The Australian prime minister told ABC, “I share the frustration. I can’t do more than make very clear what my position is,” that a diplomatic solution to Assange’s case must be found.
By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he has unequivocally stated his position to the United States that a diplomatic resolution of the case of Julian Assange must be made.
In his clearest statement yet about the fate of the imprisoned WikiLeaks publisher, Albanese told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in an interview in London that he has told the U.S. Justice Department that Assange’s case must come to an end.
“I continue to say in private what I said publicly as Labor leader and what I’ve said as Prime Minister, that enough is enough,” Albanese told the ABC. “This needs to be brought to a conclusion.”
“It needs to be worked through,” Albanese went on. “We’re working through diplomatic channels, we’re making very clear what our position is on Mr Assange’s case.”
But so far the Justice Department has not yielded in its pursuit of Assange on espionage charges that could land him in a U.S. prison for up to 175 years if he is extradited from Britain and convicted in the U.S.
“I know it’s frustrating. I share the frustration. I can’t do more than make very clear what my position is,” he said. “And the U.S. administration is certainly very aware of what the Australian government’s position is.”
Asked whether he would raise Assange directly with Joe Biden when the U.S. president visits Australia later this month, Albanese said: “The way that diplomacy works is probably not to forecast the discussions that you will have or have had with leaders of other nations.”
Albanese appears not to have looked deeply into the facts of the case against Assange, when he asserted in the interview that he understood U.S. concerns that confidential information could “lead to consequences for people who are engaged in an activity.”
Assange’s legal team laid out during extradition proceedings in London that Assange did not release the un-redacted version of the U.S. diplomatic cables containing some names of U.S. informants until after two Guardian journalists provided the password to those files in a book that they wrote and only after a German publication and Cryptome.com published the un-redacted files first.
Additionally, upon cross examination in the court martial trial of former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning for leaking the cables to Assange, U.S. Gen. Robert Carr admitted there was no evidence that any informant had been harmed by the disclosures.
Albanese cited Manning’s case when discussing Assange’s fate. “I think that when Australians look at the circumstances, look at the fact that the person who released the information (Chelsea Manning) is walking freely now, having served some time in incarceration but is now released for a long period of time, then they’ll see that there is a disconnect there,” he said in the interview.
Asked whether other leaders in the West were speaking out for the principles of free speech involved in Assange’s case, Albanese told the ABC:
“We do value freedom of expression, but we also have, in today’s uncertain world, legitimate concerns about our national security.
I’m not going to sit here as someone who chairs our National Security Committee and say it’s fine if you publish all of the details about our National Security Committee deliberations, because if you did that, Australian lives would be put in danger.
There are real consequences for that … I’m a big supporter of freedom of the press, but with that also comes a responsibility to take into account the consequences of whether information which is not available to the public, what the consequences would be if we had just a free for all.”
In the extensive interview, Albanese said he was concerned for Assange’s health. “There was a court decision here in the United Kingdom that was then overturned on appeal that went to Mr Assange’s health as well, and I am concerned for him,” he said.
Until now, Albanese has kept largely quiet about his dealings with the U.S. regarding Assange. That he spoke so openly about it in this interview is an indication not only of his frustration but that he’s decided going public could bring more pressure on the U.S. to act. It also shows that the public pressure Albanese has faced to up the ante may have had an effect.
Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers, including The Montreal Gazette and The Star of Johannesburg. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London, a financial reporter for Bloomberg News and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe