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 ā€” 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. 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.

  2. Suzanne Blake

    @ Hugh (Charlie) McColl

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. shepherdmarilyn

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

  6. 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.

  7. 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 .

  8. klewso

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

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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