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Julian Assange's clear and present danger


The 2011 Walkley Awards included a surprising 'Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism', to Julian Assange's website WikiLeaks.

According to the citation, 'by designing and constructing a means to encourage whistleblowers, WikiLeaks and its editor-in-chief Julian Assange took a brave, determined and independent stand for freedom of speech and transparency that has empowered people all over the world.

In June, Assange also won in Britain the Martha Gellhorn Prize for 'journalism at the cutting edge ... that challenges secrecy and mendacity in public affairs ... and raises 'forgotten' issues of public importance, without fear or favour, working against the grain of government spin'.

These two awards commending WikiLeaks as publicly empowering journalism may yet prove to be vital to Assange.

If he is soon extradited from UK to Sweden, as now seems likely, he faces the danger of early 'temporary surrender' from there to the US, under a Swedish-US arrangement for transferring people charged with crimes in both countries. This enables the two governments to avoid procedural requirements and opportunities for appeal that exist under normal extradition arrangements.

Assange could then face very serious charges in the US. Cables recently obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald under Freedom of Information from the Australian Embassy in Washington confirm that since 2010 the US Justice Department has conducted an 'active and vigorous inquiry into whether Assange can be charged under US law, most likely the 1917 Espionage Act'.

This investigation is 'unprecedented both in its scale and nature'. Media reports that a secret grand jury has been convened in Virginia are 'likely true'. The embassy reports that 'a central theme has been the question of whether WikiLeaks is a media organisation ... the history of these cases has never seen a media outlet convicted for publication of leaked documents'.

The embassy notes that the US Justice Department was investigating alleged technical assistance provided by WikiLeaks to Private Bradley Manning who is under arrest and facing treason charges, and that 'evidence of such a conspiracy could assist prosecutors rebut claims that WikiLeaks was acting merely as a media organisation' in accepting for publication secret cables from Manning.

Assange thus faces risks of a long prison sentence if sent to the US. For who knows what Manning's testimony might say, after his months of cruel and unusual confinement? At worst, Assange could face real risk of assassination in the US, where there have been many death threats against him.


Assange has waged a year-long legal struggle against extradition from Britain to Sweden, to face questioning by a Swedish prosecutor on alleged rape charges. His lawyer says the allegations stem from a 'dispute over consensual but unprotected sex'. The reported circumstances are quite strange.

The ominous international political background has seemingly not been taken into account by British judges hearing the matter.

Assange now confronts the last possible legal opportunity to challenge his extradition to Sweden. He awaits a UK Supreme Court ruling, reported by some media as expected before Christmas Day, on a point of law considered by the final lower court to be 'of general public importance': whether a (Swedish) public prosecutor is a 'judicial authority' as required by the 2003 Extradition Act.

The issue revolves around the notion that there must be a separation between the executive and the judiciary when depriving a person of their liberty; in this case when the person concerned has not been charged and the device used to deprive their liberty is extradition to another state.

If I were Assange, I would not feel safe going to Sweden now. Though Assange has not been charged in Sweden, the Swedish public prosecutor has declined many offers over the past year that she question him in the UK. This raises questions of good faith.

Also, it is not clear how Sweden might respond to any US request for his temporary surrender to the US, if American charges were laid against him on arrival in Sweden. The present conservative Swedish Government has a history of acceding to all US rendition requests during the War on Terror.

Also, Karl Rove is an adviser to the Swedish Prime Minister. Rove had a notorious public history as a ruthless senior White House official. For example he was allegedly implicated in the Bush White House's career destruction of 'outed' CIA agent Valerie Plame and her diplomat husband Joe Wilson.

What has the Australian Government done to protect Assange these past months? Almost nothing. Kevin Rudd — who earlier took some interest in Assange's rights to consular protection as an Australian at risk overseas — now resorts to delaying tactics and formalistic responses.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam tried to question the Prime Minister about Assange before Parliament rose for the summer break, but was blocked by an opposition censure motion.

Assange's mother appeals to Australians of good will to help defend her son from his clear and present danger: 'Get informed. Inform a friend. Call talkback radio. Go and see your local Federal Member ... and tell them you expect them to stick up for an Australian citizen  ...'

I do not claim impartiality here. I think this is an important cause, and commend it to Eureka Street readers. Bad things happen when good people do nothing. 


