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The World

Sep 5, 2017

5 comments

Excuse me, but what the actual fuck? Assange has personally managed to contextualise the entire existence of women and immigrants in relation to their worth to national GDPs as pot scrubbers and and baby breeders.

Of course, it’s taken me a few days to respond to Assange’s idiocy, but then I was doing what so many other Western feminists do when not engaged in paid work: the physical and emotional labour of domestic care-giving. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t have an immigrant maid sweeping my floors.

As a sole parent, that doesn’t really leave lot of time for “emotional imperialism” at all, to be honest. Maybe I’d have more time for doing what men in Assange’s circle prefer to describe as being a “thought-leader” on the panel circuit and book writing if I had accessible, affordable, quality childcare available at my leisure.

Look, you may ask why on earth I’d care what some silly man stuck in an Ecuadorean embassy has to say about women’s rights, but once upon a time I was a rather strident supporter of WikiLeaks — and much of my support ended because of Assange’s behaviour.

Anyway, I’m now taking the hour between work and picking up my kid from school to write a giant “fuck you” to Assange douche-bro shit-baggery.

Dear Assange: terming women’s intellectual engagement with the world outside the home as “emotional imperialism” is a giant big crock of shit.

There’s nothing less self-actualising — let alone world-changing — than doing unpaid grunt work for a bunch of ungrateful brutes. No wonder 40% of Australian women have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety: we’re earning 15.3% less than men on average here in Australia. It’s kind of hard to find the to time to focus on self-care — let alone inflict “emotional imperialism”  upon the world — when you spend your time at work being underpaid and your “free time” working uncompensated to care for your family as well.

And frankly, no amount of “HALLELUJAHS!” and “PRAISE THE LORDS!” can put me in a procreating mood after working two jobs to pay the electricity bill. It’s difficult to form sentences after hours of work topped off by scrubbing dishes.

Anyway, what is Assange really suggesting here? That Western feminists either have to give up their political and financial agency and stay home to do the bum-wiping free of charge — or have low-paid immigrant labor do the care work for us instead? What’s Assange’s great big fear here? That if women stay in the workplace we’re engaging in privileged “emotional imperialism” by using our brains rather than birthing and caring for bouncing white babies? That immigrants will produce more babies than white women? That women in Western countries have to choose between having the right to an intellectual life or a white society? Ewwwwww.

Assange’s tweets are a giant two-handed flag-wave at racist Nazi anti-immigration sentiments. No surprise, Assange avoids suggesting there might just be a solution that doesn’t involve exploitation of both women and migrants.

Imagine! A world that doesn’t accept racist scare campaigns against immigration. A society where women and under-paid immigrants unionise to fight for fare wages and state-funded quality, affordable childcare? A society where men play their fair part in care work in both the workforce and at home. It’d be a structural revolution, an equitable, feminist society that would render Assange’s false dichotomy obsolete. A world where we don’t need to martyr people to fulfill the needs of white male techbro libertarianism that never gets off the fucking couch to wash the dishes and do a load of laundry.

Assange knows he’s signalling to disaffected men, angry divorced dads and disassociated teenage gamers, and he doesn’t care. He’s looking for allies to keep his personal operation afloat and alive, no matter how rat-fucking racist his new buddies may be.

The pathetic irony is that so many non-male identifying individuals have provided costly and vital work to support Assange: not just care work to keep him physically alive, but also technical, public relations and legal support, as well as many of the document drops that have kept WikiLeaks functional over the years. But for the most part, women and non-binary identifying individuals have been largely obscured from public view and record of WikiLeaks’ history. And yet Assange would not have lasted this long without the support of many diverse individuals enabling his operations to continue despite his current captivity of sorts.

Women don’t want to be men’s personal “marthas”, “handmaids”, virtuous wives, God’s police or damned whores. Immigrants don’t dream of a life of low-paid work in shitty care roles for obnoxious arseholes. We all dream of something better. But Assange isn’t offering up options that involve anything other than drudging slavery, and the rolling back of rights.  

Assange is an ageing techbro in an ivory tower claiming the world is filled with meanies who should quit dreaming of a better life, while he winks at the racist, misogynistic arseholes who are marching in the streets with tiki torches and swastikas.

