Julian Assange’s pending extradition to the United States allowed the Australian government a chance to show some ticker by demanding his freedom.
A British court’s decision to allow Julian Assange to be extradited to face trial in the United States is one more climax in years of compliance with whatever Uncle Sam wants: his desire for revenge obvious though dressed up as a concern to protect the great god — national security.
Into this cruel mix are prosecutors and judges, great at game playing, sniffing how political winds may be blowing and determined not to upset establishment interests.
Powerless people always at risk.
Remote, privileged operators can ignore calls for justice, but rely on grovelling support from the Murdoch media. Anyone labeled a threat to proper conduct can be stereotyped as deviant — even a menace to national interests.
Into this Orwellian mix are cowardly journalists, reluctant to stand up for Assange though happy to have benefited from WikiLeaks’ revelations.
Extraditing Assange puts the profession of journalism at risk, yet several scribblers have wasted print by telling us they’d prefer to be selfish. They need to polish their self image in contrast to the risk-taking Assange.
He is not like them. He has had the courage to expose the barbarity of US practices in war and the greedy interests of US corporations which continue to dominate world business. That is what WikiLeaks cables revealed and, of course, the whistleblower, journalist, publisher who did this must be punished. Freedom of the press means nothing.
Into this amoral swamp squirm Australian governments, from Labor’s Julia Gillard falsely declaring that Assange had committed criminal offences to the Coalition’s Scott Morrison, who cowers behind clichés about not interfering in the law of other countries. Foreign Minister Marise Payne, who appears as an extra, passively mouths that this Australian citizen receives appropriate consular assistance.
Cruelty has caught fire in Australian politics; cowardice has become the currency affecting exchange with Washington and London. To hell with human rights and a touch of humanity, we don’t like to offend powerful patrons.
There are brave, principled exceptions to this disgusting mix of cruelty, cowardice and injustice.
Assange’s father John Shipton and Assange’s partner Stella Moris have shown courage, stamina, selflessness and principle. They have also predicted the consequences for society and for democracy if a revengeful persecution of Assange persists. Journalism disappears. Justice is a concoction. Cruelty must remain a centre piece of policy.
Significant journalists including John Pilger, Mary Kostakidis, Phillip Adams, Alison Broinowski and a few gutsy lawyers, Greg Barns and Mark Davis plus contributors to Crikey, Pearls and Irritations and Green Left have maintained contact with Assange in the Belmarsh top security prison or have written and spoken on his behalf.
Why not all lawyers, all journalists or even all politicians?
In the federal parliament, an increasing number of politicians have expressed disgust and disbelief at the continuation of this decades long scapegoating of an unusually gifted and brave individual. Leading this protest — he always stands out as a champion for common decency — is independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie.
Wilkie has asked Morrison to demand from Britain and US governments that Assange be set free.
Here is a test for Morrison, a chance to show ticker. By demanding Assange’s freedom, the PM could demonstrate that justice means protecting citizens who have shown the skills and courage to hold a powerful state accountable for murder and mayhem in foreign lands.
He could say that his support for the humanity and rights of an Australian citizen will not be affected by pressure from powerful allies.
If Morrison fails that test, questions about justice and courage should become key features of the coming federal election. Energy in that election must not be preoccupied with debates in a few coal mining constituencies.
There’s a challenge for all candidates to outlaw the cowardice and cruelty which affects design of domestic and foreign policies. Robodebt victims, the Bilolea family let alone asylum seekers and refugees know a lot about injustice and could exchange notes with Julian Assange.
In the meantime, support Wilkie’s demand, thank Assange and campaign for an alleged fair-go country to end a shameful, cruel period of history.
[Stuart Rees OAM is Professor Emeritus, University of Sydney, recipient of the Jerusalem (Al Quds) Peace Prize and author of Cruelty or Humanity (Policy Press).]