Tony KevinTony Kevin retired from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in 1998, after a 30-year public service career in DFAT and Prime Minister's Department. He was Australia's ambassador to Poland (1991–94) and Cambodia (1994–97). 

Topic tags: Tony Kevin, Julian Assange, Wikileaks, freedom of speech, media



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Existing comments

You raise the point that Assange's prosecutor has not troubled herself to travel to the UK - foreign jurisdiction where Assange is not wanted. Assange himself has refused invitations to be questioned in Sweden, a county that does not enjoy the special relationship that the U.S.A. has with the UK. As for what the Australian government has done to "protect" Assange - as though it had some unique debt to him - consular assistance is what a citizen of any country can expect when apprehended abroad. The Australian Embassy does not orchestrate jailbreaks. As for the "unprecedented" scale of the investigation, Assange is strongly suspected of being a conspirator in the largest known intelligence leak in history. Would you expect less? If Assane is rendered to the U.S.A., it would not be an improper act. I've seen firsthand that the preparation for Bradley Manning's case has been fair to the point of favoring the defense. Individuals charged with crimes cab expect to be prosecuted for them, and being a citizen of a Commonwealth nation affords Assange no uncustomary privileges. And lastly, Assange's lack of cooperation with Swedish prosecutors - although his right and privilege - paint no rosier a picture of him than yours of the prosecutors themselves. The man has one or more things to hide. It is my unvarnished hope that his own zeal for transparency reveals them.

Adrian Lamo | 15 December 2011  

I, too, fear for Julian Assange's welfare if he is sent to Sweeden, as their agreement with the USA leaves him without judicial protection.Justice seems to take second place under the powerful US national security system . What can a person in Australia do to help Julian?

David | 15 December 2011  

The good of the world requires people like Julian Assange bring out the interlinking corruption of corporations and governments. As Assange put it, Julia Gillard is really a cowardly Prime Minister who is attempting to be Obama's deputy instead of looking after the australian people with courage, conviction and vision for the betterment of Australians. It appears that the people in charge of government, banks and corporations are not acting for society, only for their own personal agendas. Congratulations to Mr. Assange for receiving the 2011 Walkley Awards included 'Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism'.

Trent | 15 December 2011  

I can't understand why these attempts to make a hero out of Assange. Diplomacy is an essential tool in the dialogue between nations. It has stopped wars, facilitated humanitarian missions: the list is endless. Secrecy is vital to this process. By the holus bolus release of documents by wikileaks intergovernment collaboration is compromised and could lead to chaos. Wikileaks in the long run is doing harm. Then there are the legitimate charges facing Assange in Sweden. Should justice be denied because Assange has been made a 'cause celebre' for political reasons. He must face the Swedish courts. To try to stop that is outrageous as is the allegation that he would be assasinated if transferred to the US.

Jim Williams | 15 December 2011  

Hard to understand what this guy has done to get such god like worship. What is the difference to news of the world publishing illegal phone taps and Assange publishing illegally obtained emails ? They all deserve the same treatment ,both to be worshipped or both condemned

John crew | 15 December 2011  

The Australian apathy is unbelievable ... but typical and true none the less. Were he a sportsperson who blew the facts on some sport scandal he would be heralded a hero. Stand up Australia! Stand up for an Australian citizen!

Kay Bushnell | 15 December 2011  

Good article Tony!

Charles Boy | 15 December 2011  

Thanks to Adrian Lamo. I wonder if this might be the same Adrian Lamo who is reportedly in hiding after dobbing Bradley Manning in to US authorities? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adrian_Lamo#cite_note-12 ? Let me address the points of substance: Australia to my knowledge has never rendered any person from our soil to foreign countries for interrogation under torture. Sweden has, to Egypt, as is well documented. Why should Assange go voluntarily to Sweden, where he has not been charged, for questioning by this Prosecutor, when the circumstances are so odd and the risks to his safety there are so real? (Having read and enjoyed the Stieg Larrson Millenium trilogy, I would not wish to do so if I were in his shoes, which I am happily not.) As to the gravity of his 'strongly suspected' crime in the US - this remains to be seen, and he has not been charged. All media organisations in democratic countries publish leaks and seek to protect their sources (and they all happily republished Wikileaks-sourced material). Whatever Bradley Manning - a true hero - may say in future about any alleged 'conspiracy' with Assange, after Manning's months of cruel Guantanamo-style imprisonment amounting to torture, will likely be suspect evidence (this is no fault of his). As to the Australian Government's normal obligations to a citizen for consular protection,I have argued elsewhere that our Government and DFAT appear unwilling to recognise the highly political nature of the Assange case. They have just treated it like a standard consular case, which is really quite inappropriate and unprofessional given the heavy politics surrounding it.

tony kevin | 15 December 2011  

The British court has recently ordered the release of an Iraqi kidnapped by the British army and given to the US to be rendered to Bagram.