Assange’s greatest tactical mistake is to treat public support and goodwill as a perpetually renewable resource. It’s a losing tactic. Just take a look at Assange’s personal mentions on Twitter: it’s a never-ceasing chorus of people screaming at him to log off. Wonder why.

Anyway, it appears that Assange now has all the feels over the fact that barely anyone of decent moral fibre wants anything to do with him at all. I’d offer him some “care labour” but I’m all done with giving my talent away for free. Maybe Assange will have to clean his own shit up for once — but don’t hold your breath.

The World

Sep 5, 2017

5 comments

Last week, publisher WikiLeaks released the latest batch of documents in its Vault 7 series. Those few reporters and readers not captivated by the open hostility of US President Donald Trump found, again, within the set of hitherto closed files, the true and current record of warfare. As the President scours what remains of his mind for new names to call Kim Jong-un, the Central Intelligence Agency continues its systematic work of developing electronic weapons to point at the people.

Private companies, private individuals, essential state services and all entities reliant on the internet become more vulnerable to attack by the agency’s arsenal. Even if you’re the sort who has been, to date, fairly comfortable with the appointment of the USA as World Sheriff, you may not feel so easy knowing that any organisation, no matter its provenance, has the capacity to turn all parts of the planet into a battlefield — one over which that obscene tweeting President currently has ultimate command.

As individuals have discovered, and as documents made available by WikiLeaks continue to attest, the great threat of so-called “cyberwarfare” is not that someone at the NSA can now giggle through their tea-break at that picture I took of my junk. It is not that your “smart” phone or TV is a convenience that now comes at the cost of unguarded human intimacy.

The threat posed by organisations, including the CIA and National Security Agency, extends far beyond a cherished thing like privacy and directly into, for example, nuclear enrichment facilities. This is an arms race, the terms of which are set and currently won by the US hegemon. To think of it not as asymmetric Cold War but a sensible set of protocols with amusing sci-fi titles dreamt up by lovable nerds is to permit our scrutiny of true power to disappear as absolutely as the departing Tardis.

The private citizen, of course, is under no obligation to grasp the totality of this emerging arsenal, or even concede its existence. The active reader or true reporter, however has a duty to recognise Vault 7 as a source for significant and broad debate, and all verified documents published by WikiLeaks as credible, not “hostile”.

Since March 2017, the latest WikiLeaks project has offered the record of an ongoing war. Traditional media organisations have not demonstrated great curiosity for this matter, and the last time they had broad interest in WikiLeaks was with the sensational Collateral Murder video. Press focus on WikiLeaks, no matter how outsized and troubling its leaks, has closed in on one (mal)function of the organisation. The dumb shit that its founder tweets or mumbles between posting links to the certified documents of ongoing horror.

Revelations about the nature of power unfold on WikiLeaks regularly. There is just one revelation, however, that regularly gains broad attention, and that, told over and again, is that Julian Assange is a sexist creep.

Yes. It does seem likely, as you will read elsewhere in Crikey today, that Assange’s grasp of feminist principles is about as steady as mine on the mechanism of DKIM verification. Had I an audience with Assange, I would attempt to make a deal: let me write the criticism of neoliberal feminism, and you keep to your accounts of digital certification and/or the disappearance of democracy as we know it. The man has posted links to some wildly “unverified” propagandist rot regarding the Magical Biological Differences Between Men and Women, and has, deservedly, received critique.

It is not that Assange does not deserve the ire of feminists. It is more that he has not earned it. Like the man I presume to be his friend, John Pilger, his area of expertise does not extend to gender theory. To critique, and this is done so frequently, Assange on this matter is akin to critiquing a toddler for not yet having attained full control of his central nervous system.

To listen to Pilger the matter of women — and I recommend this practice only to intellectual masochists — is to receive musty and recycled Christian ideals. He appears to believe, as does Assange, that the “pure” political function of women, ergo feminism, is to oppose war. He also appears to believe that feminism, ergo women, was once itself a pure and undifferentiated political movement that arose only to cry against the futility of killing. It was corrupted, you see, by the neoliberal age in which women became as hungry as men for power, quit having babies and thereby compromised what, we must presume, is our “natural” human will.

