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Nov 24, 2011

Assange and Rudd: the government’s strange lack of curiosity

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd's answers about the Julian Assange extradition case suggest a distinct lack of curiosity about what the Americans plan for the WikiLeaks founder.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

The government has so far declined to investigate the possibility that Julian Assange may be extradited from Sweden to the United States in the likely event Assange loses his appeal against extradition from the United Kingdom in early December, it was revealed today.

This morning Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd responded to a series of questions about the government’s handling of Assange’s case from Greens Senator Scott Ludlam from October.

Ludlam asked about several issues but concentrated on what support Assange had been provided with and whether the government had sought to confirm a number of reports that the US is preparing to seek to extradite Assange from Sweden under a grand jury indictment for espionage via a process known as “temporary surrender”. The Assange camp argues that “temporary surrender”, a bilateral arrangement for people charged with crimes in two countries simultaneously that exists between many countries, would enable the US and Sweden to avoid many of the procedural requirements and opportunities for appeal that exist under normal extradition arrangements — in effect enabling a form of rendition.

Rudd’s response to Ludlam outlines a series of actions by Australian consular officials in London and Stockholm, mostly just under a year ago during and immediately after Assange’s spell in custody during the early stages of his extradition process. According to Rudd, the government sought assurances from Sweden on three separate occasions that Assange would be afforded “due process”, but they were in December 2010 and January and February this year.

No further contact with the Swedish government on Assange has apparently been made since then, despite the likelihood that Assange, if prosecuted, would be tried in secret and be held incommunicado once in custody.

However, the government has been far less diligent in raising the Assange case with the US, where a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia has been gathering evidence to charge Assange and others under the Espionage Act, which potentially carries the death penalty. Rudd’s response merely indicates the government is “closely monitoring all developments” but was not aware of any extradition request or charges against Assange in the US.

In relation to the specific issue of the grand jury investigation, however, Rudd’s answer was somewhat more cryptic. “The Australian government has no formal advice of any grand jury investigation,” is all he would state, leaving open the possibility the issue had been raised informally or at officials’ level.

Rudd also handpassed several matters to Attorney-General Robert McClelland, (correctly) saying the issue of whether ASIO could now spy on Assange under the “WikiLeaks amendment” passed earlier this year to expand its powers, and issues to do with the possibility of Assange being extradited from Australia, were matters for McClelland.

During the height of the WikiLeaks cables controversy late in 2010, Rudd took a markedly different line on Assange from the prime minister and McCelland, slapping down suggestions Assange might have his passport cancelled, committing to provide support for Assange during his incarceration and suggesting the real fault for the release of the cables lay with the US government. McCelland suggested Assange may have breached “a number of criminal laws” which, like the prime minister’s claims of “illegality”, were proven false by a subsequent AFP investigation.

Assange’s UK lawyer Gareth Peirce spelt out her concerns about the temporary surrender régime in place between the US and Sweden in a letter to Rudd — via Malcolm Turnbull — in September, and in particular the capacity for a temporary surrender application to avoid the normal avenues of appeal provided under normal extradition. However, there is an alternative view that all normal procedural requirements and rights of appeal would apply in the event the US applied for the surrender of Assange while he is in custody in Sweden. Assange is yet to be charged with any offence in Sweden, but expects to be taken into custody on arrival.

The government has also noted that neither Australia nor Sweden would agree to extradition unless the death penalty was removed as a possible outcome of any trial.

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21 thoughts on “Assange and Rudd: the government’s strange lack of curiosity

  1. zut alors

    Perhaps the government doesn’t feel there’s a vote in supporting Assange. If that’s the case, Gillard has mis-read the electorate once again.

    We haven’t forgotten how David Hicks was sacrificed and how Howard only did something when the public were stirred up by the GetUp campaign.

  2. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    And Howard did what? Diddly squat of any meaning or consequence. Like Tony Abbott, Julian Assange is being out-manoeuvred. But it’s not terminal yet.

  3. AR

    Hands up anyone dumb enough to believe that the Swedish gambit wasn’t amerika using bror flikka as catspaws? Quisling may have Norwegian but the Swedes didn’t do the concept of neutrality any favours when they allowed the Nazi to march through on their way to occupy Norway.

