It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding): But even the president of the United States, sometimes must have to stand naked. – Bob Dylan
Celebrity certainly got Julian Assange into a lot of trouble. One of the organisers of the Bring Julian Home campaign asked me for a critique of the campaign. He later asked for the audio from one of the speakers who compared Julian Assange to the early Christian matyrs. Presumably he asked for this because he thought it was a good speech and because the crowd at Bunyapa Park on My Day responded strongly to it. In that small request lies the problem with the strange case of Julian Assange.
I can provide a response to the former request but not to the latter.
People have placed personality before the concerns of the masses. Wars, refugees, poverty and Covid have barely touched the Australian people … most live with privilege. Many people still have well paid jobs, there is money being spent. This is not true of other parts of the world. Sadly there is a tendency to listen to celebrity and not to the voice of the people, especially those who are struggling. There is no doubt Assange has reason to be upset about his ten years in detention, but not on the same scale as the Iraqi people or the people of Afghanistan. Eventually people will rise up and the celebrity that follows this campaign will be a mere footnote (or possibly a Hollywood film).
What is Freedom of the Press? If the intention of the US government was to stymie Wikileakes, then the ten years Julian has spent in detention has certainly done the trick. In recent years, the general public have heard very little from Wikileakes about war crimes being committed around the world by the US government nor have we heard about the dirty wars and civil strife being waged by their client states in the Latin America, Oceania,the Middle East and Asia. Speakers kept talking about press freedom but what is it? Especially here in Australia where Murdoch and his right wing media reigns supreme. Do people really believe in it? I doubt people put much faith in the press, especially when it contradicts their own experience.
Wikileakes’s main focus was Iraq and Afghanistan. Later Assange did a stint on Russian television and interviewed the leader of the Iranian backed Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah. A bit of a no no in the western press.
During his detention there has been a civil war in Syria, a terrible conflict in Yemen and Israel has continued its repression of the Palestinian people. And of course the never ending conflict in Afghanistan has revealed war crimes committed by the coalition of western governments (including Australia).
Political activist defence
There is not that much to criticise about the defence of Assange because the aim is clear. Get him out of those cruel prisons.
Much has been made of Julian being a journalist and publisher but little has been said of his political activism. I think this presents a problem. For example, Assange campaigned against Hilary Clinton becoming President of the United States and may have had some impact on that front by releasing her private email trail. The Clinton’s supported the war on Iraq that caused the deaths of over a million people and destroyed one of the earliest places of civilisation that had gone on to become a modern secular state. All in the name of democracy. A democracy that gave the world Donald Trump. But then Trump didn’t go to a war that killed millions like the Clinton’s and the Bush’s did. There wasn’t enough good real estate in it for Trump to be bothered.
Along came Assange, the iconoclast, with his leaked cables and suddenly the Emperors were wearing no clothes.
However Assange, the political activist, does not resonate well with liberals (Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International USA and Reporters Without Borders) so he has been remade from a boy wunderkind into a legit journo. The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) here in Australia even signed him up.
Meanwhile his dad, John Shipton, is travelling around in a van talking to anyone who will listen about the cruelty of his captors, the people who invented rendition to Guantanamo Bay and Diego Garcia, waterboarding and the like.
Not all Assange’s supporters are political … some give support through common decency and revile the murderous mob that would jail him for life and drive him insane. You know the people to whom I refer, the republicans and democrats and evangelical followers who want a march of atonement from Assange. For them it is a Game of Thrones where Assange is an early Christian martyr who must be fed to the lions because he can’t stomach the hypocrites in the democratic party. Muslims, too, know all about the hypocrites.
The legal defence
By some quirk of British law, a magistrate has ruled that Assange should not be extradited to the United States. She was fearful that by sending him there for trial he may commit suicide, such is his intelligence (she actually said he was too smart for his captors). Then his matrydom would be plainly evident, even to the evangelicals that inhabit that country.
Last month, John Shipton went to the US to try to obtain an audience with Joe Biden to seek a reprieve from the attorney general’s relentless pursuit of the man who ‘told the truth’. No luck. Biden has bigger fish to fry.
Nevertheless the higher court in England is not likely to overturn the magistrate’s decision to block extradition of Assange to stand trial in the US for espionage. This is because her decision was ‘an exercise of a discretion‘ something higher courts do not like overturning because the discretion is based on facts she heard in court and cannot be fairly contested or revisited. Unless the US attorney general comes up with a major error of law that the magistrate made to convince the judges to send Assange packing. This seems unlikely.
So that will mean Julian will no longer be on bail. He will become a person who has overstayed his visa in the United Kingdom. What will the British do? Deport him to Australia? Despite his wife and children living in the UK as citizens. Maybe his supporters should start thinking about obtaining an Irish passport for Julian. That may give him some breathing space, to decide what he wants to do.
One thing is for sure. Neither Morrison nor Albanese will touch Assange with a barge pole. They are far too connected to the US alliance to risk their relationship with Biden and the US government. Somewhere down the track someone may sell the film rights of Julian’s story to Hollywood.
And then Australia will have its own Falcon and the Snowman.
5 May 2021