It is true that Assange has lately shown himself to be an unscholarly, unverified baby about the matter of my sex. He has offered the Silicon Valley author of a deluded crapifesto, which contains no reliable reference to support its central claim that “chicks can’t code”, a job at WikiLeaks. In doing so, he supported not only scientifically unsupported claims about “brain sex”, but, by extension — and I found this very odd — the “right” of Google to select those employees who would most effectively help the company to profit. Heavens, Julian. Here I was thinking that you sought not to encourage the tech monolith, but to undermine its primacy. And, here you are, encouraging its productivity, albeit based on your assumption, that hardly comes with its own digital signature, that the true and inevitable role of ladies is never to take up arms in a struggle, but to sit at home, reproduce and, if barren, perhaps form an auxiliary to assist coding warriors like yourself.

I can excuse sexism of the type no more than I can sloppy “state of nature” fundamentalism. No more than I can excuse Assange’s recent, and unintended, project of encouraging tech giants to do bigger and better business by not indulging in the “identity politics” he has recently, perhaps via Pilger, learned to limply loathe.  I truly have no interest, not being a Girl Who Codes and not caring about the fortunes of Google and its brethren, in arguing about how to organise Silicon Valley more justly. I believe Silicon Valley, as I believe the CIA, to be fundamentally unjust.

I also believe that Vault 7 is valuable. I am resentful that many of my peers do not recognise this value. I am surprised, and a little peeved, that Assange has offered them further opportunity for their ignorance.

Media

Aug 18, 2017

5 comments

Racing round the world this morning is a fresh “shock horror” WikiLeaks story, which purports to show that even if the organisation isn’t just a bunch of balalaika strumming Cossacks in the pay of Putin, it may as well be.

“WikiLeaks Turned Down Leaks of Russian Government During US Presidential Campaign” the headline reads to a piece on the Foreign Policy site. Has the smoking AK-47 been found?

Well, no, as it turns out. The story is based on a leaked/hacked WikiLeaks chatlog concerning a 70-gigabyte trove of documents from inside the Russian Interior Ministry, which the story alleges the organisation “refused” to publish during the 2016 US election campaign. Foreign Policy only has the WikiLeaks side of the chatlog — but that’s enough to debunk the story’s angle, for it includes the statement at the time by WikiLeaks that: “As far as we recall these are already public.” According to the story, the trove was published elsewhere, and gained little attention. Presumably because it was 70 gigabytes of turnip requisition forms. WikiLeaks has long stated that it doesn’t republish material readily available elsewhere (save for its curated reference libraries such as the Plus D database).

So no story at all, but enough to make an evidence-free charge that WikiLeaks was suppressing information because it could have been seen as anti-Trump. In that respect it’s worth remembering what Foreign Policy is: the global in-house journal of a geopolitical power elite, founded by Samuel “clash of civilisations” Huntington in the early 70s, and now publishing a range of movers and shakers — including, in 2011, Hillary Clinton herself, outlining the dream of “America’s Pacific Century,” the policy underlying the now-abandoned TPP. You won’t find isolationists, anti-imperialists or other such voices in Foreign Policy. What you do get apparently, is pro-Hillary beat-ups of such low quality that they contradict themselves from the get-go.

Twenty-twenty’s looking good. Looking good for 2020. And another five seasons of Veep.

Europe

May 22, 2017

5 comments

God knows who’s styling Julian Assange these days, but they need to be a bit more on the ball. The WikiLeaks supremo emerged onto the tiny balconyette of the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge last Friday, wearing a sort of fake leather jacket and raising his fist, which made him look like either a fascist or a Thunderbird, hard to think of which was worse. Stick to a suit, boyo.

Nevertheless, Assange was cheerful, and he had reasons to be. The Swedish prosecutor has indefinitely stayed the seven-year investigation into an accusation around a sexual encounter in 2010 — an encounter that one section of the Swedish prosecution service had defined as an accusation of minor rape (Sweden has three degrees of rape on its criminal statutes).

The move is being presented as the defeat of due process. In fact, it’s most likely a sleazy bit of face-saving. Having interviewed Assange at the embassy, the prosecutors now have everything they need — a complainant, witness statements, Assange’s statement — to proceed if they wanted. They aren’t because there is no case to answer — exactly as the Stockholm region prosecutor Eva Finne concluded the day after the complaint was first presented in 2010.

