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Australian journalist Julian Assange 'taken hostage by US', action at UN may follow. PM Albanese's record stained forever if he dies, Tribunal hears
Lawyers push US Ambassador, Albanese, to talk Assange with US President Joe Biden ahead of Quad visit. Senior bureaucrats 'are complicit' in Wikileaks publisher's torture
Explosive testimony from more than 15 lawyers, barristers, human rights activists, whistleblowers and politicians from all sides of parliament was given last night in support of imprisoned Australian journalist Julian Assange at the Belmarsh Tribunal.
The event, held at Sydney University’s Great Hall, heard from Dean Yates, the Reuters Iraq bureau chief in charge when a US helicopter gunship crew killed two of his journalists. The video evidence, which clearly showed the shooting of wounded people, children and good samaritan bystanders, was exposed by Wikileaks in Collateral Murder, after years of lies and refusals by the US Military.
CIA whistleblower John Kyriakou, imprisoned for revealing US Government torture of detainees, and international human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson both spoke for Julian who is now facing 175 years in prison for the same journalistic efforts to uncover crimes that have won international awards.
David McBride, who faces jail for blowing the whistle on Australian special forces’ war crimes in Afghanistan, told the audience that despite facing a formidable enemy, those on the side of truth and law would win.
Politicians from the Labor, Liberal and Greens parties all spoke in support of Assange and 41 representatives from across the political spectrum have now joined the Parliamentary Friendship Group “Bring Julian Assange Home”.
But the most explosive allegations of the night came from international law expert and former ACT Attorney General Bernard Collaery, who revealed that Julian Assange now fitted the international definition of a hostage under the International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages.
“The conduct of the United States with its fabricated series of offences … fits precisely the definition of hostage-taking that the United States itself pressed upon the world in 1979,” he said.
Mr Collaery called for US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy in Canberra to send a transcript of the evening’s speeches to US President Joe Biden before his visit to Australia for the Quad Leaders Summit this year, as parts of them would be counted as admissable evidence in the event that interested nations sought to hold the United States to account.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese would have a permanent stain, a terrible legacy, if Julian Assange were to die in prison during his term, Mr Collaery warned.
Mr Collaery then called for top public servants to be held to account such as during the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme.
“Not all of what has been done to Julian and not all of what isn’t being done for Julian can be taking place without the complicity of senior bureaucrats,” he said.
“But in my view there’s not going to be a change in this country until we have more robo-debt type inquiries.”
Mr Collaery was himself unjustly prosecuted for allegedly helping to reveal a criminal act by Australia, which spied on East Timor during maritime boundary negotiations for the benefit of Woodside, an oil and gas company. Mr Collaery, who represented East Timor in international litigation over the incident, and Witness K, whose identity cannot be revealed, were vindictively persecuted, spied on, had their passports seized, their homes raided by ASIO and were pursued for years in unethical revenge litigation by the Federal Government costing taxpayers millions.
Bernard Collaery’s speech:
I was just thinking, it’s 57 years since I sat for my constitutional law exam in this Great Hall, and 55 years since I received my degree on this stage. Then, I really and truly believed we were building an exemplary country. I truly did, being one of the post-war generation - that we were creating a modern democracy.
And then my law school, this university, descended into the Vietnam War protests, and life went on.
I’ve just peeled away every point I was going to make tonight as our wonderful speakers gave their addresses and in fact, like Dean Yates (Reuters Iraq bureau chief at the time of Collateral Murder), actually gave admissible evidence.
Quite a few of the speakers tonight would make witnesses, and that’s what the Belmarsh Tribunal is about, it’s a wonderful idea.
It is very clear to me that Julian is not a prisoner facing genuine judicial process. He is not. I won’t rehearse what our colleague from the United States (CIA whistleblower John Kyriakou) and what Dean Yates said and what the other speakers have said.
It’s clear that Julian in fact fits precisely what I’ve been contemplating for the past few months, is the international definition of a hostage.
