Aussie MPs Headed to Washington to Lobby For Assange

The MPs will face obstinate views about Assange entrenched in the U.S. political establishment, with two days to educate Congressional, State and Justice officials about the threat to the Constitution and a free press, reports Joe Lauria. 

Assange supporters in October last year carry ribbon around the Justice Department Building, where Australian MPs will lobby for Assange’s release later this month. (Joe Lauria)

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

Six members of the Australian parliament will land in Washington D.C. on Sept. 20 armed with a bi-partisan agenda and the backing of an entire nation as they try to convince Congressmen and State and Justice Department officials that the American pursuit of Australian publisher Julian Assange is wrong and must be stopped.

The cross-party delegation will spend two days in the U.S. capital arguing Assange’s case ahead of Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s state visit to the White House at the end of October, where it is expected that Assange will be brought up (as well as Australia being used to test U.S. hypersonic missiles).  

The MPs traveling to Washington are former National Party leader Barnaby Joyce, Liberal Senator Alex Antic, Labor MP Tony Zappia, Independent MP Dr. Monique Ryan and Greens Senators David Shoebridge and Peter Whish-Wilson.

“We span the hard left to the hard right; besides the weather and Julian Assange we probably don’t all agree on anything,” Joyce told The Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday. “Both Labor and the Coalition think this matter has gone far enough. What is to be gained by this going any further? If the Justice Department is seeking a sense of retribution, that’s already been achieved by the amount of time Assange has been in jail.”

Assange has been incarcerated in maximum security Belmarsh Prison in London since April 2019 awaiting the outcome of his extradition case to the U.S.

Ryan told the newspaper: “I’m not sure I agree with Barnaby Joyce on pretty much anything else, which suggests how important this is.” The U.S. pursuit of Assange “sets a dangerous precedent for all journalists, media organizations and for freedom of the press,” she said.

Focus on Australia

Albanese tells ABC while in London for the coronation that he has spoken to U.S. about Assange. (ABC News: Adrian Wilson)

The focus of the Assange story in May switched from Britain, where his extradition case has dragged on for three years, to Australia, where the prime minister finally spoke out on behalf of his nation regarding Assange. Ironically, he was in London for the coronation when in an Australian television interview, Albanese first made public his government’s desire to see the Assange case resolved.

The U.S. reacted five days later by allowing six Australian MPs to have lunch with Ambassador Caroline Kennedy at her Canberra residence. (Asked weeks later by Australian Broadcasting Company radio whether the meeting had changed her views of the Assange case, Kennedy said: “Not really.”)

The lunch was followed two weeks later by Stella Assange, the imprisoned publisher’s wife, making her first visit to her husband’s native country. It was timed for a scheduled trip to Australia by U.S. President Joe Biden in late May. Biden cancelled his trip.  Stella Assange nevertheless led a march through the streets of Sydney and spoke at a mass rally in the city’s Hyde Park.

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The outpouring was emblematic of a nation in which as many as 88 percent of the population want the U.S. to drop espionage and computer intrusion charges against their native son and allow him to return home.  Assange faces a virtual life sentence of up to 175 years in prison if he is extradited from Britain and convicted in the United States.  

Further remarks from Albanese in May that Assange would have to play his part led to speculation that some sort of plea deal for Assange was possible. Assange lawyer Jennifer Robinson said for the first time on behalf of Assange’s legal team that they would consider a plea deal. Robinson told the National Press Club in Canberra on May 22:

“We are considering all options. The difficulty is our primary position is, of course that the case ought to be dropped. We say no crime has been committed and the facts of the case don’t disclose a crime. So what is it that Julian would be pleading to?”

However, the door then seemed slammed shut on any kind of plea deal when Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Brisbane on July 31 said:

“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 … So I say that only because just as we understand sensitivities here, it’s important that our friends understand sensitivities in the United States.”

That Blinken uttered these words showed that the case is diplomatic and political and not just legal, that is, strictly the purview of the Justice Dept.

Blinken Blasted For Remarks

“Antony Blinken’s allegation that Julian Assange risked very serious harm to US national security is patent nonsense,  Independent MP Andrew Wilkie told The Guardian‘s Australian edition. Assange was “not the villain … and if the US wasn’t obsessed with revenge it would drop the extradition charge as soon as possible,” Wilkie said.

