WikiLeaks has awakened many people to the cynical and violent workings of the political, military and corporate entities that run the world. For Christine Assange this awakening has been heightened because her son is WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange — now the target of the powerful 1% who have not appreciated his contribution to transparency.
“I started off on this journey saying WikiLeaks is great in theory but … I’m not going to support it publicly before I’ve read everything I can on it,” she told Green Left Weekly. “It was quite a journey for me.”
“I’m really just the average Mary Smith … Now I am horrified, both about the threat to Julian, and about the threat to global democracy, that I discovered from investigation and reading of my own.”
Her journey is taking her to Canberra on November 17, when US President Barack Obama is addressing the Australian parliament and meeting PM Julia Gillard. She will join anti-war protesters opposing the Australia-US alliance. She accused the Australian government of “arse-covering” for the US over WikiLeaks, and failing its obligations to an Australian citizen for the sake of the US alliance.
“In my opinion we have become nothing more than a franchise of the US and Julia Gillard has traded my son for her position as prime minister … I’m going right to where the buck stops, which is Canberra, and I’ll be talking to people about this case.
“The only way we can get protection for our citizens — because if they won’t protect Julian, they won’t protect anyone else — is to let them know, so I’m asking the people to make November 17, not ‘celebrate Obama day’ but ‘support Julian Assange day’.”
Pointing out the government spends money encouraging people in schools and workplaces to stand up to bullying she said: “We’ve got a global bully arriving here on November 17, we’ve got to tell him where to go … We can renegotiate ANZUS and say ‘we’ll go with you on some things but not other things’.
“They’ve dragged us into so many wars that in hindsight were no good … There are many military and ex-military people [in the US and Australia] who are unhappy with the way the wars are being run … In fact, a veterans’ organisation called Stand Fast will be protesting in Canberra.”
She said most Australians support WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. “If this parliament does not represent us — and our human rights, free speech and democracy — then they need to go … If the Greens are the only ones to support him, maybe what the average Aussie should do is vote in the Greens next election.
“I believe the only hope for Julian now is for a grassroots democracy uprising.”
On November 3, Julian Assange lost an appeal to the British High Court against extradition to Sweden for questioning on sexual assault allegations. He has not, so far, been charged over the allegations, made last year. Christine Assange is sceptical about the fairness of the legal processes in Sweden and Britain, and fearful that he will end up in US custody.
“This was a political case, right from the word go,” she told GLW. “There are documented abuses all over his case, even Swedish judges have come out and said that. The banking blockade against WikiLeaks, the release of the US diplomatic cables and the ‘red notice’ [international arrest warrant] all came out within 10 days of each other. To say this case is not political is naive in the extreme.”
As if to confirm this, on November 10, a US judge ruled that Twitter must give the US Justice Department access to the accounts of Twitter users linked to WikiLeaks, including Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir.
Jonsdottir told the British Guardian: “This is a huge blow for everybody that uses social media. We have to have the same civil rights online as we have offline. Imagine if the US authorities wanted to do a house search at my home, go through my private papers. There would be a hell of a fight. It’s absolutely unacceptable.”
Julian Assange has been given three weeks to apply, to the same High Court judges that made the November 3 ruling, for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. “If they agree, then it goes up to the Supreme Court, but if they don’t, which is more likely, then in 10 days he will be in Sweden.”
Christine Assange said her son could get an unfair trial in Sweden, where there are provisions for incommunicado detention and secret trial, and where cases are not heard by juries but by a panel of three: a judge and an appointee from each of the main political parties.
However, she was more fearful that he would be sent to the US. This could happen through “extraordinary rendition”, the program of illegal abductions, under which thousands of mostly innocent people were tortured by the CIA in secret “black sites” all over the world or sent to pro-US dictatorships to be tortured under CIA supervision. She questioned whether Obama had followed through on his election promise to end this practice.
He could also be extradited from Sweden to the US. Under European law, Sweden should be able to extradite him to a third country only if approved by the British extradition hearing. “The way that the US gets around that is that they’ve got a bilateral treaty with Sweden for what they call ‘temporary surrender’, which has none of the safeguards a normal extradition treaty has.”
Christine Assange described in some detail the inhuman torture and humiliation to which US Army Private Bradley Manning has been subjected since he was arrested and charged with leaking information to Wikileaks.
She said: “PJ Crowley, the State Department spokesman, resigned over it [because] it violated the US Constitution’s amendments banning cruel and unusual punishment and pre-trial punishment.”
She said the torture was aimed at coercing Manning into giving false evidence against Julian Assange as US authorities were so far unable to build a credible case under their espionage and national security laws.
But Christine Assange is not just a mother campaigning for her son’s safety. She cited three exposes by WikiLeaks that particularly affected her. One revealed then PM Kevin Rudd had assured the US that Australia would look the other way if their shipping violated laws to protect the Great Barrier Reef from oil spills.
Another showed US officials describing Haiti’s 2010 earthquake as a “gold rush” for US corporations and an opportunity to stop the Haitian government raising the minimum wage. The cable showed the US also manoeuvring to stop Venezuela providing aid.
She said she was also shocked by the WikiLeaks’ coverage of Western human rights abuses in Iraq, such as the handing over of protesters against corruption to Iraqi police for torture.
“I’m not internet savvy … It was a real journey and what I found was that if you get your information from mainstream media, you wouldn’t get enough information, or you get skewed information.”
This journey has taken her to being a campaigner against the Australia-US alliance. “Julia Gillard likes to be seen as tough,” she said. “But all I’ve seen is her be tough on single mothers, tough on people with disabilities, tough on orphaned refugee children and tough on Australian animals. I’ve yet to see her be tough as leader of the country, to stand up for the country. I’ve yet to see her show any courage like my son has shown.”