mr Julian Assange", he described him as "the egregious Julian Assange, who has been responsible for a greater invasion of the privacy of individuals, extending to putting their lives at risk, than any other individual of our age."
- Senator Brandis started it, but Scott finished it by reminding him that Wikileaks disclosures have been in the public interest and in the interests of democracy, and that democratic states should afford transparency and accountability to their citizens. War crimes were disclosed-indiscriminate killings by our great and powerful ally, the United States-in theatres to which Australian troops were and are deployed.
- What he also took the opportunity to do was to explain the situation we face today - and that is a massive reversal, a confusion that would be funny if it wasn't so dangerous. The threshold of transparency that we apply to democratic states for obvious reasons is qualitatively and quantitatively different to the threshold of privacy that we should apply to private citizens and individuals. With the increasing surveillance of citizens, our daily transactions and whereabouts, and the possible retention of data about each and every one of us for two years, we face being treated as suspects not citizens. The state presumes for itself the right to great privacy, while it is providing citizens with less and less. This is the riddle Wikileaks has exposed, this is the danger it poses - the danger it poses is democracy. The dangers posed are those that arise from the truth being told and people being accountable for the actions they commit or mandate as governmental representatives. In the words of Julian, "the more you have to hide, the more you have to fear.
- Our task is four fold,
• We must push the government, our government, our representatives to deliver on its promise to pass laws that protect whistleblowers in Australia;
• We must push the government, our government, to defend all Australian citizens facing torture or persecution overseas and that is what Julian faces.
• Mr. Julian Assange must be afforded the same political support and diplomatic intervention that Melinda Taylor and Austin Mackell received;
• And we must push the government, our government, to not throw privacy overboard - treat Australians like citizens not suspects through protecting the human right to privacy - online, offline, at home and overseas.