Bob Carr appeared in Insiders this morning and discussed the Assange case. His words are worth examining closely. The transcript of his remarks is here.

Carr makes some highly dubious or simply false assertions. One is that “there’s a view that it would be easier for the US to extradite him from the UK than it would be from Sweden.” Some do hold that view – I’ve encountered it on Twitter from angry opponents of Assange. But it’s not a view held by anyone with credibility. The fact is that the temporary surrender mechanism that exists in a treaty between Sweden and United States is the key. The concern in the Assange camp has always been that temporary surrender may allow a rapid transfer of Assange from Sweden to the US with no due process or appeal rights. That can’t happen under the extradition agreements between the US and the UK.

So if Carr is suggesting that it is credible to maintain that Assange may be safer from extradition to the US in Sweden than the UK, he’s simply wrong. If he’d said that there’s a view that temporary surrender comes with the same appeal rights and due process that regular extradition has, then he’d have been on far safer ground, because some credible lawyers do maintain (and I understand it’s the DFAT view as well) that there’s nothing special about temporary surrender compared to ordinary extradition processes. The only problem has been, Assange would be gambling on that issue with his life if he went to Sweden.

Another of Carr’s assertions (and it’s one frequently made by WikiLeaks critics) is that WikiLeaks’ release of American diplomatic material “is not like Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers which revealed huge American deception, huge deception by the American government of the American public. There’s an amorality about what’s been at work here; secrets being released for the sake of being released without inherent justification.”

Well Minister, Daniel Ellsberg would beg to differ. He has specifically rejected that claim

“That’s just a cover for people who don’t want to admit that they oppose any and all exposure of even the most misguided, secretive foreign policy. The truth is that EVERY attack now made on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange was made against me and the release of the Pentagon Papers at the time.”

Elsewhere, Ellsberg has said there are “fundamental similarities” between what Bradley Manning is alleged to have done and what he did. And apparently Carr thinks the diplomatic cables and the Iraq and Afghan warlogs don’t reveal deception by the US government. To take but two of the most egregious examples, that must come as a shock to Americans and Australians who learnt their governments were privately far more pessimistic about the Afghan conflict than they were in public, and to Americans who didn’t realise they were engaged in a military conflict in Yemen that had been conducted entirely in secret.

In any event, we now have a new line from the Gillard government on Wikileaks: it is “amoral” as well as “illegal”. You’ll recall that Julia Gillard called WikiLeaks “illegal” in 2010, only for the Australian Federal Police to directly contradict her mere days later. The Prime Minister, however, has never retracted the claim.

The substance of Carr’s position, however, is the careful insistence that the Americans have not told the Australian government that they have any plans to extradite or otherwise harm Julian Assange and that therefore the only issue is consular support for Assange in his efforts to avoid extradition on sexual assault allegations to Sweden (the irony of course is that Carr was speaking after returning from Libya and his personal mission to try to extract an Australian lawyer from custody). There’s some very careful rhetoric here from the government, designed to give itself maximum cover. “When I’ve raised it,” Carr says, “and I think I have raised it on two occasions with US officials, I’ve received no hint that they’ve got a plan to extradite him to the US.” Carr even disputes the existence of a sealed indictment.

Barrie, there’s not the remotest evidence that that’s the case. There was one allegation that appeared somewhere of something called a sealed indictment. No US figure has confirmed that to us. I suppose you could argue that they wouldn’t confirm it to us til the last moment.

This fiction can be maintained as long as the Obama Administration, or an incoming Romney Administration, does nothing publicly about Assange.

As Assange laid out carefully in his interview with the ABC on Friday morning, there is copious evidence on the public record of a US investigation into Assange. The evidence has emerged during the trial of Bradley Manning, evidence has come from witnesses like David House who have been subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury pursuing Assange, evidence has come from the efforts of Twitter and Twitter account holders to fight subpoenas relating to the investigation.

The investigation is not specifically targeted at Bradley Manning, who is the defendant in a separate military trial process. It is not targeted at Swedish sexual assault allegations. It is targeted at WikiLeaks’s, and Assange’s, journalism.

The question for Bob Carr is not whether he has asked the Americans about a sealed indictment (which is not publicly confirmed, but the subject of extensive and corroborated reports, including from WikiLeaks’s opponents) but whether he has demanded to know why an Australian journalist (and found to be a journalist by sources as varied as the UK Supreme Court, the Walkley Foundation in Australia and the Martha Gellhorn trust in the UK) is the target of a US investigation simply for that journalism.

If the Minister doesn’t want to ask about that, there are plenty of other questions he could ask his American counterparts based on what is on the public record:

  • why is the Obama Administration stopping and interrogating activists who have been in contact with Assange when they attempt to travel internationally?
  • why is the Obama Administration orchestrating a financial blockade by major international financial intermediaries of WikiLeaks?
  • why did the Vice-President describe Assange as a terrorist?
  • why did the State Department, with no evidence, insist Assange is not entitled to protections under the First Amendment?

Rather than ask questions about matters that are on the public record, Carr prefers to hew to the narrow government line that this is all about consular support for Assange re Sweden and the Americans have no interest in him.

It’s gutless and feeble stuff from a government that has repeatedly shown itself eager to do anything to keep the US happy.