Julian Assange asks why shouldn’t the Australian people consider charging Prime Minister Julia Gillard with treason?
What’s wrong with this picture? Nothing. Granted, one person’s Benedict Arnold is another’s Paul Revere. But, if betrayal and illegally passing on intelligence to the United States and other foreign governments are sine quibus non in matters treasonable, then hasn’t Assange got a point worthy of non-hysterical debate? After all, he knows where the bodies are.
The other night on the Oz ABC weekly current affairs forum “Q and A,” the normal panel format was ditched in favor of a single guest. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was resplendent, glowing in both lip and political gloss, fresh as a par avion daisy from her triumphant US trip where, we are led to believe, she wowed the Yanks and delivered a speech so moving that it reduced Congress to racking sobs and got a standing ovation longer than Beyonce’s performance for Gaddafi the Younger.
During the show, the prime minister (PM) took a not unexpected question from a member of the studio audience about WikiLeaks and responded in a not unexpected way by not answering it but, suffocating it with waffle.
This is how it went sequentially, and here I quote from the ABC transcript. First, handsome Adam Marsters asked the PM, ” … following WikiLeaks’ publishing of classified documents last year, you labelled the organisation’s actions ‘ illegal ‘ despite being unable to identify any law which had been broken. Given the increasingly vocal support for WikiLeaks, do you now regret such comments? “
PM: “… We are supporting Julian Assange the same way we would support any Australian citizen who got into a legal difficulty overseas.
“We support people who are accused of drug trafficking. We support people who are accused of murder…. I’m sure everyone here would say ‘Well, drug trafficking is wrong. Murder is wrong …’
“So my view about the conduct is neither here nor there in that sense. He’s getting the same support someone called John Smith would get in the same situation. But I do have a view about the merit and morals of the act and I simply don’t see the moral force in it.
“… I know enough about American history to know the history of Watergate and Deep Throat did the right thing getting that information into the public domain … At the centre of WikiLeaks, I don’t see that moral purpose.”
Then, host Tony Jones took a question coming in on video online. It was Assange calling, persona non grata in person, face to Internet face with the PM.
Now, Upabove in America, bringing antagonist and protagonist together on the telly is quite normal, but Downunder, we get our knickers in a barrier reef knot when we do grown up newsy things.
Naturally, it was an expectant moment when Assange asked quietly and calmly, “Prime Minister, you just got back from Washington, but what Australian citizens want to know is, which country do you represent?”
“Do you represent Australians and will you fight for Australian interests?
“Because it’s not the first time that you or a member of your cabinet has been into a US government building and exchanged information.
“In fact, we have intelligence that your government has been exchanging information with foreign powers about Australian citizens working for WikiLeaks.
“So, Prime Minister, my question to you is this: When will you come clean about precisely what information you have supplied to foreign powers about Australian citizens working or affiliated with WikiLeaks?
“And if you cannot give a full and frank answer to that question, should perhaps the Australian people consider charging you with treason?”
Given that in their collective desperation to relieve Assange of his formidable capabilities, the Australian, US, and other governments are feverishly rifling through everything from the Magna Carta, the Constitution, the color logbook for the black Model T Ford and Sweden’s Ikea dissembling manual to nail this dude – I don’t think so.
The PM’s response to Assange was one of consummate obfuscation. She first gave her trademark nervous chuckle. Her response certainly gave me a laugh, as it will you.
Here’s why: “I honestly don’t know what he is talking about so I’m afraid I can’t help him with full and frank disclosures. I don’t know anything about exchanging information about people who work for WikiLeaks.”
How’s that for an unknown unknown? Fabio wouldn’t melt in her mouth, let alone butter.
Host Jones pressed the point. “So, it hasn’t happened to your knowledge?”
“To my knowledge it hasn’t happened,” said the PM. “But on the more broad allegations he makes about do we exchange information about Australian citizens with foreign governments, yes, we do sometimes.”
As examples, the PM cited drug trafficking and terrorism. As if we don’t watch “Judge Judy,” “NYPD,” “CSI,” “Blue Bloods” and “Two and a Half-Humen” here in Oz!
But Tony wasn’t having any of it and spoke up on behalf of the USA. “What about espionage, which of course, is the charge the United States would like to lay at the feet of Julian Assange?” he queried.
So, now I’m thinking Mary Magdalene. But Julia ain’t. She’s thinking pincer movements.
“Mr Assange hasn’t been charged with anything relating to WikiLeaks … He’s got some legal issues relating to personal conduct questions – alleged personal conduct questions in Sweden – and no-one in the United States raised with me, Mr Assange. No-one.”
I’m thinking Lazarus and Jesus, bejeezus.
But hang on Big Julie. One minute you say you don’t know nuttin’ and the next thing, you profess to know everything.
And thus it went. Except the next morning the sun rose to a wall of outrage from some sections of the media and politicians asserting Jones and “Q and A” had “ambushed ” the PM by “setting her up” and having Assange call in. Bollocks.
