Lawyer Melinda Taylor, part of Julian Assange’s legal team, writes: Re. “Why Julian Assange won’t give himself up to the Americans” (Friday). On 20 January, Michael Bradley published a detailed harangue against Julian Assange, which posed the question: “Is Julian Assange’s long stint in the Ecuadorian embassy a martyr’s travail or a narcissist’s temper tantrum?”
Umm – how about c) “none of the above”, or d) the prolonged illegal and arbitrary detention of a person who has never been charged?
The idea that an individual would choose to remain detained in a confined space where they have no access to fresh or sunlight, no access to necessary medical treatment, and are subject to constant overt and covert surveillance is, quite frankly, ludicrous. I, for one, would rather spend time in the Libyan desert surrounded by militia with AK-47s than change places with Assange.
The United Nations appears to agree. A panel of legal experts confirmed twice in 2016 that Assange is illegally and arbitrarily detained and called on Sweden and the United Kingdom to ensure Assange’s liberty and protection. They also found that the circumstances of this detention (the prolonged nature, lack of access to necessary medical treatment) was tantamount to cruel and inhumane treatment.
The rulings recognised that Assange had been compelled to remain in the embassy due to the failure of either United Kingdom or Sweden to provide assurances that Assange wouldn’t be shipped off to the United States, where:
- The Vice-President had called him an “electronic terrorist”;
- The NSA had placed him on on a “MANHUNTING” list with members of terrorist organisations;
- The Secretary of States had queried whether the US could just drone him;
- The person alleged to be his source was subjected to conditions, such as prolonged solitary confinement, which an independent United Nations expert described as tantamount to torture; and
- The Department of Justice and FBI had both confirmed the existence of an ongoing investigation against Assange and WikiLeaks, of an unprecedented breadth and scale.
Mr Bradley, would you have risked these odds? Or would you, as a presumably sane individual, seek an effective form of protection against torture and persecution?
Enter Ecuador — which is what Julian did, seeking asylum at the Embassy of Ecuador. Ideally, Australia would have stepped up to the plate and intervened on Assange’s behalf with the US. But it didn’t. Bob Carr was evidently busy rescuing Australians elsewhere — sorry about that, Julian!
Assange has now been detained for more than six years, and the UK and Sweden continue to flout the UN ruling with impunity. The prosecution against Assange and WikiLeaks continues behind the scenes, as reflected by January court documents in the Manning case that refer to its existence.
As the days of the Obama Presidency ran down, Assange tweeted that if US President Barack Obama granted Manning clemency, he would agree to be extradited to the US despite the clear unconstitutionality of the case against him. Manning had endured several stints of prolonged solitary confinement and had twice attempted suicide. One of her lawyers had opined publicly that Manning wouldn’t make it if she were forced to serve more time.
Did Assange tweet this message because he wanted to go to jail in the US? Absolutely not. Would he have done so if it meant saving Manning’s life? Yes. As things turned out, President Obama decided to commute Manning’s sentence to time served (she will be released in May) but also made very clear that his decision had nothing to do with Assange’s offer; it was because Manning’s sentence had been “tough” and disproportionate.
Mere hours after this wonderful news became public, a media frenzy began, with journalists baying for Assange’s blood. I received call after call — when is Julian leaving the embassy? Why is he not in a taxi to the airport? Or, as claimed by Mr Bradley, that it was “bullshit” to suggest that President Obama should have released Manning immediately (rather than in four months’ time), and pardoned her (which would have made it easier for her to obtain employment, and set a better legal precedent for journalists and other whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden).
Where did that level of antipathy come from? Since when do Australians spend their time and energy lobbying for an Australian publisher to hightail it to a maximum-security penitentiary for life, for the “crime” of publishing authentic documents concerning war crimes and human rights violations?
Since media organisation seem unwilling or unable to read WikiLeaks tweets with anything but guilt-coloured glasses, let me recap Assange’s position for everyone in simple terms:
- Assange was very happy that Manning’s sentence was commuted, but also believes that she deserved to be released immediately, and pardoned;
- Assange remains wiling to be extradited to the US to stand trial in fair proceedings — if going to the US is the only way to end his arbitrary and indefinite detention, then he will do it.
Assange is a publisher, whose right to publish documents that are in the public interest is protection by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The case against him is unfair and unconstitutional and should be dropped. An Assange prosecution undermines the rights and protections of journalists and publishers everywhere; it has a chilling effect on whistleblowers, and undermines the democratic right to hold the government to account for its abuses. It’s a no-brainer that we should all be calling on the US authorities to drop the case.
So in sum, Mr Bradley, what you term “temper tantrums” and “narcissism”, I term courage, and solidarity for the rights of whistleblowers, journalists and publishers everywhere.