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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?


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.

  11. Julian Fitzgibbon

    You know what I think will happen?

    Assange will be extradited to Sweden, charges will be dropped and he will be free to go.
    End result? He looks like a prat of the highest order.
    Don’t get me wrong, this is entirely an abuse of process from beginning to end – highlighted by the fact that Complainant A submitted a “torn” condom into evidence that tested negative for DNA.

  12. klewso

    We (under a Howard govenment) sacrificed Hicks and Habib at the altar of US realtions – now it’s the Labor government’s turn to do their bit, with Assange, in return for “franchising out our foreign policy”….?

  13. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    One thing that Wikileaks made clear was that often all the governments involved knew what is happening, and the secrecy is all about preventing the public from knowing.

    A great example was when Australia released a white paper on defence. The government denied that this had upset China. The Wikileak showed that China had told Australia it was unhappy, and as this was a USA cable we know that the Australian, Chinese, and USA governments all knew this. So it is only the Australian people who were being kept in the dark.

    I’m sure that in this case the UK, Swedish, Australian, and USA governments all know what is really happening. It is just the people who are being mislead.

    When it comes to human rights, Labor are just as bad as Liberal

  14. zut alors

    Currently in moderation for using a hot topic name, so I’ll amend the post…

    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 a newly independent House of Reps MP’s 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.

  15. shepherdmarilyn

    Well of course they are Michael and in some respects worse. ASIO never dragged a single child off the streets and jailed them for life even under Ruddock.

  16. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Suzanne Blake, you assert, without any evidence, that the Prime Minister on Q&A was noticeably “dishonest” and “cagey”and then ask the reader to agree that her words about dealings with the US were “code” for something – perhaps something dishonest and cagey. If I remember correctly, Julia Gillard denied having any negotiations with either Sweden or the US (or indeed the UK) about the future of Julian Assange. I would be extremely disturbed if the Australian government had been having any such discussions and yet you seem to think that this would be run-of-the-mill. If Assange ends up being extradited to Sweden because every legal recourse in the UK and European systems has been exhausted, it will not mean that Britain or Sweden has acted outside legal limits – Assange knows that and I believe you do too. Why try to implicate the Australian government in a process which, so far, is completely outside Australia’s control? Oh that’s right, you expect the PM to be dishonest and cagey therefore she is – on all occasions and in every instance. If that’s the moral high ground then start climbing lady, you’re way out of sight down there.

  17. Suzanne Blake

    @ Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Dishonest Gillard and shoot through Premier Carr are very careful with the words they are using. Gillard was asked if she will get it in writing from the US that they will not seek extradition and she said no. Why?

    Any alledged offence carries the death penalty in USA and they did it for the bloke on his honeymoon with the diving accident.

    why not now?

  18. Arty

    The ultimate crime being “…very careful with the words they are using…”


    To the gallows…

  19. Stephen

    Julia Gillard – better off leading the Liberal Party?

  20. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Suzanne Blake, not now because there are any number of Australians who might be charged with an offense in the US between now and eternity who don’t expect that our government will have already made preemptive approaches to the US before it even happens. If the US (or Sweden for that matter) has laid no charges, does not have the man in their country and has not thus far indicated they might even lay a charge – how can the Australian government make representations on his behalf? Suggest to me here what form of words you think the government should propose to the US government. Don’t bother being “very careful with the words” you use, just spit some out. Be honest Suzanne – you simply do not intend that Julia Gillard asks for some sort of accommodation for Julian Assange because any such action would be illegal, outrageous, dishonest and cagey. It’s you or her – put up or start climbing.

  21. Paperchaser

    This is a joke, right? The need “to request the treatment of an Australian national be ameliorated and his legal rights strengthened” between kids arrested in Indonesia or someone in an American war prison in Iraq (facing punishments that aren’t on the same planet as the worst Assange could get in Sweden for sexual assault) and between someone under house arrest in the UK and heading to Sweden is not on the same planet.

    I’d suggest that Assange has probably indeed got as much consular support and probably more consular contact than most Australians who get accused of sexual assault in one European country and then extradited from another. Or maybe you can just keep imagining that no foreigners in Europe ever have to answer sexual assault charges, and the European Arrest Warrant provisions are never used for sexual offences, unless desired by the Americans for their own nefarious purposes.

    And while all of the conspiracy theorists are still awake, can one of them explain why Assange wouldn’t be directly extradited from the UK to the US on trumped-up charges if that was the end goal of all this? It’s not as though the UK hasn’t got the right sort of framework for that sort of extradition, given that Assange’s upcoming trip to Sweden is being blamed on the same set of UK extradition laws the US would also use – the UK ratified the European Arrest Warrant provisions and the VERY liberal US-UK extradition treaty under the same set of 2003 approvals. And the US-UK treaty would make extradition much more legally straightforward than the US-Sweden treaty.

    Some countries pursue sexual assault cases, kids. Deal with it. Assange is going to have to.

  22. Suzanne Blake

    @ Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    With all the water under the bridge on this, they should make certain.

  23. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Exactly Suzanne, they should make certain. So what is the wording for the request for certainty? Come on, out with it. You know it is completely ridiculous to expect the US to out itself, the Australian government to illegally ingratiate itself or Sweden and the UK to simply roll over in front of their respective national audiences. There’s a legal process and everyone, Gillard, Carr, Assange and even Rupart Murdoch included, are sticking to the text book, choosing their words carefully and making sure they don’t put a foot wrong. They are not being dishonest or cagey and you know it.

  24. Patriot

    We (under a Howard govenment) sacrificed Hicks and Habib at the altar of US realtions


    We (under a Howard government), along with the US, saved his miserable, worthless life. If he’d been returned to the place of his capture he would have faced the death penalty. Not for shooting at anyone, mind you, but for apostasy.