The fact that any PM, or president for that matter, would be rendered insensible by appearing on a television show the very id of which is based on taking audience and online questions, is laughable. Is the PM really incapable of taking a question without notice from one of her citizens, albeit one who wears a tracking device and is under house arrest in a foreign country?
For a start, why weren’t Julia’s minders on the ball? After all, when former PM John Howard, Dubya’s old best friend in the Coalition of the Killing, was on the same show last year spruiking his autobiography (don’t they all) not only did an audience member chuck his shoe at Howard (remind you of something?), but Gitmo survivor David Hicks called in via video link to ask Howard a question.
Right now in Oz, we seem to be in a state of political flux about who is actually in control of the government. We might have to join the United States. Gillard and our Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, the man she deposed as PM, are not talking with one another and can’t even agree to disagree over a no-fly zone over Libya. Goodness, even the Arab League has given it the camel’s hump (thumbs up). No flies on them.
While she was in the United States of Obama, Julia’s J curve moment arose when she spoke to the joint sitting of Congress, basically to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty; an imperative alliance between Australia, New Zealand and the United States and forged in blood as well as great affection.
Clearly, to address Congress is a privilege and act of political courtesy, for Australia earns personal kudos for Gillard and is great for the curriculum vitae she needs to update, since the word is she shouldn’t view the prime ministership as a long-term option.
Some thought her speech to Congress was overemotional and obsequious to the United States. But so what if her speech was a bit naff and starry-eyed. She was in the moment. You go girl, I thought. She might as well be at Graceland with diamonds on the soles of her Blundstone workboots.
Thankfully she doesn’t have the same strain of testosterone in her as Sarah Palin who’s desperate to address Congress; otherwise she would have stormed in with an AK48 (the 47 is for wusses) and shot at anything with horns or who looked like a moose or Tina Fey.
O.K., so Julia teared up when talking about Apollo 1l. You’d be forgiven for thinking she’d set off the entire waterworks in the House, if the media reports back here in Oz were anything to go by.
Who cares if the moon landing was really done in a back lot at Disney – it gave great TV. Bono, Julia, I and millions of others are agreed on that. It reeked of the grandeur, hope and nobility of our shared humanity, of love, peace and flower power and Camelot. Imagine. What happened to all of that? Now I’ve teared up. Hope they hurry up and do a sequel.
Even without CGI, they did a great job. But if you look very closely at the bottom right hand corner of the screen in that dear, grainy film, far in the background of the moonscape, just before Armstrong found God and took that giant leap for mankind, you will see the faint outline of what is clearly a parking meter. Or a kid called Ricky Gervais.
I wasn’t expecting our PM to seize that bonzer opportunity to address Congress to necessarily give the world a cooee about getting our collective act together to rid it of war, hunger, poverty, slavery, child sex abuse, disease, inequity, injustice, despots, corrupt governments, and all of that.
Nah. She’s not into foreign policy. Like carbon tax, the environment and the coal industry, it’s not her strong soot. We know that. She warned us. “Foreign policy is not my passion, ” she said.
But where was talk of freedom of speech, democracy, public accountability, transparency, justice and human rights? And how come she didn’t mention our ubiquitous meat pie and all that inhabits it.
Nor did I expect her, before those good and patient people, to ask the world to accept responsibility for the protection and preservation of Planet Earth. She rather used the performance as an opportunity to practice her new sotto voce Maggie Thatcher-type delivery.
As Julia delivered her speech, tears welled up, her voice faltered. The cameras couldn’t fail but zoom in on Speaker John Boehner wiping tears from his rather lovely eyes, given that he was standing directly behind our PM and the prez.
But what the Oz media spinmeisters and commentators at the time either didn’t know or didn’t show (a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell”) was this – Johnny is a self-diagnosed serial blubberer.
Everyone warned Obama that Boehner was a bawler who should be kept away from the plush velvet sofas in The White House, lest he leave watermarks. In fact, when he was first mooted for the position once held by Nancy Pelosi, American media and commentators were awash with argument about Boehner’s suitability on these grounds alone.
So, while Julia was teaching the prez about the finer points of Australian rules football, sinking the Sherrin in at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and schmoozing on Capitol Hill, back home at the branch stacking capital of the universe, her popularity ratings have become rodent excreta.
The Age/Nielsen poll reports that Gillard’s disapproval level is the only thing that’s gone up, four points to 47 percent. And her personal approval rating dipped five points. No wonder Minister Rudd is swanning around the world, acting like a rock star and lapping up the fact that his personal popularity is now higher than the woman who knifed him.
Kevin and the Ruddites can see the graffiti on the wall. You can Banksy on it.
Obama’s not a drongo. He called it like it is when he publicly damned Julia with faint praise. “From a distance at least, she’s doing an outstanding job.” Remember that prophetic Grammy-winning hit by Bette Midler in 1990 and the words “from a distance you look like my friend”?
