Dear Members of the Australian Parliament
I write as an Australian citizen, sentenced to six years in prison in Cambodia for espionage. The Australian government intervened in my case when it became clear, on the basis of evidence presented in court, that I was not a spy, but a filmmaker and journalist.
A fellow Australian citizen, Julian Assange, appears daily in court in London this September, accused of espionage. His lawyers argue that he is a journalist and publisher.
I read a detailed account of the court proceedings each day and, where possible, transcripts. I want my judgement of Assange's guilt or innocence to be based on facts, not on disinformation or opinion. Given the implications of Assange's extradition for him personally and for freedom of the press generally, I trust that your own support for Assange, or your lack of support, is based on facts as presented to the court.
You will have heard of, if you have not actually seen, the Collateral Murder video released by Wikileaks in 2010. Of the facts surrounding this incident there can be little doubt now. The Collateral Murder video is one of the key reasons Assange is facing a 170 year term of imprisonment in the US if he is extradited from the UK after these proceedings.
Below, in bullet form, are the key Collateral Murder facts presented to the court in a statement made by Dean Yates. You might like to familiarize yourselves with this incident, look at the video and judge for yourselves whether an investigation into a possible war crime is warranted? Ask yourselves also if an Australian citizen, deserves to die in a US prison for bringing to light this possible war crime, when it is an integral part of a journalist's job, his or her professional responsibility, to do just that.
The video can be seen here, with commentary from both Julian Assange and a representative of the US Military:
- 12th July 2007. Dean Yates is at his desk in the Reuters office in Baghdad's red zone when he learns that two Reuters employees, Namir and Saeed, have been killed.
- The US military issues a statement: "Firefight in New Badhdad. US, Iraqi forces kill 9 insurgents, detain 13." A US lieutenant colonel is quoted as saying, "Nine insurgents were killed in the ensuing firefight. There is no question that Coalition Forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force."
- None of 14 witnesses in al-Amin, where the deaths occurred, is aware of a firefight that might have resulted in the helicopter strike.
- Yates is briefed by US military.
- Pilots in Crazy Horse 1-8, an Apache helicopter, claim they saw a group of 'military-aged males' who appeared to have weapons and were acting suspiciously and requested permission to fire.
- Some debate occurs as to why Crazy Horse had opened fire, if there was no firefight? One of the generals present says the dead were of military age and, because apparently armed, were therefore "expressing hostile intent".
- Yates is shown just 3 minutes of the footage, up to the point where the Apache opns fire. It does not include the shooting of Namir and Saeed. As the Apache circles around Namir, he can be seen holding his long lens camera, taking photos of Humvees. An agitated member of the helicopter crew says "He's got an RPG"
- The US military refuses to show any more of the video or to provide a full copy of it.
- Freedom of information requests to access the full video are denied.
- On 5th April, 2010, Wikileaks releases the Collateral Murder video at the National Press Club in Washington.
- More details of Namir and Saeed's deaths are revealed in the unedited tape. In it the Apache gunner is seen tracking Namir as he stumbles and tries, unsuccessfully, to hide behind garbage. Another round of fire and Namir's body explodes. Saeed is seen trying to get up for roughly three minutes when Matasher Tomal, aged 43, driving his son and daughter to school in his minivan, pulls up to help him.
- The Apache pilots want to open fire again. "Come on buddy," says one, "All you gotta do is pick up a weapon", apparently a reference to the US Rules of Engagement permitting
the execution of a wounded man if he appears to be picking up a weapon. As the video makes clear, Saeed is not doing so.
- As the unarmed men pick up Saeed and put him in the van, permission to attack is given. The Apache fires 120 rounds into the van. Saeed and Tomal are killed. Tomal's son, Sayad, aged 10 and daughter Doaha, aged 5, are wounded. "Oh, yeah, look at that, right through the windshield," says one pilot. Tomal had been taking his kids to school. They survive their wounds.
- Banter between the pilots heard throughout is of a kind that kids might use when playing a video game. "Oh, yeah, look at those dead bastards", a pilot is heard saying. "Nice", a comrade replies. "Good shoot'n". "Thank you."
- The cause of Namir and Saeed's deaths would have remained a secret had it not been for Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange.
In the not too distant future, Assange may well be languishing in a US jail if the Trump administration request for extradition is successful. He will die in jail.
If, on the basis of the evidence, of the facts, you believe that Assange is not a spy, will you speak out, as some of your fellow parliamentarians have?
Please remember what is at stake in the Assange case – a commitment to ensuring freedom of speech remains a core value of our democracy. Irrespective of your views about Assange the man, I urge you to lobby Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne to ensure they intervene and protect an Australian citizen from an effective death penalty for revealing the war crimes of Collateral Murder.