Jun 12, 2012

Julian Assange — better off smuggling weapons in Baghdad?

A previously unreported case shows Australian diplomats can move quickly to help Australians in strife when they want to. So why not Julian Assange?

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

Evidence has emerged that disputes Foreign Minister Bob Carr's claim Julian Assange has received as much or more consular support in a comparable period than other Australians, and that anything further would amount to interference in another country's judicial process. On the day following the UK Supreme Court decision ruling in favour of Assange's extradition under a European Arrest Warrant, Carr held a press conference at Parliament House in which he said "as far as I can tell there's been no Australian who's received more consular support in a comparable period than Mr Assange". Both Carr and the Prime Minister, asked later that day about Assange during question time, have emphasised their inability to interfere in the judicial processes of other countries. Until now, such comments have been analysed in the context of the treatment of other well-known cases of Australians held overseas. In October, the Prime Minister personally called a 14-year-old boy charged with marijuana possession in Bali. Convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby received "substantial" financial support for her legal costs and the offer of two QCs pro bono from the Howard government and was supported by the current government in her recent bid for clemency. But what appears to be the previously unreported case of Australian Bradley John Thompson has been unearthed from the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables by Maitland lawyer and human rights activist Kellie Tranter. Thompson was arrested in Baghdad on May 16, 2006 by a joint US-Iraqi police operation which "found evidence that Mr Thompson had been smuggling weapons into the International Zone in hidden compartments of vehicles and selling those weapons illegally to customers possibly including Jaish al-Mahdi militia members and insurgents operating in Fallujah". The cable, from the US Embassy in Baghdad to the State and Justice Departments, the FBI, the White House and American diplomats here, states:
"A search of Mr Thompson's villa (located inside the International Zone) at the time of his detention found twenty AK-47 automatic rifles, three Russian belt-fed tank-type heavy machine guns, a sizeable quantity of ammunition, Iraqi, Australian, and US military uniforms, computer software used to create false military identification badges, and $128,000 USD cash."
Australian consul Alan Elliott had already visited Thompson and relayed his claim that he had been authorised by the coalition military forces in Iraq to sell weapons, a claim the Americans denied. At the time, the Howard government was coming under increasing pressure over its abandonment of David Hicks in Guantanamo Bay. Howard would eventually negotiate a deal with US vice-president Dick Cheney early in 2007 for a speedy trial and dispatch to Australia of Hicks. On May 24, Australian ambassador Howard Brown and Elliott met with senior figures in the coalition military force and US political-military counsellor David C. Litt (third in charge at the US Embassy) to discuss Thompson's case, and then followed it up subsequently via email to the Americans. According to the cable, Brown and Elliott sought -- and obtained -- significant changes to Thompson's treatment:
"Ambassador Brown requested that Mr Thompson not be blindfolded and shackled when being moved to and from visiting rooms. (NOTE: this is standard procedure for new inmates at Camp Cropper, which houses highly violent insurgent actors as well as other special populations meriting private cells, like female and Coalition nationals.) The DCG-DO agreed. "According to Ambassador Brown, Mr Thompson has retained a US attorney, LtCol (Ret.) Neal A. Puckett, USMC, to represent him. The DCG-DO confirmed that LtCol Puckett would be allowed to meet with Mr Thompson either at Camp Cropper or (if preferred) at an Iraqi courthouse inside the International Zone. Requests for continued Consular telephone and in-person access to Mr Thompson were also granted. "In response to follow-up e-mails from the Australian Consul on May 26, Post arranged for Mr Thompson to telephone Mr Elliot's cell phone and Mr Thompson's sister in Australia, assured Mr Elliott that he would be permitted to visit Mr Thompson prior to any future appearance in Iraqi court, and provided contact information for Mr Thompson's American legal counsel to make visiting arrangements."
In February, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade provided details of its contacts with Assange's legal team, which totalled 18 email, fax, phone or face-to-face contacts during 2011, plus contacts with his lawyers at his trial hearings. The Department also says it obtained verbal assurances from Swedish authorities that Assange would be afforded due process, and told Greens senator Scott Ludlam recently during Senate Estimates that "the US is aware of our expectations in respect of due process". The issue of Assange's detention once he arrives in Sweden, and the conditions of that detention, such as being denied contact with anyone but his lawyers, appear not to have been raised. The issue of non-intervention in other countries' legal processes is a straw man repeatedly used by the government; no one has suggested the government should, or has the power to, directly intervene in Swedish s-xual assault investigations or US espionage indictments. But the Thompson case clearly demonstrates the government can move quickly -- within a matter of days -- to request the treatment of an Australian national be ameliorated and his legal rights strengthened.

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34 thoughts on “Julian Assange — better off smuggling weapons in Baghdad?

  1. Jackol

    Sorry, Bernard, I’m not following the point of this piece.

    You’re comparing the Australian government’s interactions with respect to Julian Assange with the intervention of the Australian government in the case of Thompson which ‘clearly demonstrated’ treatment being ameliorated/legal rights strengthened.

    Are you seriously comparing requests about not blindfolding/shackling someone who is caught up in Iraqi/American military justice to Julian Assange’s case?