She makes a cute l’il Obama girl don’t she? All that stuff about Vegemite or Vegemitenot. Obama certainly didn’t even wait to inhale; he made his distaste quite clear when he said the dark elixir was ” horrible.” Julia explained it should be thinly spread. Gotcha. Just like her promises. Ain’t that the truth y’all.
You’d think for all the hype, spin and media coverage the wide-bottomed, little, red-headed girl got back here in Oz, that some serious political impact had been made by the PM upon the Yanks. It hadn’t. Sure, it was all folksy, but way dumbed down and barely rated a mention in the US. Check it out. I cold-called and contacted Aussies living in the States. Most were unaware that Julia was in town, despite the staged photo calls.
It is disappointing that no one asked the hard questions of both the president and the PM – while they were in the same room playing footy and political footsies.
Despite protestations to the contrary, the subject of Assange and WikiLeaks was indeed on the table for discussion – and with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Air Force Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper, now director of National Intelligence, and CIA Director Leon Panetta. What of the outcome of the meetings with these great minds?
The PM was indeed scheduled to discuss Assange with the above. Her carefully scripted response on “Q and A” that no one had talked to her of Assange in the States is, it appears, correct.
It was agreed that others should discuss the matter on Gillard’s behalf. Such strategic connivance might indeed buy her some time in her feeble attempt to distance and extricate herself from her legally imprudent judgment that Assange’s activities were “illegal.” But time is running out for the government in relation to its mishandling of the Assange case, and she will never be able to disentangle herself from that remark unless she withdraws it with an apology.
(In December last year, an Australian Federal Police investigation found that Assange had no case to answer, and intelligence operatives and bureaucrats from several organizations are impatient with the government’s demands to “nail Assange” and becoming more talkative to the media. Rumors regularly swirl about leaks to the media, but in the past week, these rumors have intensified.)
It is inconceivable that the subject would not be extensively discussed, especially given Assange, unlike Australian Prime Minister Gillard, is an Australian-born citizen – and given the proliferation of explosive material released and/or published by WikiLeaks that exposes the duplicity of Australian, American, and numerous other governments, and indisputably contributes to the Tunisian revolution and subsequent continuing events in arguable degree.
For months, we’ve known that the Australian government seriously contemplated charging Assange on charges of treason. This embarrassingly idiotic and fanciful repudiation of democracy and freedom of speech ironically places Australia on a par with despotic and authoritarian regimes of other countries currently experiencing revolutionary turmoil for denying basic human rights to their citizens – including freedom of speech and dissent.
Moreover, our PM did reprehensible damage to Julian Assange by publicly declaring his activities to be “illegal” and given the calls for his assassination and murder, her remarks continue to render him vulnerable to attack and injury. She might as well have declared a fatwa on Assange.
Former Arkansas Gov. and presidential wannabe Republican Mike Huckabee infamously stated, “anything less than execution” was “too kind a penalty. Whoever leaked that information is guilty of treason.”
In December last year, Fairfax media published WikiLeaks cables confirming that Labor apparatchik and Julia’s queenmaker, Sen. Mark Arbib, had been feeding intelligence to American diplomats about the toxic powerplay between then PM Kevin Rudd and his then Deputy, Julia Gillard. How come that’s not treason? And he isn’t the only one.
Now poor spokesman for the US State Department P.J. Crowley has fallen on his sword and resigned – for truthfully answering a question from students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at a talk on the benefits of new media as it relates to foreign policy.
Great benefits. Listen up all you budding journalists. You tell the truth, and you’re outa there.
Sitting in the audience was Nieman Journalism Fellow at Harvard, Philippa Thomas. On March 10, on her blog “Philippa Thomas Online,” the BBC journalist posted a short article about an astonishingly honest exchange between a member of the audience and Crowley.
Crowley was asked about Pvt. Bradley Manning (who allegedly supplied WikiLeaks with material) and about the US “torturing a prisoner in a military brig.”
Crowley’s response included, “What is happening to Manning is ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid and I don’t know why the DoD (Department of Defense) is doing it. Nonetheless, he is in the right place.”
To her credit, Philippa asked Crowley if the quote was on the record. To his credit, after what she described as an “uncomfortable pause,” he said, “Sure.” She went to press.
I think Crowley couldn’t take all the deception and spin any more. He wasn’t going to continue The Big Lie. He taught those students a rare and important lesson: sometimes you just have to stand by your words and your principles.
Being an ex-Air Force chap, Crowley would easily identify with Manning. He would know of the dirty little secrets similar to those that abound in all of our defense forces – including the shabby treatment of damaged returnees. And those cruel things that are not secrets, like the Republican plan for the House of Representatives to eliminate 10,000 housing vouchers for homeless military veterans.
Amid the backdrop of man-made horrors and our growing impotence against nature, whose formidable and angry arsenal seems to be waging war upon us all, on land, sea and air – the infantile conduct and incompetence of our politicians and governments as they eek out their petty powerplays, seems unworthy of the trust of their citizens.
The long hour hath already cometh for the world. But from whence cometh the (wo)man?
A version of this article first appeared in Independent Australia.