How could they allow Assange to be extradited for questioning without a single charge ever being laid?

Marilyn Shepherd | 15 December 2011  


And of course Australia is involved in rendition with it's importation of refugees who did no more than translate for other refugees in other countries and nowhere in the world is that a crime.

Marilyn Shepherd | 15 December 2011  

What I don't understand is the US's victimisation of Bradley Manning, and the prospect of persecuting Assange.

After all, did Manning use Wikileaks to embarass the US? No. What we learn from leaked US diplomatic cables is that US diplomats are reasonable, moral, perceptive people, required by the strictures of diplomacy to smile at, and shake hands and sup with some of the world's more noisome characters.

After the Wikileaks revelations of what the US really knows about, and thinks, so many of the people with whom it is forced to trade pleasantries and do business, the world would applaud the launch of cruise missiles to rid the world of so much of its human pathogens aka leaders.

David Arthur | 15 December 2011  

Of course, rape charges are not serious at all. And Sweden is so very well known for its abuse of human rights. How dare they have a different legal system from the UK's. Just outrageous.

"'His lawyer says the allegations stem from a 'dispute over consensual but unprotected sex'." Well that's solved then, isn't it, if his lawyer says that.

Penelope | 15 December 2011  

John Crew asks "What is the difference to news of the world publishing illegal phone taps and Assange publishing illegally obtained emails?"

I think the difference is that there is a public interest justification for a substantial proportion of the Wikileaks publications. It's argued that these publications have provided information that is important to community decision making about the conduct of governments in democracies.

Conversely, there is not a public interest justification for publishing the details of people's private lives as the News of the World as done.

This is only a rough initial statement of an argument on which there could be much discussion. But, I think it is the reason why journalists give awards to Wikileaks while News of the World is an embarrassment to journalists.

Ray Polglaze | 15 December 2011  

My impession is that , indeed, the Australian Government has done little to protect or support Julian Assange as he has stated in accepting the Walkley award. All Ameicans, Australians and suppotive Euopeans must make a collabrative effort to pressure Washington and the Australian government to not allow Assange to be deported to the US, with the potential results of being charged with espionage, the resulting punishment decided by those charging him in the first place. The message is clear to all dissidents worldwide, silence yourselves or you may pay a very high price. Someone please remind those in charge in Washington that we do have freedom of speech as granted to us through our Constitution. It seems that Bin Laden has succeeded afterall. Is this what we want??

Betty D'Eugenio | 15 December 2011  

This man is more courageous than any soldier in living history

Lynette Singleton | 15 December 2011  

This whole affair smacks of high level machination and 'politico to politico' dealing as if the ordinary citizen is there to be traded and his/her personal situation is of no importance. The dealings of the US state department are always suspect but I am indeed surprised at the apparent attitude of the Swedish, for whom I've always held a high regard; on the other hand, it is a Conservative administration in Sweden so anything could happen!(Why is it I always feel ill at ease when I hear anything about Conservatism?) Of course Assange is being set up and I have no doubt that the UK is as complicit as the Swedish in acceding to the unpleasant demands of the Yanks. What the World needs, desperately, is a lot more Arab Springs and OWS Movements and much less of the sort of LAME diatribe exuded by LAMO. Incidentally, all credit to Mr Tony KEVIN.

Frank K. MUGFORD | 15 December 2011  

A couple of sad comments here. Jim & John's attempt at a traditional Australian cynic's picnic with references to Julian as "hero" & "godlike worship". Cynicism is cowardice and remains the "5th. column of the establishment". Anyone who opposes Julian's persecution is reduced to "fan" or "devotee" by the mainstream media. I have been at all of Julian's court appearances in London and there have been few of us offering proactive solidarity on the ground. Where are all the folks who marched against this war in 2003 as Manning and Assange look like spending the rest of their lives in isolation cells U.S. gulags???

