Superiority born of class: Michael Fullilove of the Lowy Institute on Julian Assange

Beware of the privileged who have learned to speak with confidence but who seem blind to the advantages of social class. Beware of powerful people who claim that democratic governments in the United States, Britain and Australia still administer justice according to an age-old principle over the rule of law.

Beware of a society in which men socialized by privileged education and employment remain socially distant from ordinary citizens with few resources. Beware of assumptions derived from living in protected institutions, law, academia, or government, which foster hostility toward someone they don’t understand or who, God forbid, challenges the fairness of the customs and rules of society.

These observations about the privilege and trust that cement the advantages of social class are made in response to inhumane comments about the conduct of a brave Australian citizen, Julian Assange.

The comments were made by the executive director of the Lowy Institute, Dr. Michael Fullilove.

He advised Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to be careful before intervening on behalf of whistleblower journalist Julian Assange to prevent this brave, albeit unusual (which is wrong with it) extradition of an Australian citizen to the United States.

Fullilove tweeted in 2019: “Poor Mr. Assange, no longer able to dodge the consequences of his actions. Finally having to live according to the rules that apply to all the others”.

What rules and mores does it refer to? Not those who supported his career, and mine for that matter. Only those who scapegoat people as deviants and therefore easy targets for governments bent on punishment, intent on revenge.

In an earlier post, Fullilove wrote that Wikileaks’ raison d’etre was comparable to the revelations of Murdoch’s now-abolished journal, the world news.

How do noble and rarely criticized commentators get away with such analogies?

Think about the comparison. Wikileaks publishes the 2010 Collateral murder video showing eleven innocent Iraqi citizens murdered by US Marines flying over the streets of Baghdad in an Apache helicopter. The world newsknown for writing sex stories on Sunday as a scheme for UK readers, was eventually shut down due to journalists’ phone-hacking practices, their unethical and illegal conduct exposed after investigations into the murder of a schoolgirl 13-year-old Milly Dowler?

Important public figures such as Fullilove usually receive an immediate and respectful audience. With benefits derived from title and class, they are listened to and taken seriously. On this occasion, Fullilove should at least face a fraction of the scrutiny that Assange has faced for years.

In the adulation of a country with the largest prison population in the world and the highest incarceration rates, which boasts of a Supreme Court following tenders from armed lobbies, where the police shoots African-American citizens and does so mostly with impunity, Fullilove puts on his “I love America glasses”.

Instead of identifying a failed state, Fullilove tells us, “The United States is a proud democracy. They have prosecutors, they have the rule of law, they have prosecutors reviewing the evidence…”

What is this “rule of law” when several American politicians have recommended that Assange be killed? They encouraged almost anyone to pick up a gun and shoot him?

What is this phenomenon called proof? Influential people in Washington have weighed the political benefits of prosecuting someone who revealed the murder and mayhem by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Long before these extradition proceedings, a secret grand jury in Virginia sat for years trying to concoct charges against Assange.

In rejection of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech, a Espionage Act 1917 was resurrected and someone brought up the idea that 175 years in prison would be an appropriate punishment for a citizen of another country who revealed dirty American secrets.

In response to cruelty to an Australian citizen found guilty of nothing, politicians Scott Morrison and Marise Payne adopted the coward’s scheme. They could not interfere in the administration of justice in another country. They ensured that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade would provide consular assistance to Julian Assange. What does that mean?

Social distancing from the experiences of others allows people in high places to assume they know best, that the public can be reassured. This robotic assertion applies as much to the Australian governments’ repeated statements about consular assistance to Assange as it does to Fullilove’s assumptions.

After 1,000 days in tight security in Belmarsh prison, Assange was reportedly stripped naked and left in a bare cell.

In reference to the Australian Consular Service Charter, which states that officers will try to ensure that an Australian like Assange will be “treated no worse than local citizens detained for similar offences”. Assange supporter James Ricketson asked Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Foreign Secretary Penny Wong several questions. “Is it normal for local citizens of the UK who have not broken any UK law to be jailed for three years and denied bail? Is it normal for UK citizens to be undressed and left alone in a bare cell?”

Unless such questions are answered without establishment platitudes about the current law, the picture persists that justice for Assange requires brutal controls backed by people who use neither their humanity nor their brains to to articulate alternatives to collusion with powerful others, and to call this collusion the rule of law.

All this in the name of democracy, the freedom of expression of the privileged and the interpretation of certain laws by irresponsible politicians: one thinks of British Home Secretary Priti Patel.

The influence of social class affects the perspective of those who may take the administration of justice for granted or who see fit to criticize defendants with whom they have nothing in common. The influence of social class persists. The executive director of the Lowy Institute must be aware and should know better.

[Stuart Rees OAM is Professor Emeritus at the University of Sydney, a recipient of the Jerusalem (Al Quds) Peace Prize and author of the recent Policy Press book Cruelty or Humanity. This article was first published at Pearls and Irritations.]

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