The MPs called the U.S. secretary of state’s remarks that Julian Assange threatened U.S. national security “nonsense” and said the U.S. is only bent on revenge, reports Joe Lauria.
By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News
Three Australian members of Parliament have dismissed U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s strong statement in support of prosecuting imprisoned WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange as “nonsense.”
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie told The Guardian‘s Australian edition that Assange was “not the villain … and if the US wasn’t obsessed with revenge it would drop the extradition charge as soon as possible.”
“Antony Blinken’s allegation that Julian Assange risked very serious harm to US national security is patent nonsense,” Wilkie said.
“Mr Blinken would be well aware of the inquiries in both the US and Australia which found that the relevant WikiLeaks disclosures did not result in harm to anyone,” said Wilkie. “The only deadly behaviour was by US forces … exposed by WikiLeaks, like the Apache crew who gunned down Iraqi civilians and Reuters journalists” in the infamous Collateral Murder video.
Speaking at a press conference with Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong in Brisbane on Saturday, Blinken said he understood Australians’ concerns about their imprisoned citizen, but took a hard line against any move to end his persecution. Blinken said:
“I really do understand and can certainly confirm what Penny said about the fact that this matter was raised with us, as it has been in the past. And I understand the sensitivities. I understand the concerns and views of Australians. I think it’s very important that our friends here understand our concerns about this matter.
What our Department of Justice has already said repeatedly, publicly, is this: Mr Assange was charged with very serious criminal conduct in the United States in connection with his alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of our country.
The actions that he is alleged to have committed risked very serious harm to our national security, to the benefit of our adversaries, and put named human sources at grave risk of physical harm, grave risk of detention.
So I say that only because just as we understand sensitivities here, it’s important that our friends understand sensitivities in the United States.”
As was shown conclusively by defense witnesses in his September 2020 extradition hearing in London, Assange worked assiduously to redact names of U.S. informants before WikiLeaks publications on Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010. U.S. Gen. Robert Carr testified at the court martial of WikiLeaks‘ source, Chelsea Manning, that no one was harmed by the material’s publication.
Instead, Assange faces 175 years in a U.S. dungeon on charges of violating the Espionage Act, not for stealing U.S. classified material, but for the First Amendment-protected publication of it.
The Meaning of ‘National Security’
WikiLeaks has indeed threatened “national security” if the “nation” is defined as merely its rulers. If “national security” however is meant to be the security of the entire nation, then Blinken’s obsession with continuing the war in Ukraine with the risk of nuclear conflict is truly a threat to the nation’s security.
Liberal MP Bridget Archer, another co-chair of the pro-Assange parliamentary group, said: “He continues to suffer mentally and physically, as does his family, and the government should redouble their efforts to secure his release and return to Australia.”
Labor MP Julian Hill, also part of the Bring Julian Assange Home Parliamentary Group, told The Guardian he had “a fundamentally different view of the substance of the matter than secretary Blinken expressed. But I appreciate that at least his remarks are candid and direct.”
“In the same vein, I would say back to the United States: at the very least, take Julian Assange’s health issues seriously and go into court in the United Kingdom and get him the hell out of a maximum security prison where he’s at risk of dying without medical care if he has another stroke.”
Hill last week called on Assange to take a plea deal, which should not reflect badly on him. In the meantime, Hill said improving prison conditions “should not be difficult to do even while argument continues about resolution of this matter.”
A recent opinion poll shows that 79 percent of Australians want Assange released and bought home.
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 is the author of two books, A Political Odyssey, with Sen. Mike Gravel, foreword by Daniel Ellsberg; and How I Lost By Hillary Clinton, foreword by Julian Assange. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe