I’ve long had a fondness of Australia. Since back in the early 1980s, when I worked out of the New York City bureau of the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, flagship of the Fairfax publishing company, writing for several Fairfax publications (including the sadly now defunct National Times and the magazine Business Review Weekly), and got to know a bunch of smart, funny Oz journalists, I’ve come to know the country as a place much like our own in many ways — like the friendliness and lack of artifice of its people and the vast beauty of its still vast wilderness areas.
But where I once also admired what appeared to be a strain of independence in Australia — a willingness to stand apart from America on things like socialized medicine, the death penalty, and the use of land mines in warfare — I have seen the country fall into line with terrible US policies like the invasion of Iraq, the ongoing war in Afghanistan, and most recently the posting of US marines on Australian territory.
I also envied Australia over the years for having something totally lacking in the US: a major labor-based party advocating democratic-socialist policies, that successfully vies for power in running the country. But of late, that party, now headed by Prime Minister Julia Eileen Gillard, has been a shameless and uncritical apologist for US policies, including the so-called “Global War on Terror,” and policies like rendition to and detention at torture centers like Guantanamo and Bagram Airbase.
Most recently, Australia and its Prime Minister Gillard have been strangely passive in allowing the US to attack Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange, an Australian citizen.
Despite credible reports that the US has a secret sealed spying indictment prepared against Assange, currently facing deportation from Britain to Sweden on questionable and probably politically motivated charges of rape, and concerns that the US is prepared to seek to extradite him to the US to face potential capital charges if he is extradited to Sweden, Australia has not done anything to defend its own citizen against such threats. These threats and an unsuccessful appeal of the extradition request in British courts have led to Assange’s latest decision to seek asylum in the Ecuadoran embassy in London.
The most that Gillard has said about Assange’s case by way of “support” is that Australia does not permit extradition to countries where its citizens could face a death penalty, but of course the US could always promise not to seek the death penalty in any prosecution of Assange. Gillard also is on record as having stated that Assange is “guilty” of having released secret US documents from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and cables between the US and foreign governments (an astonishing statement since such an action is not even a crime!). The Gillard government in February passed legislation making it impossible for Assange, had he succeeded in defeating Swedish efforts to extradite him from Britain, to return to Australia and avoid a future extradition request from the US.
So it has come to this: A man who has courageously exposed US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan is forced to flee to a Latin American country’s embassy to avoid capture, prosecution in a kangaroo court or perhaps even a military trial, and then imprisonment, torture and maybe even execution by the self-described “leader of the free world” — the country that has committed these war crimes he exposed. And his own country not only won’t help him. It is cooperating in his persecution.
My old employer, the Sydney Morning Herald, using Australia’s freedom of information law, obtained some diplomatic cables showing that the Australian government in Canberra has been working in concert with the Obama administration in the US to facilitate US prosecution of Assange as a spy. The Sydney Morning Herald also reports that the Australian government has taken steps to prevent further release of its diplomatic correspondence with the US regarding the Assange case.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by this sell-out by Australia’s Labor Party of its own country’s sovereignty. Today’s Aussie Labor Party is a pale imitation of the party of Gough Whitlam, the first Labor prime minister, elected in 1972. Furthermore, Prime Minister Gillard is surely well aware of how Whitlam, who on taking office pulled Australian troops out of Vietnam, ended conscription, denounced President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as “mass murderers” and “maniacs” for the 1972 Christmas bombings of Hanoi, replaced “God Save the Queen” as the country’s national anthem, established policies giving land rights to aborigines, established a national health care system, spoke out for Palestinian rights and called for an Indian Ocean “zone of peace,” became the target of a successful CIA subversion campaign.
Still, it is sad to see a country’s government betray its own countryman on behalf of a more powerful nation. It’s something we in the US have become almost inured to, as when the US maintained a stony silence as Israeli soldiers murdered a 19 year-old Turkish-American peace activist on the Gaza peace flotilla in 2010. But that’s our own shame.
I had hoped for better from Australia.
At least Australians still have mainstream corporate news organizations that are willing to aggressively report on their government’s vile sell-out of the country’s national dignity.
Meanwhile, please write to the Ecuadoran government and urge them to resist pressure from the Gringo government in Washington and to grant Assange’s request for asylum.