Is anything believable these days in the wide world of information leaks? First, the government of Julian Assange’s home country, Australia, proved hesitant with providing assistance to the cause c?l?bre of information disclosure. Given the battle Assange faces on extradition to Sweden from Britain on rape charges, the question is far from a moot one.
The Australian record on providing consular and legal assistance to their accused citizens overseas ? notably those accused by Washington of illegal activities ? is patchy at best. Few will forget the case of David Hicks, whose public repudiation by the Howard government as an ‘illegal combatant’ while in US custody was something to behold.
Howard’s foreign relations minister Alexander Downer was one of those keen to make the charge against Hicks, and is now having little sympathy for Assange. He has gone as far as calling Assange a ‘morally appalling person’, something of a ‘public relations smart arse.’ As usual, the fact that Assange can’t be said to have actually broken any laws is not something that troubles Downer.
Then there is the information itself that Assange’s outfit has provided to various papers for public consumption. The depiction of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was far from flattering. In one cable, he is described as a habitual ‘control freak’, a king of micromanagement mania. In another, his discussions with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton show that, should Australian-US plans to integrate China into the international community fail, the use of force might be necessary.
Over the last few days, the WikiLeaks disclosures show that Rudd’s political assassination was in the offing. Labor stalwart Senator Mark Arbib has, it seems, been happily offering information on the government’s internal disputes to the US embassy in Canberra for some time.
Amidst all of this, Rudd has decided to run with a new theme. Assange is not, in fact, guilty for disclosing the cables at all. ‘Mr. Assange is not himself responsible for the unauthorized release of 250,000 documents from the US diplomatic communications network. The Americans are responsible for that.’
This is not to say that Rudd has fallen in love with the cult of whistle blowing. The point he is at pains to make was rather than the US authorities are chasing the wrong man. ‘The bad people in this little exercise are the people who gave the information to him, because they’re the people who breached the trust. They deserve to be chased and prosecuted.’ Blame, then, the providers of information, such as US private Bradley Manning, rather than the now emerging antipodean boy wonder, Assange. Votes are to be had at home, and given Labor’s minority government, a good populist stab seems rather appealing.
The American position stated by such officials as State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley is that Assange has stolen property in his possession. A demand for their return has been made, though the exercise is now academic, given that five notable newspapers possess the entire complement. The search for forging ‘creative’ charges against Assange is on. Officials in the state department should be mindful of the fact that seeking a trial of the Australian on US soil will be nigh impossible, especially if he gets to Sweden. Extradition treaties with Sweden tend to preclude matters of a criminal and political nature. The Gillard government in Canberra, in the meantime, will be hoping they have a vote grabbing hero at hand.
BINOY KAMPMARK was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: email@example.com