Crikey Canberra correspondent Bernard Keane writes:
Evidence has emerged that disputes foreign minister Bob Carr’s claim Julian Assange has received as much or more consular support in a comparable period than other Australians, and that anything further would amount to interference in another country’s judicial process.
On the day following the UK Supreme Court decision ruling in favour of Assange’s extradition under a European Arrest Warrant, Carr held a press conference at Parliament House in which he said ‘as far as I can tell there’s been no Australian who’s received more consular support in a comparable period than Mr Assange’. Both Carr and the prime minister, asked later that day about Assange during question time, have emphasised their inability to interfere in the judicial processes of other countries.
Until now, such comments have been analysed in the context of the treatment of other well-known cases of Australians held overseas. In October, the prime minister personally called a 14-year-old boy charged with marijuana possession in Bali. Convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby received ‘substantial’ financial support for her legal costs and the offer of two QCs pro bono from the Howard government and was supported by the current government in her recent bid for clemency.
But what appears to be the previously unreported case of Australian Bradley John Thompson has been unearthed from the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables by Maitland lawyer and human rights activist Kellie Tranter. Thompson was arrested in Baghdad on 16 May 2006 by a joint US-Iraqi police operation, which ‘found evidence that Mr Thompson had been smuggling weapons into the International Zone in hidden compartments of vehicles and selling those weapons illegally to customers possibly including Jaish al-Mahdi militia members and insurgents operating in Fallujah’.
The cable, from the US Embassy in Baghdad to the State and Justice departments, the FBI, the White House and American diplomats here, states:
‘A search of Mr Thompson’s villa (located inside the International Zone) at the time of his detention found twenty AK-47 automatic rifles, three Russian belt-fed tank-type heavy machine guns, a sizeable quantity of ammunition, Iraqi, Australian, and US military uniforms, computer software used to create false military identification badges, and US$128,000 cash.’
Australian consul Alan Elliott had already visited Thompson and relayed his claim that he had been authorised by the coalition military forces in Iraq to sell weapons, a claim the Americans denied.
At the time, the Howard government was coming under increasing pressure over its abandonment of David Hicks in Guantanamo Bay. Howard would eventually negotiate a deal with US vice-president Dick Cheney early in 2007 for a speedy trial and dispatch to Australia of Hicks.
On 24 May, Australian ambassador Howard Brown and Elliott met with senior figures in the coalition military force and US political-military counsellor David C Litt (third in charge at the US Embassy) to discuss Thompson’s case, and then followed it up subsequently via email to the Americans. According to the cable, Brown and Elliott sought – and obtained – significant changes to Thompson’s treatment:
‘Ambassador Brown requested that Mr Thompson not be blindfolded and shackled when being moved to and from visiting rooms. (NOTE: this is standard procedure for new inmates at Camp Cropper, which houses highly violent insurgent actors as well as other special populations meriting private cells, such as female and coalition nationals.) The DCG-DO agreed.
‘According to Ambassador Brown, Mr Thompson has retained a US attorney, LtCol (Ret) Neal A Puckett, USMC, to represent him. The DCG-DO confirmed that LtCol Puckett would be allowed to meet with Mr Thompson either at Camp Cropper or (if preferred) at an Iraqi courthouse inside the International Zone. Requests for continued consular telephone and in-person access to Mr Thompson were also granted.
‘In response to follow-up emails from the Australian Consul on 26 May, Post arranged for Mr Thompson to telephone Mr Elliot’s cell phone and Mr Thompson’s sister in Australia, assured Mr Elliott that he would be permitted to visit Mr Thompson prior to any future appearance in Iraqi court, and provided contact information for Mr Thompson’s American legal counsel to make visiting arrangements.’
In February, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade provided details of its contacts with Assange’s legal team, which totalled 18 email, fax, phone or face-to-face contacts during 2011, plus contacts with his lawyers at his trial hearings. The department also says it obtained verbal assurances from Swedish authorities that Assange would be afforded due process, and told Greens senator Scott Ludlam recently during Senate Estimates that ‘the US is aware of our expectations in respect of due process’.
The issue of Assange’s detention once he arrives in Sweden, and the conditions of that detention, such as being denied contact with anyone but his lawyers, appear not to have been raised.
The issue of non-intervention in other countries’ legal processes is a straw man repeatedly used by the government; no one has suggested the government should, or has the power to, directly intervene in Swedish sexual assault investigations or US espionage indictments. But the Thompson case clearly demonstrates the government can move quickly – within a matter of days – to request the treatment of an Australian national be ameliorated and his legal rights strengthened.