Monday, November 29

Australia Reveals Bringing Julian Assange Case to the US Amid “Kidnapping Plot” Claim | Julian Assange

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne raised the case of WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange with the US Secretary of State during his visit to Washington DC this month, the government revealed.

But Australian MPs supporting Assange say the government should demand his immediate release, after a US news report this week claimed that CIA officials during the Trump administration had discussed kidnapping and even murdering the Australian citizen. .

Assange remains in London’s Belmarsh Prison while the US government appeals a previous court ruling that blocked his extradition to face charges, including alleged obtaining and publishing classified documents in violation of the US Espionage Act. USA

In response to questions, a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson told Guardian Australia: “Minister Payne has raised the situation of Mr Assange with her US and UK counterparts, most recently with the Secretary of State for USA [Antony] Blinking on September 15 “.

The spokesman said the Australian government conveyed its “expectations that Assange has the right to due process, humane and fair treatment, access to appropriate medical and other care, and access to his legal team.”

But it is unknown what guarantees, if any, Payne obtained from those conversations with his American and British counterparts.

The case is back in the spotlight after Yahoo News published a detailed account of how the CIA had allegedly discussed Assange’s kidnapping in 2017, as the fugitive Australian activist entered his fifth year of refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy.

Those deliberations reportedly sparked a heated debate among Trump administration officials about the legality and practicality of such an operation.

Yahoo News reported that some senior officials within the CIA and the Trump administration went so far as to ask for “sketches” or “options” to kill Assange. “There seemed to be no borders,” said a high-ranking former counterterrorism official.

Then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo and his senior officials were said to have been furious over WikiLeaks’ release of “Vault 7,” a CIA hacking toolkit, a breach the agency deemed the biggest loss. of data in its history.

The CIA declined to comment. Malcolm Turnbull, who was prime minister at the time the deliberations allegedly took place in the US, told Guardian Australia on Tuesday: “The first thing I heard about this was in the media today.” .

Guardian Australia also asked Dfat if the US had ever informed or consulted the Australian government about the reported option of the CIA kidnapping or killing Assange, but did not answer that question. The department is believed to be reluctant to comment on unconfirmed reports.

In its first public response to complaintsPompeo did not confirm or deny the specific allegations in the story, but said that “Yahoo News sources did not know what we were doing.”

Pompeo said: “I do not apologize for the fact that we and the administration were working diligently to ensure that we were able to protect this important sensitive information whether it was from cyber actors in Russia, or from the Chinese military, or whoever was trying. to remove this information from us. “

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne (left) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington DC
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne (left) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington DC. Photograph: Andrew Harnik / AP

Green Senator Janet Rice, a member of the Bring Julian Assange Home parliamentary group, said reports indicated that the US government “never cared about due process or a fair trial.”

Rice said the Australian government “should be outraged and call on the United States for the immediate release of Assange.”

“The Morrison administration cannot keep repeating the same ridiculous line that ‘we await due process,'” Rice said.

“It is now beyond doubt that Assange has not received, and will never receive, fair treatment. Australia cannot ignore this. “

Government MP George Christensen and Independent MP Andrew Wilkie met with the British High Commissioner in Australia nearly a year ago to raise concerns about Assange’s welfare and question whether due process was being observed.

The Australian government has previously stressed the independence of the British judiciary. In February, Payne played down the idea of ​​asking the United States to drop the charges against Assange, insisting that Australia “does not interfere with the legal processes of other countries.”

US prosecutors have charged Assange under the Espionage Act of seeking to assist former US Army analyst Chelsea Manning in hacking into a military computer network to obtain classified documents and of conspiring to obtain and publish classified documents in violation of the Act. of espionage.

The documents allegedly exposed war crimes and abuses by the United States.

The use of the Espionage Law in the case was strongly criticized by human rights groups who said it opened the door for its use against investigative journalists in general, much of whose work revolves around obtaining and publishing information. that governments would prefer to keep secret. .

Pompeo, who served as CIA director under Donald Trump before being appointed as his secretary of state, delivered a speech in 2017 that referred to WikiLeaks as a “hostile non-state intelligence service.”

The Yahoo! report said it was a significant designation, as it implied a green light for a more aggressive approach from the pro-transparency group by CIA agents, who could treat it as an enemy spy organization.

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