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.”  Albanese himself continued to call for an end to the Assange prosecution.

Two weeks after Blinken’s rough reception, Kennedy told The Sydney Morning Herald in a front-page interview published on Aug. 14 that the United States was now, despite Blinken’s unequivocal words, suddenly open to a plea agreement that could free Assange, allowing him to serve a shortened sentence for a lesser crime in his home country.

However, Craig Murray, a former British diplomat and close Assange associate, told WBAI radio in New York on Friday that the United States has not, despite Kennedy’s words last month, so far offered any sort of plea deal to Assange’s legal team. Murray said:

“There have been noises made by the U.S. ambassador to Australia saying that a plea deal is possible. And that’s what the Australian Government have been pushing for as a way to solve it. What I can tell you is that there have been no official approaches from the American government indicating any willingness to soften or ameliorate their position. The position of the Biden administration still seems to be that they wish to persecute and destroy Julian and lock him up for life for publishing the truth about war crimes … “

So U.S. chatter about a plea deal was possibly designed 1). to soften the reaction to Blinken’s remarks as opposition to the U.S.-led AUKUS alliance against China, as well as support for Assange both grow in Australia; 2). to lure Assange into giving up his extradition fight and going to the U.S. to negotiate a deal (something his father and brother said he would never do), which would also evade a European Court of Human Rights injunction to block his extradition; or 3). to postpone a British decision on extradition until after the November 2024 U.S. presidential election to avoid the optics of Biden in the midst of his reelection campaign trying to send a publisher to prison for life for publishing embarrassing state secrets.

It is into this political storm that the Australian parliamentarians will arrive in Washington to face obstinate and thoroughly uninformed views about Assange entrenched in the U.S. political establishment. They will have two days to educate members of Congress, as well as State and Justice Department officials about the threat to the U.S. Constitution and to a free U.S. press if the persecution of their citizen continues.

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, the London Daily Mail 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

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12 comments for “Aussie MPs Headed to Washington to Lobby For Assange

  1. Robyn
    September 6, 2023 at 19:57

    If any Australians had any lingering hope that a Labor Government would be ethical and that they would put Australian citizens first, Julian’s fate and the AUKUS rip-off have shown this Albanese rabble up for what they are. Like the US and UK, Australia is governed one party with two branches who take turns in the top jobs.

  2. LeoSun
    September 6, 2023 at 12:02

    AND, the PSA, resonating, a resounding BOOM!!! “Some people dream of great accomplishments while others stay awake to do them!!!”

    SAVE the DATE: WEDNESDAY, 9.20.23

    Memo To: “JRB Ware” & Company, HEADS-UP! “A sudden change of rhythm is gonna drop! “ There really are “Angels” on Earth!!! “The U.S. pursuit of Assange “sets a dangerous precedent for all journalists, media organizations and for freedom of the press.” Dr. Monique Ryan, Independent MP

    “Drop A Beat!” “Six (6) members of the Australian parliament w/“the backing an ENTIRE Nation,” will ‘STAND-UP!’ on The Hill, basically, Repeating the Line, “He who ties the bell around the tiger, needs to untie it!!!”

    Times Up! “Congress, $tate, & the Dept. of “Injustices” Dept.,” need to step up! Fingers crossed, the Common Democrats, Republicans, State, DOJ, “r.s.v.p.,” w/dignity & diplomacy. Understanding, that the bottom line IS Press Freedom, Julian Assange, WikiLeaks & Whistleblowers must be protected & freed from the lethal grip of the USG, the UK, etc., basically, “HANDS-OFF!”

    The “ASK,“ of The Divided $tates of Corporate America, RESOLVE, respectfully. Thirteen plus (13+) YEARS later, “Do the Right Thing,” Honor. Accept. Deliver “Australia’s primary mission,” the Release & Return of JULIAN ASSANGE home, to Australia!!! TY.

    Onward & Upwards! “Keep It Lit”

  3. WillD
    September 5, 2023 at 23:55

    I would like to believe that the US politicians will take them seriously, but my cynicism gets the better of me.

    With the combination of typical Albanese government ‘milquetoast’ efforts so far and US government vindictiveness, Washington is most likely going to brush them off.

