Inspired by the Russell-Sartre Tribunals of the Vietnam War, the Belmarsh Tribunal convened in Sydney University’s Great Hall on March 4, for a full-house event co-chaired by legal and media identities Mark Davis and Mary Kostakidis.
Mr Assange has now been arbitrarily detained for 13 years, four of those on remand in London’s super-max HM Belmarsh Prison, awaiting permission to appeal extradition to the US on espionage charges.
Mr Assange’s wife Stella implored the Prime Minister to use his alliance power with the United States to demand the release of her husband. “The Prime Minister, more than anyone, holds Julian’s fate in his hands. And so, I ask the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, to take Julian’s fate in his hands and bring him home to us, bring him home to our kids, bring him home to me and end his suffering,” Mrs Assange said.
Eminent speakers at the Tribunal included whistle blowers, former CIA intelligence officer John Kiriakou who exposed the US ‘waterboarding’ of suspected terrorists, and ‘Afghan Files’ Australian army intelligence lawyer David McBride.
Other experts who addressed the live and online audience were Bob Carr who served as Foreign Minister in the Gillard Government in 2012-2013, Greek politician Yanis Varoufakis and sitting cross-benchers ALP’s Josh Wilson, Senator David Shoebridge, Dr Monique Ryan and Bridget Archer.
Testimony was heard about abuse of legal process and the dangerous precedent the Assange case has on press freedom from human rights lawyers Bernard Collaery, Kellie Tranter and Assange’s legal counsel Jennifer Robinson as well as MEAA President Karen Percy, award-winning journalists Kerry O’Brien and Dean Yates, a Reuters bureau chief in Baghdad during the Iraq war.
The lasting, traumatic effect of war was clearly evident as Mr Yates gave a heart-wrenching account of the 2007 US Apache helicopter airstrike on civilians in the streets of Baghdad that killed two of his Reuters staff. The video ‘ Collateral Murder’ made headlines around the world when it was published by Assange.
“For nearly three years, lawyers from Reuters tried to get a copy of this tape from the Pentagon through Freedom of Information requests so we could understand what had happened, better protect our staff in Iraq. The Pentagon repeatedly refused,” he said. “In 2010, Julian Assange published video of the entire attack. It was obvious why the U.S. government didn’t want to share the tape with Reuters. It shows grainy figures on a Baghdad street. The hellish clack of the Apache’s chain gun. Clouds of dust as cannon shells crash into men. A wounded man, (Reuters driver) Saeed Chmagh, a father of four, trying to crawl for three minutes. When a Good Samaritan taking his two children to school in his minivan stops to help Saeed, permission to attack is again granted. Crazy Horse 1–8 fires 120 rounds at the van…
“Mr Assange faces 175 years in prison. Yet the United States didn’t prosecute the men who pulled the trigger or anyone else in the chain of command. It didn’t prosecute those who did the bogus investigation into the attack or engaged in the cover-up and lied about it.”
Also appearing was academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert who spent 804 days in an Iranian prison on espionage charges. She was released last year in a tri-country prisoner swap after the Australian Government intervened in her case. “I’m very grateful and very thankful to the Australian Government for securing my freedom two-and-a-half years into an unjust 10-year prison sentence for crimes that I did not commit. Julian is, similarly, charged with ludicrous crimes of which he is not guilty. He has suffered long enough. I call on the Australian Government to demonstrate the same resoluteness that they applied to my own case to secure Julian Assange’s freedom. Julian is one of us. He’s a brave person who stood up and spoke up for what is right,” Ms Moore-Gilbert said.
As Stella Assange, Julian’s wife, said, “It’s no longer a question about whether Julian should stand trial, whether he should be free, but how he should be free and when he should be free in the eyes of those in power. And the answer is right now. Right now. And how? Well, whatever it takes. Because Australia is the most important ally to the United States. It is more important than Israel and the Middle East. It is more important than the United Kingdom. It is the most important ally because of China. And Australia has the power to bring Julian home.”
The former CIA intelligence officer John Kiriakou said that when American authorities say that Julian Assange will receive a fair trial, he says from first-hand experience that they’re lying. “No national security defendant has ever won a case in the Eastern District of Virginia. And Julian’s ‘jury of his peers’ would be made up of people who work for, or who have relatives and friends who work for, the CIA, the FBI, the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, and dozens of Intelligence Community contractors. That’s why the Justice Department sought the case there. The fix is in.”
As Bob Carr, former Foreign Minister Gillard Government (2012-2013), said in relation to the US helicopter strike on civilians in Baghdad, Assange has suffered enough. “These are war crimes and we know about them, and the world deserves to know about them. We know about them because Julian Assange published them. That’s what’s at stake here. And whether an Australian is going to be punished for this because of an extraterritorial reach by the Americans that we'd find repugnant, utterly repugnant if it were another nation reaching out to extradite Assange because he’d offended the laws of China, India or Myanmar.”
According to Julian Assange’s legal counsel, Jennifer Robinson, the indictment includes 17 separate counts under the Espionage Act for receipt, possession and publication of information. “As the New York Times and Washington Post have made clear, the indictment criminalises public interest journalism. The Freedom of the Press Foundation has called it the most terrifying threat to free speech in the 21 st century. And it is.”
Acclaimed journalist Kerry O’Brien said the longer Julian Assange remains caught in the web of US legal procedure without demonstrable and effective intervention by the Australian government to bring him home, the more the Australian government’s credibility will suffer. “And if Australia’s representations ARE made forcefully, albeit privately, but then rebuffed by the US what will it say about the true nature of Australia’s status in an alliance that has been preserved at the core of this country’s entire foreign policy for generations. It is long past the time for Julian Assange to be freed, and to come home.”
Watch the full recording of the Belmarsh Tribunal Sydney