  4. Mussitate

    I am outraged that our government appears to be, once again, hanging one of our citizens ‘out to dry’ and placing them in the hands of the US, a country that has been proven to torture and hold people without charge and without any access to natural or other justice.

    The US have thrown out their ‘Rule of Law’ and it appears the US has put pressure on the UK to do the same, by allowing Julian Assange to be extradited to Sweden, even though no official charge has been laid against Julian Assange.

    It is irrelevant about what you think of Julian Assange or Wikileaks or the documents released. He is an Australian who did not break any Australian or US laws in place at that time!!!!

    The Grand Jury system in the US is a disgrace to democracy – it is held in secret, the prosecutor selects the jury, the defendant is not allowed legal representation and as in Julian Assange’s case, does not even have to be present. That is just for starters! What a total joke that process is, except it is not a laughing matter – Julian Assange could face the death penalty.

    Why do you think that this process has been conducted in this manner……simply because the US government must find a way to prosecute Julian Assange without having to do the same to other reporters and newspaper editors, who have done as Julian Assange has done – reported the truth (none of what was revealed has ever been challenged as not being the truth).

    They must set an example to any other person or organisation out there that if they dare to print the truth, there will be dire consequences.

    This situation Julian Assange may find himself in, is virtually identical to that of David Hicks and given the US’s propensity for torture, one can not rule out that another Australian citizen will be tortured with impunity by the US government.

    SHAME on the Government! SHAME on the Opposition!

    No matter the politics or the policies that the Government or Opposition put forward – if they cannot protect Australian citizens, they are worth nothing.

    Bravo! Senator Scott Ludlam, you alone, it seems, refrain from kissing US …….. You sir, will have my support and vote, come the next election.

  5. Whistleblower

    The following is the text of an e-mail sent to the Swedish Amb in Canberra. To date I have not received a reply. I would suggest that any Crikey reader consider their own approach to the Swedish Ambassador.

    “I note with some concern that you idiots are still pursuing this relatively trivial offence and that Julian Assange has now lost his appeal against extradition from the UK.

    In view of Sweden’s continuing pursuit of this trivial offence one can only assume that you are still supplicants to the US and that the values that I once attributed Sweden have largely disappeared.

    I have a strong suspicion that once Julian Assange is extradited to Sweden that you “lickspittles” will allow him to be extradited to the US.

    I note also that Sweden had a very cosy relationship with the Nazis during World War II, and it would appear that Swedish independence is largely illusory.

    Any respect for Swedish democracy that I once had has now completely disappeared.”

    To date I have not received a reply. I would suggest that any Crikey reader consider their own approach to the Swedish Ambassador.

  6. Owen Gary

    Unfortunately Assange does not serve the interest of corrupt corporate or government interests. He has put his life on the line for what??
    a population of people who probably wouldnt even discuss his name over morning tea.

    Gee we are a stuffed species!!!

    I am betting the intelligent life outside this planet knows better than to come anywhere near this one, “thats why theyre intelligent”

    I hope everyone pulls out all stops to support him, because I predict there will be a lot more like him in the future “the controllers” cant shut everyone up!!!

  7. MaggieP

    The Expendable Project reveals exactly how the Australian government protects its citizens overseas. It sells them, and their human rights.

    The media demonstrate how much they care about this through their silence on the project.

    The Australian public? Baa baa.

    What a country it is.

  8. LisaCrago

    Maybe Rudd, like 99% of the rest of the world, has simply lost interest. I did a LONG time ago.

    Julian Assange has had his 15 minutes of fame.

    at any rate it IS now a matter for the AG.

  9. Peter Ormonde

    A very disturbing story this.

    Deeply disappointing in the Gillard response and a warning to anyone who expects their Government (of any colour) to protect their interests if they run afoul of the law overseas… at least if the yanks don’t like it.

  10. Bill Hilliger

    Don’t worry Lisacrago maybe soon there will be a big expose feature on Julian Assange in Who Magazine that should re-invigorate your interest.