Former Aus. attorney-general speaks up for Assange, WikiLeaks

April 15, 2013
Kep Enderby.

The Sydney Support Assange and WikiLeaks Coalition (SAWC) interviewed former Australian attorney-general, Kep Enderby QC, about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

Enderby first contacted SAWC to offer his support for our campaign last year. In July, he wrote a statement read out at a rally for Assange and WikiLeaks in Sydney.

Enderby became involved in civil liberties and human rights activism while working as a lawyer in London in the 1950s. He championed the cause of African-American singer and radical, Paul Robeson, who was being denied his passport by the US government. 

Enderby returned to Australia in 1954 and became a foundation member of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) when it formed in 1963. He was elected to the Australian House of Representatives in 1970 and became a minister in Gough Whitlam’s Labor government in 1972.

He held the position of attorney-general when the government was dismissed by Governor-General, John Kerr, in 1975.

After leaving politics, Enderby served as New South Wales Supreme Court Judge for 10 years.

Enderby told us that he supports the work of Assange and WikiLeaks because he believes that, “if politicians who are in power can get away with it, they will lie to you”.

He said: “They don’t believe in human rights, they don’t believe in civil liberties … they’re all about keeping power.”

Enderby said the US government, in particular, is “notorious for their lies”. He added: “It hasn’t been much better in this country. We have become the lapdog of the United States.”

As examples, Enderby pointed to the Iraq war, which was waged on the basis of false claims about weapons of mass destruction and supported by the Australian government, and to the case of Australian David Hicks, who was held in Guantanamo Bay prison for five years without trial.

Asked about the importance of the role played by whistleblowers in a democracy, Enderby said “you can’t trust governments” and “you can’t trust the media”. He said this was particularly the case in Australia, which has a monopolised media.

“Lying comes naturally to them, it sells papers and makes for votes.”

Enderby said governments use lies to generate fear, in order to win votes and create a pretext for attacks on civil liberties and human rights. He cited the “war on terror”, which has been used to generate a wave of Islamophobia and to justify a raft of excessive “security” legislation after September 11, 2001.

The laws gave Australia’s secret police, ASIO, unprecedented “special powers”, including the power to question and detain individuals not suspected of any offence for up to seven days without charge or trial.

Enderby became the subject of an ASIO investigation himself, along with other members of NSWCCL, when the organisation was only a few months old. Public concern about this investigation and the extent of ASIO's powers led the Whitlam government to establish the Hope Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security in 1974.

Enderby criticised the US government for putting itself forward as “the protector of human rights”, while carrying out acts of torture, extraordinary rendition and extra-judicial assassination via drone strikes.

He said: “The Americans rule the world these days, and it’s not a very nice world”.

Enderby described the treatment of WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning at the hands of the US government as “scandalous” and said, “Julian Assange is next on the list”.

Manning has been held in pre-trial detention for nearly three years, with 11 months of that spent in solitary confinement. He was kept in a six-by-eight-foot cell with no windows or natural light and was often forced to sleep naked.

Last year, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, concluded that the US was guilty of subjecting Manning to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of article 16 of the convention against torture”.

If extradited to the US, Assange could be subjected to the same treatment as Manning — or worse. This is despite, as Enderby pointed out, “there was no crime in what Julian Assange did” when he published US documents.

Enderby said in the case of Assange, “the Americans just want to get him.” He added: “I think that’s just obvious to anyone who studies the subject and thinks about it.”

However, the Australian government continues to deny that the US government wants to prosecute Assange. It refuses to acknowledge the evidence on the public recordevidence on the public record that shows that a US grand jury has been convening in Virginia since 2010 for the purpose of indicting Assange on espionage charges.

Asked why our government takes this position, Enderby said: “I think the Australian government will do what the Americans want them to do ... I’m not proud to be an Australian when I watch what’s happened over the years, the way Australia toadies up to the Americans all the time.”

He made the point that Australian governments have always been beholden to an imperial power. Before the US it was Britain, and, Enderby said, “we haven’t changed much”.

Enderby fears that if Assange was ever able to return to Australia and was subject to a US extradition request, “the Australians would hand him over”. However, he said that pressure from the Australian public could prevent that happening.

He believes that apathy must be overcome to mobilise the level of public support which eventually led to David Hicks’ release from Guantanamo Bay. Enderby said that without that public support, Hicks would have been “kept there forever”.

The Australian government claims that it is doing all it can to help Assange. However, Enderby said that it should be putting pressure on the British government to “not take any steps to arrest Julian Assange in London”.

He said it could also negotiate Assange’s release from Britain, as the Howard government did to secure David Hicks’ release from Guantanamo. But Enderby commented, “this government we have at the moment doesn’t seem to be prepared to do that at all”.

On the Swedish allegations against Assange, Enderby said: “The Swedish government is obviously under some kind of pressure. Why couldn’t they have gone to London to ask questions?”

On Assange’s Senate election bid, Enderby said that he thinks that if Assange sought to become a senator, the public support generated would make it harder for the Australian government to extradite Assange to the US.

However, when asked whether Assange would be better becoming a senator or remaining as Editor-in-Chief of WikiLeaks, Enderby said: “I think the success he’s had so far as a whistleblower should continue.”

[A video of SAWCS's interview with Kep Enderby can be found at thing2thing.]

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