It’s my proposition this evening that we commence moves to raise a motion through the support of sovereign states that are friendly on this issue or otherwise interested in the stir, that there be a UN General Assembly resolution, I’ll tell you why.
In December 1979, the United States moved the United Nations General Assembly to support the then-draft international convention against the taking of hostages.
With very unusual alacrity the United States Government signed the treaty, the International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages two days after it was tabled in New York.
Britain had already signed. Australia got onto it in its usual leisurely pace. But the reality is, I’ll just read to you what the definition of a hostage is.
Article 1 of that treaty, now signed by 176 nations, quite a number of whom should support a motion in relation to it, makes it an international criminal offence to seize and detain a person under any legal ruse (and read ‘legal ruse’ about these sort of deceitful indictments), where the objective is to compel a third party, be they state, a non-government organisation, a judicial body, or “a group of persons” (read: Wikileaks), to do an act, or abstain, or refrain by explicit or implicit condition; and if you go to the statements by the United States concerning Julian, they make very clear that their pursuit of him is a conjoined enterprise to close down or otherwise limit the activities of Wikileaks, which is a “lawfully established body of persons” in Iceland.
The conduct of the United States with its fabricated series of offences which probably I think it will never want to bring to trial like the ones against me, fits precisely the definition of hostage-taking that the United States itself pressed upon the world in 1979.
I would call this evening for (US) Ambassador (Caroline) Kennedy in Canberra to ensure that the transcript of the proceedings tonight, the relevant parts, are transmitted direct to President Biden, particularly before his visit, so that the United States can consider whether, if we all resolve, and ask interested states, to agitate at the United Nations General Assembly, to hold the United States to account for hostage taking.
Now, not all of what has been done to Julian and not all of what isn’t being done for Julian can be taking place without the complicity of senior bureaucrats.
I won’t repeat what we’ve already been told this evening.
But in my view there’s not going to be a change in this country until we have more robo-debt type inquiries.
The persecution of Witness K was profound. Awful. And silent. And stealthy, and still stealthy. The indictments against me for conspiring with him to reveal the truth meant that we were indicted for revealing a crime. Criminal conduct by the Coalition. That’s what we were indicted for. I don’t think over those four years and 60 court appearances, we were ever going to get an answer to the question we sought. Which was the one that’s asked every day of the week in every magistrates court that every lawyer does as soon as they get a brief: “what are the particulars of the offence by Bernard Collaery?”
It was never answered. We never found out what was the secret that was revealed.
That’s because the secret was something that would shock you. The charges have been dropped against me but the orders that have been issued under the national security legislation by Christian Porter have been left in place.
I’m still subject to those orders. There’s one word that rhymes with something that I can’t even mention.
It’s not over in this country.
Those complicit bureaucrats, those people who pursued Witness K, got a plea out of him, and so eloquently did John (Kyriacou) here beside me explain his plea, got a plea out of a man – the revelation of whose identity would almost certainly put his family and children, grandchildren in great personal risk – is a factor always when a man enters a plea to protect his own family.
There’s a national shame about Witness K that we must look into. Robo-debt should just be the beginning. And the failures that Julian Assange should also result in an adequate inquiry for the future.
I want to say this: Gough Whitlam had a marvellous career but there was a blemish. And you know the blemish. The one awful blemish was his tacit agreement with General Suharto relating to the occupation of East Timor.
I want to say as a great old man to Anthony Albanese still in his prime, don’t leave an awful blemish on your legacy. Get Julian out of that place soon or if he perishes you will live with a terrible legacy.
More stunning speeches from this event to come, updated here
Full video of the event on YouTube below
Updates 05 March 2020: adds detail on parliamentary friendship group, adds detail on the persecution of Bernard Collaery and Witness K, changes “murder” to “killed” in par on US helicopter gunship shooting journalists in Iraq, links UN treaty on hostage taking. More updates and transcripts to come.
07 March 2020: adds YouTube video of entire proceedings