Furthermore they have the following: an initial statement to the police, in which complainant S* stated that she never wanted to make a complaint and that she had been railroaded into it by the police and people around her; statements from friends of hers that she and the first complainant, prominent Social Democratic Party activist Anna Ardin, had joked about making money by going to the newspapers with the story; witness statements by same friends that S’s account of the events contradicted her official statement; and a series of text messages between the two complainants — never released because legally confidential, but attested to by both sides — which, according to lawyers who have seen them, demonstrate collusion in an attempt to get Assange into legal trouble for some sexual encounters gone wrong.

[Swedish prosecutors dump case against Julian Assange]

They have no case, even by the non-Anglo-jurisprudential measures of the Swedish system. By staying, rather than discontinuing the investigation, the Swedish state, via prosecutor Marianne Ny, is playing the victim — as she/they have done throughout the process. The case was initially discontinued less than 24 hours after it had been inaugurated by a stand-in duty prosecutor in the middle of the Swedish summer holidays. It should be discontinued now.

Fat chance of that. The Swedish state is like the social worker in the old Rottweiler joke (what’s the difference? The Rottweiler eventually gives the kid back). Now the Australian state must act, on behalf of one of its citizens. Julian Assange is an investigative journalist who, like all investigative journalists, uses leaked documents to publish stories. He does it with novel methods, and a greater volume than many, but these are differences of degree.

Assange has a guarantee of entry to Ecuador by its government and asylum granted by it. The Australian government must demand that the UK honour that granting with safe passage. Currently, the UK government is arguing that it has no power to interfere in police arrest for breaching bail conditions — which occurred when Assange walked into the embassy in 2012. This is nonsense. The Attorney-General has clear powers to stand this down, even if it involves some simple judicial procedures. It is done frequently.

This will become a more urgent question if Ecuador — its left-wing government re-elected in April — ups the ante. The simplest way to do this would be for them to grant Assange Ecuadorian citizenship, appoint him to the Ecuadorian diplomatic service, and then present his credentials to the UK government (yes, yes, the frikkin Court of St James). If the government accepts them, well, Assange would have diplomatic immunity, and could finally get to Harrods. If the UK rejects them, well, he has to return to the fondly remembered cool hills of Quito for which he yearns. The passage back to Ecuador would surely attract diplomatic privilege for the journey to the airport. The Turnbull government must insist, if this occurs, that dual citizen Assange has his rights respected.

[The persecution of Julian Assange is not feminist, it’s political]

Simultaneously, they must also assert to the US government that the act of investigative journalism using leaked documents is not a crime and that any prosecution based on such acts would amount to extranational, exceptional pursuit of an Australian citizen by its most consistent ally. Given that we have a PM who made his bones as the flamboyant QC defending the right of an ex-MI5 agent — Peter Wright, mad author of Spycatcher — to contravene confidentiality agreements he’d signed up to, the rights of Assange should enjoy the same defence.

In this matter, Assange deserves the defence of anyone who considers themselves of the left, or critical of state power in its current Western form. The incidents that sparked this legal saga do not need dwelling on, but they do need repeating: the sum total of what Assange has been accused of is initiating sex with a half-sleeping woman, S, the morning after they had had a night of consensual sex. By S’ account, she consented to the morning sex seconds after it began. But even that is not required: consent, by case law, in the UK, Australian and Sweden, is held to carry over in any case, even when sleep intervenes. There was never a case to answer by any reasonable standard. ** 
 
Sadly, many people who should be sceptical of state power, and autonomous state processes, lost any sense of critical judgement because accusations of sex crime were involved. The suggestion from many — including many who had praised the release of the “collateral murder” video and the “cablegate” archive — was that someone who had released half a million files detailing 10 years of violent folly and criminality by the most powerful country in the world should return to a country with compulsory remand, an extradition treaty with the US, and the most pro-US government in its history, on the basis of what occurred during 45 seconds of a sustained consensual sexual encounter.  

Although the whole case began as a product of the autonomous processes of the Swedish state, it rapidly became a “honeytrap” (“vinegartrap” might be a better term). When Finne, the Stockholm prosecutor, threw out the investigation 24 hours after it was opened, the two accusers rapidly acquired as a lawyer Claes Borgstrom, a high-powered politician.

