DAVID MACILWAIN.  Two Australians in trouble abroad.  

Apr 17, 2019

The law to censor violent content rushed through Parliament last week connected dots between two Australians abroad, when Julian Assange was “extradited” from Ecuadorian territory, in London. I examine the linkages.

When new draconian legislation to censor violent content in social media and elsewhere was rustled through Parliament at the end of the last session, practically unopposed except by the Greens’ Adam Bandt, the dangers it posed to investigative journalism were ignored. Why exactly the Labor party had agreed to this self-serving last act by the Coalition government before its predicted demise in the coming election is unclear, and worrying. This is particularly so given what happened in strangely similar circumstances before Christmas, when the Labor party was blackmailed into agreeing to intrusive new powers in anti-encryption legislation, on the basis these could be reviewed and amended when Parliament returned; such a review was finally dismissed as unnecessary by home affairs minister Peter Dutton – as had clearly always been the Government’s intention.

The passing of the new laws to prosecute companies and individuals who allow violent content to appear on the web came about, or was enabled, by the Christchurch atrocity. The extreme nature of the new laws drew the attention of international media, who also highlighted the lack of opposition in the Australian parliament. Given that the criminal was “one of our own”, perhaps this was appropriate.

In what seems like a strange twist of fate, or to some like an unlikely coincidence worth investigating, the threat to whistle-blowers from this legislation prohibiting the screening of graphic videos like that recorded by Brenton Tarrant’s head-cam, brought a specific example to mind – the video recorded by US marines targeting and killing civilians from a chopper in Iraq, whose release caused such a scandal. The callous and total disregard for innocent lives revealed in the marines’ audio commentary drew particular attention.

I don’t imagine that I was alone in remembering that video evidence of a specific US war-crime committed in Iraq, even though I may not have thought of just how it came to our attention – till Thursday night. Neither did I imagine then that I would see that footage in a major news bulletin only a week later, following Julian Assange’s violent abduction from the Ecuadorian embassy by British police.

In amongst the rehash of stories about Swedish rape charges, cat poo, and bail-skipping, even the BBC felt it necessary to replay the incriminating footage of “Collateral Damage”. While describing what had taken place, and accompanied by the sound of gunfire, the video extract somehow avoided showing any actual shootings, unlike that shown on Russian news bulletins. The BBC was also forced to show the RT/Ruptly footage of Assange being dragged into a police van, but cut out the audio of him shouting in resistance. It beggars belief that the BBC would not have been informed of Assange’s imminent seizure, but sought to conceal the ugly reality from the public view and so sent no crew along to film the event. The BBC has also been at the forefront of efforts by OffCom to exclude RT’s “actualite’” from the UK. Russian TV networks have become even less welcome in the wake of the Skripal operation, while their interest has been stoked by the abduction of their citizens and the lawless behaviour of the UK government.

Julian Assange is of course also one of our own, though a significant proportion of Australians would prefer him not to be. In a pitiful and mealy-mouthed statement to the press, PM Scott Morrison said that Assange would be afforded the same treatment as any other Australian in similar circumstances, as if this was all that could be expected for someone “already found guilty” of criminal activity. As Theresa May says – quite disingenuously – “this shows that no-one is above the law”. Except those in command of it, who seem to operate above local and international law as they see fit.

Emphasising that point, Morrison added that Australia would not oppose the extradition of this Australian citizen from Britain to the US, making his government complicit in what would be a clearly illicit act. Incredibly, the admission that there was always the intent to extradite Assange to the US – so long denied as “conspiracy theory” – drew little attention. We know now that there was a conspiracy, and a secret indictment drawn up almost a decade ago, initially to have Assange extradited from Sweden following fabricated rape charges, and then from the UK.

The substance of the US charges on which extradition will be sought could be described as “Trumped up” – except that they were the work of the Obama administration – because they are the same charges considered and abandoned by Obama’s attorney general Eric Holder. Which makes the extradition yet another layer of “conspiracy”; the intent is evidently to further stifle Assange and Wikileaks, by any means. It’s also hard to see how such action can now conceal what has already been revealed about US criminality, other than by discrediting the source; perhaps that explains the extraordinary personal attacks on Assange’s character, which have absolutely no relevance to his actions as a journalist and whistleblower.

Taking an overview of the whole case, of Wikileaks vs NATO, of exposure vs concealment, the final entrapment of Julian Assange must be seen as a new point of departure. Those analysts and journalists who truly seek to expose the petty crimes and war crimes and conspiracies of the US Empire and its allies – particularly those of the Five Eyes – must intensify their efforts, and fight attempts to silence them through what remains of our legal system. We may be unable to save Assange from the corrupted and politicised kangaroo courts of England, Sweden and America, but we can take up his torch; re-examining some of Wikileaks’ revelations would be a good place to start, such as the highly incriminating content of Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Just as the terrorist actions of Brenton Tarrant revealed the roots of his violence in Australian society, but inspired some new commitment to peace and reconciliation, so with Julian Assange’s “cyber warfare” on behalf of the mostly Muslim victims of that militarism – we might say “White Supremacist” militarism – in Iraq and Afghanistan, Syria and Palestine. Assange’s imprisonment should now at least draw a line under our commitment to and cooperation with our colonial allies in any such military campaigns.

At its crudest, it’s a choice on which of these two notorious Australians we would choose to represent us abroad – firearm warrior Tarrant or cyber-warrior Assange?

David Macilwain is an independent observer and writes from his home in NE Victoria. He supports Julian Assange without reservation, and demands that Australia opposes his extradition to the US.

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