History repeats itself over Wikileaks

A fine historical reminder in the UK Guardian:

There is a precedent for Julian Assange’s predicament. Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett in the late 60s was banned from Australia for reporting the Vietnam war from the North, and for allegedly asking prisoners taken during the Korean conflict to confess to Chinese interrogators. Authorities attempted to turn the accusations into charges but to no avail, the ban stayed. He wanted to return to Australia to face his detractors. For a time he was stuck in New Caledonia.

I was working for Gordon Barton’s The Sunday Observer and had been impressed by Burchett’s revealing stories for several decades. After the bombing of Japan at the end of the second world war he travelled to a site, under great personal danger, where he managed to see the wounded. He observed that survivors of the blast were dying of radiation sickness. Scientists in the New York Times disputed this but the rest is history.

I approached Barton to bring Burchett to Australia to test the government’s fortitude in the face of growing media unrest over the ban. Our first concern was that an Australian citizen without criminal convictions could be banned from his country. Burchett stated his passport had been stolen by ASIS.

Burchett had also been attacked by members of the Liberal government who for days blithely libelled and defamed him. We announced that we were going to bring him back with or without permission to leave the country … or to enter it again. To make the story short, the government caved in and we legally flew him to Brisbane in a small plane, despite bomb threats.

Assange has his rabid homicidal detractors, his vague accusers, and for a time was banned from entering Australia by the confused prime minister Julia Gillard. Both Assange and Burchett are, and were, fighting to reveal truths.

Several weeks after he arrived in Australia, Burchett travelled voluntarily to Washington where he was questioned (not interrogated) by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger about conditions in North Vietnam. Apparently the meeting was civilised, not something Assange can expect. No doubt for him water-boarding will be considered. We tend… to persecute those who show us the lies.

Bill Green

Talbot, Victoria, Australia

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