Before the accusation, Assange had come to Sweden to base WikiLeaks there and take advantage of Sweden’s shield laws protecting whistleblowers. Such protection required a residency and work permit; the ongoing accusations made those impossible to obtain. There is no question that the US would have started to withhold intelligence from Sweden if Assange had gained those protections — withholding of intel is the US’ big stick, waved around repeatedly (for example, on the weekend of November 8 and 9, 1975, two days before Whitlam was sacked) — at a time when Sweden wanted to be closer in the US embrace. The intent is bare-faced, obvious. It worked in part, by dividing Assange’s supporters on the very sort of issues they care most about. In that respect, they need to support Julian Assange 100% in getting free passage to Ecuador, regardless of their opinion of his recent political choices, not from the other side, out of regard to his slightly exaggerated public persona, but simply because the last seven years have always been a stitch-up. Simple, all-in checklists of political causes doesn’t work anymore. Neither does that jacket. 

The full police report, translated into English by Rixstep, is available at www.swedenvassange.com

* Hitherto I’ve used the name of the second complainant (who is now the sole complainant on extraditable accusations), because it was in general circulation on the internet. Since it has faded somewhat, I’ll use a letter.

** The alleged non-wearing of a condom in that morning encounter is not the key element to the case. For legal reasons too complex to go into, it doesn’t form part of the legal fabric of a rape case, whatever the morality of it is.

Journalism

May 19, 2017

5 comments

The seven-year “investigation” of rape allegations against Australian publisher Julian Assange has been abandoned for a second time by Swedish prosecutors today after interviewing the Wikileaks founder and publisher in November.

Claims of sexual assault by Assange, centring on allegations he did not wear a condom during consensual sex, led to an investigation by Sweden’s chief prosecutor in 2010. The prosecutor dismissed all but one of the allegations, including the accusation of sexual assault, saying “there is no suspicion of any crime whatsoever”. However, a right-wing politician and former prosecutor urged that Assange be pursued, and prosecutor Marianne Ny reopened the case, but allowed Assange, who had remained in Sweden to speak with authorities, to leave the country, after which an European arrest warrant was issued for him. It was under that warrant that Assange was arrested and briefly imprisoned in the UK, although the warrant is now no longer accepted by UK courts.

Assange subsequently sought asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, concerned that extradition to Sweden would lead to extradition to the United States on espionage charges relating to Chelsea Manning’s leaking of diplomatic cables revealing war crimes to Wikileaks (Manning, coincidentally, was released this week from military prison).

While it was known that a grand jury had been established in Virginia in relation to Assange and the Manning cables under the Obama administration, Assange’s fears were validated last month when it was revealed US authorities intended to charge Assange despite the clear violation of the First Amendment such a prosecution of a publisher would constitute.

In the intervening five years since Assange entered the Ecuadorean Embassy, Swedish and British authorities have concocted an ever more elaborate series of excuses not to interview him about the sexual assault allegations, despite the Queenslander repeatedly offering himself for interview, and Swedish authorities requesting that British police interviews dozens of people in the UK in relation to Swedish prosecutions during that period. The charade culminated in Ny being ordered by a Swedish court to interview him or face the quashing of her prosecution in 2014. However, Ny still had one card to play — she refused to engage with Ecuadorean authorities about obtaining access to Assange, creating a diplomatic wrangle that lasted until Assange was finally interviewed in November 2016.

As Assange always predicted, once he was interviewed and prosecutors had to decide whether to pursue the case, it was abandoned. Text messages from one of the alleged victims in 2010 had long ago confirmed that “it was the police who made up the charges” against Assange. However, Ny now says the decision to drop the investigation is because there is no prospect of Assange being surrendered to Sweden in the foreseeable future.

Throughout his time under house arrest and then in the Ecuadorean Embassy, Assange has received no assistance from the Australian government; in his memoir of his time as Foreign Minister under Julia Gillard, Bob Carr joked about deliberately trying to enrage Assange supporters.