Ciaron O'Reilly | 16 December 2011  

The rendition of Julian Assange to the US would constitute an Act of War against the Australian people. We will not take this lightly.

Sean | 16 December 2011  

Tony Kevin, Manning is a military soldier who's responsibility is to defend America and her interest. The cables are not documents kept or maintained by the military, and if Manning did obtain the document then he gain 'illegal' access to government (USSD) computers. Which is the same crime if Assange himself did the act. Manning broke federal law against Computer Intrusions. Right now Manning is only a soldier being accused of breaking the law, if the did send the information to a foreign entity then as a soldier he is a traitor to his country. On Assange, it is strange than many engage in the dismissal of rational reasoning in the defense of one person. Especially, for a person who is suppose to be in a noble fight, government transparency.The rules for issuing warrants, police interviews, and court procedures haven't changed just because of Assange. Others have and will continue to go through the exact same procedures as Assange has.

Anthony S | 16 December 2011  

Is this fair an Australian?

a | 16 December 2011  

I agree with Jim Williams and am astonished that there is such a poor understanding of the need for secrecy and diplomacy, erring necessarily in retaining confidentiality longer than may be desired by media and protestors. Julian Assange clearly has a pathological need for noting himself and we should be reassured that Australia is not supporting him. Let the US deal with him and incarcerate him where he can do no more damage.

Marjorie | 16 December 2011  

There has yet a damage to be named by any of the dozens of people claiming Assange's publication of cables - of which not one was a 'top secret' one! - has done more damage than informing about damage being done in the world. US officials have said no done to individuals is known as of now. This in sharp contrast to 40'000 civilian (!!!) dead in iraq.

Reto Meier | 16 December 2011  

Rape of course is a serious crime. Assange is suspected of 'minor rape' under swedish jurisdiction. This is NOT the kind of rape as defined in any country of this world. In Sweden, where several definitions of 'rape' exist it is the least severe type of what they call 'rape' but which is NOT called rape in any other legal system of this world. Proportionality is also important! FALSE accusation of rape can destroy a man's whole career and reputation for lifetime and is ALSO a serious crime! But both are not considered as serious as murder. But Assanges suspicion of 'minor rape' - whatever that is - is treated like a murder case right now while real rapists run free and are not being prosecuted as they. EXPLAIN THIS!

Reto Meier | 16 December 2011  

Jim Williams: they have killed us and will kill us behind a veil of secrecy, and "diplomacy" is for the plutocratic transnational capitalist class, not for the 99% who become cannon fodder. Occupy diplomacy!

John Gallagher | 17 December 2011  

Great that Eureka Street saw fit to print this. As we have seen many times over in this country where we reside, too many people with selective politics, have led to bad things happening, by doing and saying nothing.

L Newington | 18 December 2011  

I am stunned that none of the comments offered to Tony Kevin's article - least of all those who dismiss, riducule or condemn it - have expressed any concern about the CONTENT of the leaked articles of most concern to US authorities ie the behaviour of US and allied diplomats, politicians and officials. It is the behaviour of these personnel, revealed in those leaked documents, that places us (some more than others) at risk of harm and poses serious risks to global security, not the leaks themselves. Anybody watch the BBC mini series 'The Hour' (ABC/TV Mondays 8.30pm) that concluded last night? What an apt if dramatised reminder of the importance of a free and independent media, dating back to the 1950s Suez Canal crisis!

Dr Frank Donovan | 20 December 2011  

After Washington's fabrication of the WMD excuse to bomb, invade and occupy Iraq shouldn't the world applaud anyone who exposes the lies and secrets of such a heartless and dishonest regime. Just like Daniel Elsberg, the whistleblower on Washington's lies, hoaxes and atrocities of the Vietnam War, today Assange and Manning are the brave whistleblowere exposing America's lies, hoaxes and atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan. May they live long and inspire us to resist the power and violence of western military-industrial interests and the governments who represent them.

Jim Dodrill | 28 December 2011  

I feel sorry for his victims in Sweden. I can only imagine how difficult is to make a complaint only to have it trivialised by a lawyer. If Julian is such a crusader and man of 'courage', he'd face the music.

Eugene - Brisbane | 24 January 2012  

Excellent article and analysis. As an Australian I am appalled by the Government's lack of support of Assange. I do believe he is being railroaded. He has done a great public service to the entire world.
Thank you for clearly stating the issues at stake.

Pamela Collett | 08 February 2012