Wednesday 4th April, Newcastle Panthers Club, Julian Assange; Fighter for Freedom or High Tech Terrorist?
The audience of over 300 people were treated to live music upon arrival at the Newcastle Panthers Club for their special Politics in the Club edition titled ‘Julian Assange; Fighter for Freedom or High Tech Terrorist?’ The local duo played a cover of Holly Near’s ‘It could have been me’ with an extra verse, for Julian.
“But we all know, they don’t want us to know, And that’s why Julian is being tried, And it could have been, but instead was you, So I’ll keep doing the work I was doing as if I was you”
The audience was also treated to part of Cathy Vogan’s ‘Did you have any idea?’ series, with John Pilger and Daniel Ellsberg. As Harry Williams, the Chair of the night introduced the speakers, an additional online crowd of attendees tuned into the live video feed, reaching 86 viewers.
Gary Kennedy, the Secretary for Newcastle Trades Hall Council (HTHC) and President of the Panthers Club, whom helped organise the venue free of charge started the evening’s speakers by pointing out that there had not previously been a lot of Union involvement in the WikiLeaks and Julian Assange matter. However Gary vowed to change this. Gary said
“Julian needs our voice here in Australia. The Union Movement needs to be a large part of this voice. When it comes to democratic rights being taken away, talk to workers of (unknown company), talk to any worker in Australia about the rights that they currently don’t have. And that’s what is at stake, our democratic rights to information and protection to citizens of the world, like Julian Assange. We need to call on the union movement nationally to utterly condemn any government that is trying to muzzle WikiLeaks and Julian, and especially our Government, and their call for any attempt to extradite Julian Assange to either Sweden or America with a voice, with a power. Each one of you now needs to become a voice for Julian Assange, in Australia and international. And you must make you make voice heard. Protect our rights and the givers of that information, and bring Julian home safe where we can support and protect him.”
Gary also covered WikiLeaks activities, morals and ideology, and how they expose the dirty tricks and methods of so-called western democracy. He led into the embarrassment caused to governments, calling the current position of the Australian Federal Government on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange an absolute disgrace. The audience were reminded about WikiLeaks exposing Mark Abib as a spy. Was he charged? Was he ostracized? Did the main stream media cover the stories? No, he was allowed to gracefully step down in the interests of protecting the government secrecy.
Andrew Fowler, ABC reporter for 4 Corners and Foreign Correspondent was also a guest speaker at the forum. Andrew was speaking as the author of the book “The Most Dangerous Man in the World” which covers the early days of the WikiLeaks revelations. Andrew Fowler spoke of discussions with Daniel Ellsberg about the incredible amount of courage Julian Assange, to be able to stand up to injustices from large powers. Andrew told the often untold story by New York Times journalist Bill Keller, and the finger pointing at WikiLeaks after publishing stories from Cablegate. As Andrew recapped the series of events, he describes it as a
“Cruel blow, I’m deeply troubled by it, still am”.
He was not singling out one reporter or media company, he continued to say that the Washington Post behaved in a similar way with the Collateral Murder video. A Washington Post journalist who had access to the video, watched it, however never published a story about the war crimes in the video. Outraged at the behaviour of the Washington Post, Andrew continued to say:
“the Washington Post, the greatest newspaper of my youth, that I admired so much, the paper that produced water gate, that made everyone want to be a journalist, failing at its primary duty”.
Andrew Fowler raised concerns that United States media companies first go to the White House to check their stories before publishing, allowing the US Government to provide input and give their spin on the story (or retract the story all together). Andrew pointed out why WikiLeaks was so important for breaking out of this containment, creating the explosion needed. As a journalist, Andrew told the audience how he uses their material every single day and how historians will look back on it, and build a more accurate account of history. While Andrew believed he painted a rather grim picture of his job, and what he does, he believed it was necessary as the threat to Julian is a threat to all journalists. He finished by saying:
“WikiLeaks made a difference, and for that we are eternally grateful.”
A professor of politics at Newcastle University, Jim Jose spoke of a history of politics of fear and politics of secrecy. In current times of social protests and social movements, the politics of fear have receded, however politics of secrecy have remained. Interesting examples were given where people had been lied to by the government, yet years later nothing has changed and the governments are still not telling us what is going on, lying and hiding information Professor Jose detailed the increase of legislation since 2001 in Australia and the United States that is taking advantage of the governments’ ‘protection’ of secrecy, and that the people have no right to know. People’s rights are at risk with new laws on surveillance, integration, detention without charge. Legislation is also stripping the rights to challenge, right to silence, media reporting or even the suspect reporting on their own experience. It is beginning to sound like the defining characteristic of a police state; the police are acting on behalf of the executives, and you cannot challenge their actions.
“A free society depends on many things”
said Professor Jose. He went on to list; freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of association, freedom of information, a fair trial, informed citizens. All needed for a healthy democracy. The fate of Julian Assange, said Professor Jose, is the fate of us all, the likely fate of democracy.
A lawyer and human rights activist, Newcastle local Kellie Tranter started with:
“I hope Julian will soon return home to the loving arms of the staunchest and strongest ally – his mother, Christine Assange”.
Kellie focused on areas that she believed needed a particular emphasis, the theoretical framework of WikiLeaks and their thinking. WikiLeaks’ central motivation is reform, and they are pushing towards the way things should be, consistent with common morality. Governments could take things off paper, and lock down in high-tech encrypted electronic security, however this would affect their efficiency and contract their power and intergovernmental functioning. Or governments could be more open, and simply do less embarrassing things, and do things that don’t outrage people when they are exposed. Kellie read passages from the chat logs between the alleged whistleblower Bradley Manning and Adrian Lamo, relevant passages that were clearly missed in the mainstream media reporting of the trial. The underlying message was that WikiLeak’s motto is ‘we open governments’ and it is not ‘we destroy governments’. Interesting comparisons were made between political foul play and drug taking in athletics. Kellie discussed how the governments were working together in laying groundwork to extradite Assange to the US, without causing public outcry. The Australian Government has no intention in intervening in Julian Assange’s case, and worse they still refer to Julian Assange as ‘reckless, irresponsible and potentially dangerous’. Kellie suggested that this could be because of high level discussion with US government about a possible prosecution under the about the US Espionage Act.
The mother of Julian, Christine Assange, answered questions about Julian’s childhood. Julian was not an uncontrollable risk taker, he was a lovely little boy, very curious, very bright and the question he asked most was ‘Why?’. Julian would never settle for the first answer, they would enjoy thinking through all the reasons why. A normal country kid with friends, a dog, and making rafts in the nearby rivers. Christine remembers how Julian enjoyed reading adventure stories, classics, Robin Hood, Greek mythology, all with a moral of good triumphing over evil. When asked about public support, Christine quickly responded when people know the facts, they are almost 100% supportive, the problem is that mainstream media are not reporting the facts. The crowd cheered when Christine informed them (for the first time for many) about Julian winning the 2010 Sam Adams award, judged by a group of retired senior US military and intelligence personnel. Christine was asked if she had any fears. She answered: “I would be naive if I didn’t, there was a 120 man taskforce in 2010, imagine how big it is now. WikiLeaks have released cables suggesting it was unprecedented in scale. Then there is the Stratfor emails, a company described as a shadow CIA agency, amongst the 4000+ emails about Julian Assange, one email describes how they want to make Julian a bride in prison. Christine told the audience:
“This is a terrible thing for a mother to think of.”
From HBGary planning attacks on WikiLeaks and its supporters to a secret grand jury in Alexandria Virginia, Christine said, there is a clear lack of due process in determining the indictment, and no country in the world should honour it. Yet the Australian Government has recently passed new extradition legislation, meaning Australian citizens could be extradited for minor offences. Minor offences like piracy are already seeing extradition requests from the US to many countries. An interesting theory has been suggested that the US Government are now trying to copyright all public works, which would be yet another attempt to extradited Julian Assange from Australia to US and be held indefinitely without trial under the new NDAA legislation. Julian’s mental stability was questioned, as it is often smeared in the mainstream media. Christine stated that the media have nothing left on him; he has not broken any laws in any country, so the media are going into overdrive to smear him.
“Julian is not normal, he is extraordinary”
said Christine. Julian Assange has been framed, and the Australian Government is well aware that he has been framed, she said. The facts about the Swedish extradition have been presented to politicians in Canberra, yet there still has been no action to protect Julian. The audience had taken the first step of taking action to support Julian, and Christine said the next step is to become informed by getting the facts:
“Fight the smears and lies with facts, arm yourself with the facts”
Christine suggested ringing talk back radio, and when you hear misinformation, correcting it. When standing around the water cooler, drop eye opening facts, like the fact that they are all running for the same political party in Sweden. Write letters to the editor, and buy a WikiLeaks hoodie and wear it with pride. Courage is contagious; more people stand up, the more that stand up. Christine requested that we don’t forget about the politicians, they want your vote more than anything in the world. Organise an interview, don’t take no as an answer, take a letter armed with the facts, and make the next election about Assange, press freedom and democracy.
Gail Malone of SAWC, closed the evening with a touching story about Afghan youth wanting to be a journalist like Julian Assange when they were older and the launch of April 5’s Beat the Blockade day.
Recording at http://www.ustream.com/channel/sawc