Assange is unlikely to leave the protection of the Ecuadorean embassy immediately, however: he jumped bail in the UK in 2012 and faces the legal consequences of that, and while extradition from the UK is not as easy legally as from Sweden (from where he could be extradited in secret and without proper legal process), the United States — despite claims Wikileaks helped Donald Trump win the presidency — may yet seek to secure him on capital charges relating to the Manning cables.

Ny claims that she may reopen the prosecution “if Assange returns to Sweden before the statute of limitations ends in 2020” — despite the fact that Assange was actually interviewed in Sweden in 2010, repeatedly offered to be interviewed further by Ny when she took over the case, and was interviewed again last November.

Comments & corrections

Jan 24, 2017

5 comments

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. 

Europe

Jan 20, 2017

5 comments

He’s such a tease, that Julian Assange. First he tweets that, if President Obama grants clemency to Chelsea Manning, he will release himself from his Ecuadorian prison and accept extradition to the United States. Obama then commutes Manning’s 35-year sentence back to a release date this coming May. But Assange, via his US lawyer, now says “Mr Assange had called for Chelsea Manning to receive clemency and be released immediately”. Conditions not met, so Assange is staying put.

For starters, bullshit. Assange did not stipulate immediate release, and commuting a sentence is the very definition of clemency. Anyway, nobody asked Assange to get involved in Manning’s case in the first place, so all his posturing has achieved is further confirmation that this really is going to be the International Year of the Narcissistic Tweetstorm.

What actually is Assange’s martyrdom all about? On his narrative, he’s been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012 because the UK government wants to extradite him to Sweden on trumped-up sexual assault charges, from where he’ll be sent on to the US, where they want to shoot him as a spy. The real story is a little less romantic.

Why does the United States hate Julian Assange? 

In 2010, WikiLeaks published the 700,000 classified files Chelsea (then called Bradley) Manning stole from the US government while working in intelligence. The Americans were unamused and threw several books at Manning, who was ultimately convicted of espionage and numerous other crimes and got 35 years.

[WikiLeaks does good work. It’s not Assange who’s gone off the deep end, it’s us]

There’s no doubt that WikiLeaks and its attitude to open-sourcing the deep secrets of government has changed the game fundamentally. Assange is a figure of major importance. Vice-President Joe Biden called him a “cyber-terrorist”.

Has the US charged Julian Assange with anything? 

We don’t know. The US Department of Justice has never announced any charges against Assange. WikiLeaks suspects the charges may be under seal and therefore secret. It’s possible, but there’s no evidence either way.

If Assange was ever charged, it’d be unprecedented in US history. The First Amendment offers the most powerful free speech protection in the world, and no news organisation or journalist has ever been prosecuted there for publishing classified material. If they had a crack at Assange, it’d be a reflection of how much they fear WikiLeaks. It would be legally risky and a significant political calculation.

Assange’s period of greatest risk in terms of the US is now over anyway. Obama proved to be the most anti-whistleblower president ever, to everyone’s surprise. Donald Trump, well, who knows what he’s likely to do about anything, but I’m guessing it won’t include addressing questions that look hard, and he has tweeted favourably about Assange (on which measure, Alec Baldwin may be facing lese-majeste charges soon).

What about Sweden? 

There are two schools of thought. One says that he allegedly sexually assaulted two women in 2010. The other holds that his innocence is obvious and there’s an inter-governmental conspiracy.  Call me a lawyer, but I’m a fan of these things being resolved in court rather than by social media.

The facts are that Swedish authorities issued an arrest warrant for Assange in 2010, he was arrested in London, given bail and then in 2012 ordered to be extradited to Sweden. Instead, he entered the Ecuadorian embassy. Ecuador has granted him asylum, but he can’t physically get there. (Actually, since the coppers ended their 24/7 vigil, it probably would be feasible to sneak him onto a boat and float to Quito, which makes me wonder again how badly Assange really wants to escape the limelight.)

[Rundle: Rorschach test of Julian Assange rape claims gets more distinct]

In 2015, two of the charges against Assange became time barred, but the allegation of rape remains and can still be turned into a criminal charge if the Swedes ever get their hands on him.

As to whether the UK would put Assange on a plane to JFK if he stepped out into the Knightsbridge night, there’s no reason not to assume that they’d follow through with the more legally pressing imperative of extradition to Sweden. It is, if it needs repeating, an allegation of rape that he faces. Journalistic freedom and WikiLeaks’ social mission are not part of that equation.

