Former Reuters Bagdad bureau chief calls for Julian Assange to be freed

August 3, 2020
Hobart rally on July 31. Photo: Carrie-Ann Smith

Reuter’s former bureau chief in Baghdad was one of the speakers to call for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to be released at a coronavirus safe rally, organised by Free Assange Hobart on July 31.

Yates was directly impacted by the 2007 “Collateral Murder” event, which Wikileaks publicised on April 5, 2010. The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, shows the killing of a wounded Reuters employee Saeed Chmagh and his rescuers.

Yates told how two of his colleagues were gunned down by the United States military, along with Iraqi civilians. Reuters’ lawyers had tried for three years to obtain a copy of the video of the murder through FOI, but it was only when Wikileaks published the now infamous attack that Yates came to know the truth of what happened.

Other speakers included Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, Greg Barns SC who is an adviser to Assange’s legal team, Tasmanian Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson and former Greens leader Christine Milne. All speakers called on the federal government to step up efforts to support an Australian citizen in trouble abroad.

Yates urged everyone, including the Prime Minister, to watch the shocking “Collateral Murder” footage. “Scott Morrison and Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne need to watch [it]. The tape shows you what the war in Iraq really looked like. It came from the air and it came with commentary.

“It shows a man wounded on the streets of Bagdad trying to get up for three minutes. It shows pilots … bantering about him, saying ‘Come on Buddy, all you have to do is pick up a weapon’.

“It shows the [US forces] waiting … and, when that permission is given, they open fire with 120 rounds of 30 millimetre cannon from an Apache gunship, obliterating that man who was my staff member Saeed Chmagh, a father of four.

“They obliterate the driver of a minivan, who had pulled up to help him, and wound his two children that were inside the van. It is a potential war crime. That’s what Julian’s case is all about,” said Yates. “[It’s about] exposing what those in power don’t want you to see.”

Milne reminded the protest that, as with former Guantanamo prisoner David Hicks, we must not let the US trample on our democracy and sovereignty.

“The Assange case has gone on so long. It has been mired with so much disinformation that the Australian and US governments think they have achieved what they wanted, namely that many people have switched off. But they are wrong!

“We have not abandoned human rights and freedom of speech, nor have we abandoned freedom of the media to reveal fact in the digital age. These are fundamental principals that must be defended.

“The Australian community has had enough of the slide towards authoritarianism, the suppression of public protest, the clamping down of freedom of the press, criminalisation of investigative journalism and the deliberate abandonment of human rights, whether for Aboriginal children, refugees or citizens like Assange.

“We don’t like secret trials, like that of Bernard Collaery and Witness K. We don’t like being [US President Donald] Trump’s doormat, and we won’t stand by and let you [the Australian government] be complicit in torturing and extraditing fellow citizen Julian Assange.”

Only broad public pressure will force the federal government to give support to an Australian citizen in trouble abroad. We can fight the disinformation campaign and we can fight the deceit and restore democracy one conversation at a time.

The rally also showed that protests can be organised responsibly during the pandemic. At the time of writing, Tasmania has no recorded community COVID-19 transmission and outdoor gatherings of up to 500 are permitted with social distancing.

[Stay in touch with Free Assange Hobart on Facebook here.]

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