WikiLeaks watchers had been expecting it for weeks, but when news came on 11 April that Ecuador had revoked Julian Assange’s asylum, a collective shudder went around the extended community. Next day the pictures appeared, and they made it worse. Images familiar to everyone of a young man waving from the Embassy balcony were suddenly replaced by the sight of a puffy-faced, balding, white-bearded victim of seven years on the inside. It was rather like when instead of the early Osama bin Laden, the world saw the new reality – a stooped, grizzled invalid, soon to be shot down by Navy SEALS. ‘I told you so,’ Assange quipped.
Dragged from the Embassy sarcophagus, Assange might have hoped to enjoy the fresh surroundings, if only for a few minutes. But no, into a car, off to court, and back to high security jail for breaching his bail in 2012. This was the moment British police had been waiting for, as well as the Home Office, MI5, MI6 and many politicians, one of whom called Assange a ‘miserable little worm’ in Parliament. They had told the weakening Swedish prosecutors in 2012 not to back down, saying Assange’s case was high stakes; they had refused him Ecuadorian diplomatic status; they spent millions guarding him; and they weren’t going easy on him now. No-one, Prime Minister May intoned to braying supporters in Parliament, ‘is above the law’.
The US authorities’ moment had also come. A warrant for Assange’s arrest had been issued in December 2017 under the Espionage Act for conspiring with Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning in early 2010 to release classified material. In March 2019 US officials stated that the Grand Jury’s case was based on Assange’s publications before 2016, and therefore had nothing to do with hacking the DNC or manipulation of the Presidential election, which is just as well, since Robert Mueller found Russia hadn’t either (Washington Post, 6 March 2019; Caitlyn Johnstone, ‘Russiagate grand wizard deceives audience about Assange, Medium, 7 March 2019; Weekend Australian Magazine, 5 September 2015: 17-20). But the US wants Assange extradited to face charges with Manning, recently re-arrested in what seems like a choreographed step-by-step trans-Atlantic performance. The UK, having refused to admit such a request from the US, has now cited it together with the bail charge as the reasons for Assange’s arrest. After the Grand Jury, as Assange always said, it was only a matter of time.
What made the UK and US governments treat Assange as a public enemy?
WikiLeaks was one year old in 2007 when it revealed the Kenyan President’s corruption, Barclay’s Bank’s tax avoidance and the oil trader Trifigura’s dumping of toxic waste. Young people in the Middle East and North Africa, who read in WikiLeaks about the corruption of their leaders, overthrew them in the 2010-11 ‘Arab Spring’. WikiLeaks exposed covert US operations in Guatemala, Venezuela, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Ecuador against progressive governments and electoral candidates. In 2010 WikiLeaks published documents selected from more than 700 000 US diplomatic cables, assessment files of Guantánamo Bay detainees, military incident logs and a video from Iraq, in which a helicopter pilot says, ‘Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards!’ and is congratulated for shooting civilians (Collateral Murder, 2010). WikiLeaks exposed the fact that torture at Abu Ghraib prison was no exception.
WikiLeaks revealed that in 2009 Clinton had asked for details about UN officials’ private communications and in 2010 had authorised intelligence gathering from selected UN leaders and Security Council members. WikiLeaks also published a chapter from the draft Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), showing the US objective was to promote ‘America’s chief export, intellectual property: patents, copyright and trademarks, in the form of pharmaceuticals, films, books, software, music and much else’. Investor-state dispute settlement provisions would allow foreign companies to pursue legal cases against a government in foreign tribunals if it introduced policies contrary to their interests. Local companies would not have this advantage (Ross Gittins, ‘US trade treaties a treat for the US,’ SMH 11 December 2013: 16, 17). Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, which would be a prime beneficiary of such an agreement, had another reason for enmity toward Assange: he passed to News Corp’s competitors what was then the largest leak of US government secrets.
How did Assange become Ecuador’s enemy?
Assange’s other trans-Atlantic frenemy is President Moreno of Ecuador, who welcomed the Embassy guest no more warmly than he did the socialist legacy of his predecessor Rafael Correa. After he cut off Assange’s internet lifeline, WikiLeaks might have had good reason to publish the INA Papers which exposed Moreno’s large offshore investments through his brother’s company, although it’s not sure that this is how they came to light. Instead, Moreno complained that WikiLeaks revealed pictures of his wife and daughters at home. More to the point was Moreno receiving from the IMF and World Bank billions in concessional finance, whose timing whether fortuitous or orchestrated, looked like a reward from the US (Blacklisted, 11 April. https://www.blacklistednews.com/article/72115/ecuadors-globalist-regime-received-billions-to-sell-out-julian.html). Mueller’s findings may been expected to help, but when they didn’t, the Trump White House under Pompeo and Bolton went ahead anyway, and Ecuador and Britain did what was expected of them. Ecuador, said Australian Barrister in London, Geoffrey Robinson, will be seen as a ‘scoundrel country’. There are others.
What will Australia do?
Australia is five weeks from an election, and Labor has the opportunity to support Assange and embarrass the ruling conservative coalition. Generous government support has been given to paedophiles and drug traffickers, as well as to two journalists, imprisoned in other countries: but not to Assange. Dedicated supporters, and his Australian legal team in London, are campaigning against his extradition to the US. Both the UK and Australia claim to resist extradition to a state which has the death penalty, but not, it appears, to the US. They have a year at most, while Assange serves time for his bail offence, to decide between their own law and the pressure from their ally.
But in times of manufactured consent, once a negative narrative takes hold, the mainstream media pile onto its target. The longer that goes on, the less the narrative will change. All the better if the target cannot respond. So the negative impression solidifies around Assange. Australians have been infected by years of mainstream media negativism, and the personalised vitriol spread by journalists who may be jealous of his scoops. Some have lost interest, some hated him from the start, and others see him as undermining the US alliance which they imagine guarantees Australia’s security. If they read WikiLeaks or Assange’s book, The WikiLeaks Files (2015), they might join the band who are still fighting for Assange and what he stands for.
Dr Alison Broinowski AM was an Australian diplomat and is working with Be Sure On War, a campaign to change the war powers of the Australian government.