Assange and extradition to the US 

Whether from the UK or Sweden, Assange’s risk of extradition into American hands is anything but assured. There are a few legal hurdles and none of them small.

Apart from question marks over whether the US offences with which Assange might be charged fall within the relevant extradition treaties, those treaties expressly exclude extradition in the case of “political offences”. Traditionally, espionage, along with treason and sedition, has been treated by the courts as a political offence.

There’s also then the problem that Assange could, hypothetically if convicted of espionage offences (and his lawyers have assiduously argued this point), face the death penalty in the US. The European Convention prevents extradition where the defendant is exposed to that outcome, and there is precedent for the proposition that the US prosecutors would be unable to offer a binding assurance that it would not be sought against Assange even if they had no such plans.

All of this is untested and worthy of a very long textbook, but the point is that Assange is in reality far less likely to end up cuffed to a US marshal on a transatlantic flight than has been suggested, should he go out for a walk.

Stripping it back 

A simple counterfactual may assist in working out what’s really happening here. Say the Swedish rape allegation had never come up. The Manning disclosures on WikiLeaks had already happened, which means that Assange was as exposed to US prosecution before he knew he was facing Swedish charges as he was afterwards.

Assange was at risk of extradition to the US from the UK any time from the WikiLeaks publication in 2010 up until when he entered the embassy in 2012. That risk didn’t go up or down. The only thing that changed was that he was ordered extradited to Sweden. His risk of extradition from Sweden to the US wasn’t different to the already existing risk from the UK.

It’s all a bit strange, and tempting to conclude that what’s been playing out in the Ecuadorian embassy all these years (and it appears for more to come) isn’t so much a freedom fighter’s travail as a really long temper tantrum.

By the way, the remaining potential Swedish charge of rape will become time-barred in 2020.

Tips and rumours

Jan 19, 2017

5 comments

January brings many well-loved debates to the Australian media sphere: should we say “Australia Day”? Should we celebrate Australia with images of people in hijabs? Who should be honoured as Australian of the Year? The Australian always runs its own competition — spoiler alert: Gina Rinehart always gets a nomination. Now the Spectator Australia has a contribution to make, suggesting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should get the gong. How things change! Former Coalition adviser John Adams writes:

The award’s criteria are threefold: a contribution to the community locally, nationally or globally, an inspirational role model and demonstrated excellence. 

“Assange exceeds across all these categories through liberating the citizens of the world with the truth, demonstrating phenomenal moral and physical courage and creating the world’s leading international publishing house of secrets with a perfect 10-year publishing record of authentic and original source material. 

“Of all the named finalists for the 2017 award, their efforts pale into insignificance compared with what Assange has accomplished in 2016.”

It’s a topsy-turvy world.

News

Jan 19, 2017

5 comments

From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Ley’s diary going, going, gone. The Department of Health has said it can no longer access former health minister Sussan Ley’s diary since her resignation.

When Ley stood aside last week pending an investigation into her expenses, she told reporters that she would be making her diary available as part of PM&C secretary Martin Parkinson’s investigation into her expenses claims, in particular around her trips to the Gold Coast, where she bought an investment property as an impulse buy. She refused to release her diary to the media because she said journalists would go on “fishing expeditions”.

The statement, like a red rag to a bull, prompted Crikey to file a freedom of information request with the Department of Health to Ley’s office — there is no direct way to send FOI requests to ministers — asking for Ley’s diary over the pertinent two months. 

But yesterday afternoon, after Malcolm Turnbull announced Greg Hunt would replace Ley as minister for health and sport, the department said it was unlikely the documents still existed:

“It is unlikely that documents such as those to which you have sought access will be in the possession of the new Minister and as such you may wish to consider withdrawing your request.  I can confirm that the Department of Health does not have possession of any of the documents to which you have sought access.  You may wish to consider submitting a new request to an alternate agency.”

Other agencies have made similar claims over diaries of former ministers once they step down, including Trade with Andrew Robb, and PM&C when Turnbull replaced Abbott. The failure to retain the diaries of former ministers could potentially be in breach of the Commonwealth Archives Act.

The Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet might have a copy of Ley’s diary as part of its investigation, but Turnbull told journalists he had no intention of releasing any findings from the investigation that resulted in Ley resigning from the cabinet.

“The advice that I’ve received from the Secretary of my Department is advice to me and the Governance Committee of Cabinet. The practice has not been to release advice of that kind.”

Latho loves the Libs. Mark Latham stuck the boot into Mike Baird this morning, following the news Baird would step down as NSW Premier. But Latho’s view of Baird does not apply to all Liberals, with the former Labor leader set to appear at a fundraiser for the Roseville branch of the Liberal Party, speaking at a dinner hosted by the Northern Sydney Conservative Forum. As reported in The Australian today, Latham will speak on the topic “The Fight to Save our Civilisation: Why Social Conservatives and Social Democrats have found Common Cause” on February 22. The organisation has previously hosted Jennifer Oriel and Tom Switzer in similar events, and tickets to this one cost $85 a pop. 

 

 

Where’s Tony? A tipster spotted former prime minister Tony Abbott at the Hilton Hotel in Adelaide yesterday, right in time for the Tour Down Under, the cycling event that takes place across South Australia this week. Today he has tweeted he is taking part in the Beat Cancer Tour, which rides the same path as the Santos Tour. Of course, riding hundreds of kilometres doesn’t stop Abbott from paying attention to politics; yesterday the former PM defended his legacy, tweeting “traditional cabinet processes operated at all times between 2013 and 2015” and “A govt without proper process would not have stopped the boats, concluded the big FTAs and made a very strong start to budget repair”.

Culleton gone fishin’. Last week we reported that Rod Culleton’s name still adorned his office in Parliament House, as he was claiming that because he still had his senator’s badge and his office, it meant that he was still a senator, despite being ruled ineligible to do the job because of being bankrupt. Culleton later said he was going on a “self-imposed” absence from the job, after warnings from Senate president Stephen Parry about the penalties for impersonating a public official. His Facebook page now reads “Rod Culleton ‘Senator’ for WA – Gone Fishin'”. Yes, they are his scare quotes around “senator”. 

Spectator hearts Julian Assange. January brings many well-loved debates to the Australian media sphere: should we say “Australia Day”? Should we celebrate Australia with images of people in hijabs? Who should be honoured as Australian of the Year? The Australian always runs its own competition — spoiler alert: Gina Rinehart always gets a nomination. Now the Spectator Australia has a contribution to make, suggesting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should get the gong. How things change! Former Coalition adviser John Adams writes:

The award’s criteria are threefold: a contribution to the community locally, nationally or globally, an inspirational role model and demonstrated excellence. 

“Assange exceeds across all these categories through liberating the citizens of the world with the truth, demonstrating phenomenal moral and physical courage and creating the world’s leading international publishing house of secrets with a perfect 10-year publishing record of authentic and original source material. 

“Of all the named finalists for the 2017 award, their efforts pale into insignificance compared with what Assange has accomplished in 2016.”

It’s a topsy-turvy world.

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

Comments & corrections

Jan 19, 2017

5 comments

No deal

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “Let’s make a deal” (yesterday). It’s not really up to Julian Assange to decide to jump on a plane to the US. If he steps out of the Ecuadorian embassy, he will be arrested for breaking his bail. He will then face possible extradition to Sweden. He may end up before a US court at some point, but he’s not in a position to make a “deal”.

Ley down

Mark Freeman writes: Re. “Ley replaced with two men with similar scandals” (yesterday). As the Sussan Ley scandal winds down, will we see media investigations into who had it in for her and why? The case has all the hallmarks of a hatchet job especially given the numerous other expenses rorts detailed. By contrast, the public interest was served in the Bronnie case where an incompetent relic was finally excised by her own striking act of entitled foolishness. In Ley’s case we’ve lost a moderately competent minister from an otherwise low grade field. The big question is why?
 
Infosec worries

Malcolm Barnett writes: Re. “Tip or hack? Journos should be careful with secret info, security expert warns” (yesterday). How good to hear that the Professor is 99.9 PC sure Russia hacked the DNC, but even ODNI has no evidence to support this assertion. Cyber security is certainly important, although the upside of hacking, which is usually ignored, is that the general public get an idea about what politicians and others who claim to have their interests at heart are really doing!