Rudd reveals behind-the-scenes push to free Assange

Assange arrives in Australia

Source: WikiLeaks

Persistence from Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and senior diplomats with American allies was pivotal to allowing Julian Assange to return home, ambassador to the US Kevin Rudd says.

In his first public comments since the WikiLeaks founder arrived in Australia late on Wednesday after striking a plea deal with US authorities, Rudd said senior representations over many years paved the way for his release.

“Obviously, on the way through, you’re going to have ebbs and flows,” he said in Canberra on Thursday.

“The only way this worked was not because you had me or anybody else doing negotiations, because we could confidently look at the folks that we’re dealing with in the eye and say ‘our Prime Minister wants this fixed’, and that’s what we did.”

Rudd was on board the plane that took Assange from Britain to the US territory of the Northern Mariana Islands, where Assange pleaded guilty, before he flew into Canberra on Wednesday night.

The former PM and current ambassador to the US was a point of contact between the US Department of Justice and Assange’s legal team. He said the plea deal did not come from the Australian government, but from consultation between the two countries.

Rudd said constant raising of Assange’s case by Albanese was crucial to his release.

“It doesn’t matter how good your diplomatic team is, you need prime ministerial authorisation, prime ministerial direction, and frankly, a clear prime ministerial mandate to engage the US system at a level of seniority which would make a difference, and that’s what made this possible,” he told ABC TV.

Albanese had raised the issue of Assange’s imprisonment and ongoing case with US President Joe Biden soon after his government was elected in 2022.

Albanese was the first caller to Assange after he arrived back in Australia – and credited by Assange’s wife Stella with saving the Wikileaks founder’s life.

Also on Thursday, Stella Assange said her husband was looking forward to getting back simple pleasures.

“Julian plans to swim in the ocean every day. He plans to sleep asleep in a real bed,” she said at Parliament House on Thursday.

“He plans to taste real food and he plans to enjoy his freedom.”

Assange recounted the heartfelt moment her children learned their father had won his freedom, but said they were waiting to be reunited as a family.

“We want to do it when we’re in the same place,” she said.

“I am obviously here and the kids were asleep when he arrived last night. It still hasn’t happened yet.

“They were very excited when they found out that daddy was coming home.

“I managed to send the video of them reacting and jumping on the sofa to Julian while he was in Saipan, and he was very, very pleased.”

The couple’s sons are aged five and seven.

The family has pleaded for privacy following Assange’s return to Australia.

Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson remained adamant there was no evidence people were physically harmed as a result of the publication of secret documents by WikiLeaks.

“The public interest in those publications is clear. Evidence of war crimes, that the US had not disclosed the extent of civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan; the use of torture and other forms of human rights abuse around the world,” she said.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong said she was pleased with the outcome of Assange’s return to Australia.

“This matter had gone on too long. Whatever your views about Mr Assange’s activities, we wanted to see him reunited with his family, return to Australia,” she told Sky News.

“He’s an Australian citizen. We sought to advocate for him … this matter could only be conducted when legal processes are concluded, that’s what occurred in the US court yesterday and that enabled his return last night.”

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