  4. D'Esterre
    September 5, 2023 at 22:01

    “The outpouring was emblematic of a nation in which as many as 88 percent of the population want the U.S. to drop espionage and computer intrusion charges against their native son and allow him to return home. ”

    I admit to being surprised to read this. To be sure, I haven’t in recent years followed Oz news media’s reporting of it, but, like many NZers, I have family there. Last time I spoke about Assange to a relative – which would probably have been in the context of his having taken refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy – I was left in no doubt that the MSM reportage was very negative. When I asked why Australia wouldn’t be going into bat for one of its own citizens, my relative – doubtless repeating what they’d heard/seen – was scathing. In fairness, said relative had lived many years in Queensland, but even so: their response was vitriolic. They weren’t at all disposed to hear a countervailing argument from me. We haven’t discussed it since.

    The US pursuit of Assange puts me in mind of its equally relentless pursuit of Kim Dotcom, here in NZ. I’d add that, last I looked, Dotcom remains here: extradition attempts have thus far been unsuccessful. I hope that remains the case.

    I suspect that Australian level of support for Assange is linked with growing opposition to AUKUS. And if the Australian government has the slightest chance of persuading the US to drop the non-existent case against Assange, it’ll be obliged to use AUKUS as leverage. Nothing else will work.

  5. ray Peterson
    September 5, 2023 at 21:02

    Graig Murray’s cold shower of reality means that
    unless the Australian government tells the U.S.
    all military cooperation ends until Assange is
    freed, Julian’s fate remains imprisoned.

  6. Lois Gagnon
    September 5, 2023 at 20:55

    I pray the Australians stiffen their spines and don’t cave to US pressure. US so called diplomats have been getting the cold shoulder treatment in a number of countries of late. The hubris of the empire is being rebuffed. Now is the right time for the Australian MPs to be firm and not back down. The whole world is watching.

  7. vinnieoh
    September 5, 2023 at 18:16

    The 2024 election: if Biden freed Assange or if he powered up the final assault to bring him to the US, either action would cause hyperbolic outrage throughout the GOP, so look for nothing to be done until after the election.

    It will be interesting to see whether the MSM even reports the upcoming visit or instead treat it as a non-event. Since the MP’s state they agree on little else, I suppose it’s a foregone conclusion there will be no hardball negotiations regarding Aussie sovereignty wrt the inflation of AUKUS.

  8. Vicky Cookies
    September 5, 2023 at 11:41

    One fears Julian may be used as a bargaining chip: “Ok, if you drop the charges, we’ll aim our country at our largest trading partner, with whom we have no quarrel, and prepare for WW3 on your terms.”

  9. Piotr Berman
    September 5, 2023 at 11:32

    Almost strange that Australian public opinion and politicians started to change their previous neglect of the case. Is it a cumulative impact of American arrogance? Even in an unequal alliance, some deference to allies is wise, Australians have ample reasons to feel fleeced and insulted, and it seems to seep through.

    Apart from lacking moral and legal grounds, Biden’s Administration may well exceed Trump’s record of arrogance that European allies swallowed quite meekly.

    So far, the record of USA in similar cases, like Meng Wanzhou if Huawei, is that they relent only under credible threats, “while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” (This attitude of Athens during Pelopponessian War did not end well.)

  10. Vera Gottlieb
    September 5, 2023 at 11:14

    And shame on the UK too!!! Birds of a feather…

  11. Freeassange
    September 5, 2023 at 07:28

    They have to use leverage, it is all that the US government understands. There is no coverage of Assange, younger people likely don’t know who he is, and by virtue of main stream media coverage, those who do know him have a very negative leaning bias. You can’t go and beg before the king. You have to make noise and disrupt the power. It needs to be attached to Australia’s agreements with the US. Otherwise, it will be polite theater.

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      September 6, 2023 at 00:16

      I think that young people who are politically aware and active DO know perfectly well who Julian Assange is. Members of the International Youth and Students for Social Equality (IYSSE – the youth section of the Socialist Equality Party) know who Julian is and support the campaign for his release and also for compensation for the suffering inflicted on him by the U.S., UK and Swedish governments. It is an outrage what is being done to him. Thousands of young people around the world have joined in marches and rallies in support of Julian’s release. Eight thousand people showed up in London to encircle the Houses of Parliament last October, most of them young people.

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