    And you decry the “issue of non-intervention” as a straw man, but pardon me for asking, what exactly is it that you are suggesting that the Australian government is supposed to be doing right now given that, presumably, requests to not blindfold/shackle and/or get adequate legal representation for Assange are not applicable…

  2. Suzanne Blake

    Did you notice the way dishonest Gillard was cagey on Q&A last night, when asked if Assange would be deported to USA?

    She said there has been nothing “formal”.

    Is that code for there has been informal chats and advice?

  3. Steve Gardner

    Accept at least for the sake of argument that Assange has broken no US laws, but has merely followed the precedent set in the 1970s by US journalists, who legally published the Pentagon Papers leaked by Daniel Ellsberg. In that case, the PM should publically retract her assertion that Assange is a criminal, and start treating him as an Australian citizen whose legal rights are under threat. How can the Government do this? They should seek assurances from Sweden that Assange will not be extradited to the US to face trumped up charges, and they should make strong representations to the US that the Australian Government views with extreme displeasure the violation of the rights of its citizens. They should also be pointing out that charging Assange is contrary to the values of freedom of the press they claim to hold dear.

  4. Mike Shaw

    Always new Bob Carr would do a Nick Cave on Assange. Thompson is in the employ of the Australian Dept of Defense and was on secondment to US security forces in Iraq.

  5. justsaying

    While Julian Assange serves out his ‘bail’ in the luxury of a mansion and is flanked by top legal minds at his seemingly endless press conferences, his source is left to rot in an American prison. What happened with the hundreds of thousands of dollars of donations to Wikileaks? Sure hasn’t seemed to assist poor old Bradley Manning alleged source of the now infamous ‘Collateral Murder’ footage which put Wikileaks in the spotlight in the first place. Meanwhile, ‘who wants to be a celebrity?’ J.Ass plays the ‘I’m a journo and this is free speech’ card to garner support from the gullible masses. Perhaps if he was a legitimate member of the journalism fraternity, he might receive better support.

  6. Michael de Angelos

    Is there any chance these smuggled weapons were being paid for by the bribes the AWB put Iraq’s way?. Some $300M worth?.

    Not one single person has ever faced a court over the bribing of our supposed enemy yet the very same ministers in the then government have been howling like banshees over a dodgy credit card slip aided by Fairfax, News Ltd and the gormless TV media. And that was to do with legal happenings with a non MP.

    Suzanne Blake is correct that Julia Gillard slithered through her answer on Assange as has Bob Carr but that are following a pattern set by Howard who has shackled us to whatever ghastly enterprise the USA embarks upon, legal or illegal.

    And the vast vacuous whingers of the Australian public share blame, evidenced by a woman on Q&A who moaned about her lack of freebies.

  7. pertina1

    I am equally at a loss to understand what it is that Bernard is suggesting the Australian government should be doing. What exactly does “…to request the treatment of an Australian national be ameliorated and his legal rights strengthened.” actually mean?
    If Bernard has any evidence that Mr Assanges legal rights have not been respected, or that he has been discriminated against on the basis of his Australian citizenship. If so I’d be most grateful if he could share these insights with Crikey readers.
    If not then please spare us such uninformed commentary.

  8. Michael de Angelos

    I think BK is making very valid points-the main one being that whatever the USA demands, it gets whether that is right or wrong and it’s all about perceptions.

    Julia Gillard failed to either confirm or deny that if Assange is extradited , the USA just has to put the process into action once he is secured in Sweden.

    No-one is asking the PM or Bob Carr the correct question-what will they do when Assange is sent to Sweden. On previous evidence, Carr will simply wring his hands but do nothing.

    JUSTSAYING-it’s a bit much to accuse Assange of not aiding Bradley Manning who heroically put himself in that position. Nor could Assange do much.

    I thought credit companies, Paypal, banks etc joined a conspiracy to deny funds to Wikileaks.

  9. zut alors

    I’m with SB and Michael De Angelos regarding Gillard ‘slithering’ through a question on Assange last night – yet again.

    As if the USA is going to tell the Oz Govt what they have planned, they don’t give a stvff about us. Gillard has already condemned Assange by remarking he has acted ‘illegally’ – despite no charges of any description being made against him. When she theorises about ‘innocent until proved guilty’ in the Thomson case it clearly doesn’t translate elsewhere in applying to Assange.

    Our govt should seek, in writing, an assurance from our ally, the USA, that they have no intention to extradite Assange. In writing. And should they refuse, we know how this will play out.

  10. Chess C

    @Michael de Angelos- agree. I think the whole issue about whether Assange has or has not received enough “consular assistance” from the Australian government is a bit of a red herring. The main game are the (alleged) secret plans to extradite him to the US, once he gets to Sweden. The real question is has the Australian government spoken up for Assange to defend him against these (alleged) plans, or has it been the other way around, e.g. have some of the Australian intelligence agencies been working with their US counterparts in collecting evidence to build the case against Assange? The government’s statements on this question have been deliberately equivocal. e.g. Gillard: ”At this stage we do not have any advice from the United States that there is an indictment against Mr Assange or that the United States has decided to seek his extradition.” btw, I’m sure it would be exactly the same if the Libs were in government.

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