  25. shepherdmarilyn

    Patriot, what apostasy? You take the award for cretin of the day.

  26. negativegearmiddleclasswelfarenow.com

    Republican 2012 presidental candidate Ron Paul has spoken up for the rights of

    Assange and Manning. The political establishment in this country would benefit

    from a Paul presidency – kicked out from under the skirts of the US.

  27. geomac

    There is nothing to stop the US applying for extradition of JA from the UK yet it isn,t mentioned here . I appreciate the legality for doing so are tougher in the the UK and easier from Sweden but its available to the US . If the USA does get JA from Sweden it must surely weaken their excuse to take him when it didn,t think it had a strong enough case to take him from the UK . I pulled my account from paypal when they acted against wikileaks purely on the basis that I thought it was a transaction business not an arm of misguided USA government policy . Why we have marines in the NT is a disgrace . We are not at war as in WW11 and are not under threat , now or in the future . If we were then the USA would as in WW11 come to our aid if it benefited their cause and aims. If it didn,t we would be in the same situation as when the UK considered its own needs rather than allies from distant shores . I vainly await the day Bush , Blair and to a lesser extent the faithful little aussie PM are charged with war crimes . It wont happen of course but maybe the history books will set things to right .

  28. klewso

    Say g’day to Sam Johnson when you see him – he said to keep an eye out for you.

  29. Chess C

    @PaperChaser – leaked emails have already all but confirmed the existence of a sealed indictment to try Assange by grand jury in the US, (probably) on charges of espionage. (I’d include the link but then I’d get moderated, so you’ll have to Google it.) You can choose stick your head in the sand and ignore it, and play along with the charade, but the one thing the Wikileaks cables confirmed is that governments of all persuasions have been lying through their teeth to the public on a whole range of issues. And this issue is no different, hence, the equivocally worded statements coming from the government, carefully side-stepping the real issue.

  30. AR

    JFitzG – pliz splain how Assange being freed with no charge in Sweden makes him look a prat.
    Swedish friends tell me that their current includes some US toadies who make Krudd & Karr look anti amerikan and that what little mention of Assange receives in their meeja is heavily tainted.
    I agree that it would be easier to extradite him from the UK – they’ve done it with their own citizens, middle aged biz types for acts that aren’t even crimes in Blighty – but that would require some pretence of legal process whereas Sweden can “lend” him, for the term of his natural life without any process since he would still, in La-la land terms, be in Swedish custody.

  31. kennethrobinson2

    What this discussion shows, our lack of trust in our government, and the opposition, and rightly so, they wouldnt know how to be truthful.

  32. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Chess C, obviously you are rising to the “conspiracy theorist” bait from Paperchaser and adopting the SBlake position by having an expectation that each and every government in this saga will put their individual agenda on the table and debate it in public. I still can’t see what question the Australian government could reasonably ask the US government. You think they “probably” intend to charge Assange with espionage. But then Sweden ‘probably’ intends to charge him with rape and Britain ‘probably’ will extradite him to Sweden, although maybe not if his appeal under European law succeeds. All these probables are getting close to being known unknowns – and yet the request here is for Australia to make a specific and exact legal manoeuvre. A tall order that not even the Greens are ready to move on.

  33. justsaying

    We don’t trust governments but all hail the cult of J.Ass celebrity. According to Ass, the truth of this case is being hidden by governments and political spin. It is the spin directed, written and posted ad nauseum by tech savvies (J Ass supporters perhaps) that is the only credible point of view.

  34. Paperchaser

    Chess C, AR, sorry, I should have specified that I was looking for explanations that made sense.

    Of course the US has been looking for a way to indict. Of course Australia can’t commit to trying to stop it or his extradition to the US without being officially informed of what charges would be involved. Why would you expect anything else? If the indictment could demonstrate to that Assange’s actions were the direct cause of the death of sensitive contacts, why wouldn’t he be indicted, and what moral argument could the Australian government put forward in such a case for fighting his indictment and extradition? How would you non-equivocally word that sort of statement? “Well, yes, he could have avoided such-and-such being killed by changing a published encryption key, but by golly he’s Australian and you’d better not boss him around!” Yeah, that’ll be great.

    All of this is a moot point, of course, as if there was a conspiracy, there would have been an indictment already, and that indictment would have got him out of the UK under the liberal terms of the UK-US extradition treaty before Sweden was allowed to start its own process. What Assange’s legal team is doing now is taking a lot of time to forestall him facing sexual assault charges, while pretending he’s actually a super-cooperative political martyr who should be reasonably allowed to expect the sort of precedent-setting exceptionalism of being investigated out of the Swedish embassy.

    I’m aware of claims made in Crikey and from pro-Assange groups (no one else) that an extradition from Sweden to the US would be easier than an extradition from the UK or most other countries by some sort of “loan extradition”. Those claims ignore the terms of Swedish law, which would still prioritise his prosecution in Sweden over charges faced elsewhere, and probably forbid his extradition given the long timeframe that would be involved in an espionage case.

    And given that Sweden has comprehensive laws banning extradition for “political” crimes, even a few super-rabid-pro-American nutters in Swedish politics wouldn’t be able to prevent a long, drawn-out legal fight over Assange’s extradition that would make any fuss over corraling him from the UK look like taking candy from a baby on a diet.

    Has it occurred to you that you may be sticking your head in the sand over the fact that Sweden prosecutes sexual assault more actively than most countries, and certainly more actively than this one? Assange probably could have got away with nailing some women without a condom despite their objections in most countries – disgusting but true. Instead he chose Sweden, and now he is where he is. If there was a conspiracy involved, he’d be somewhere else altogether, and you might have a point.

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