Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard denied supplying information about WikiLeaks staff to the US government after founder Julian Assange confronted her on live television and suggested she be tried for treason.
The ambush happened during an interview with the Australian leader aired live on that country's public network ABC. With no prior warning, the broadcaster showed a video of Assange asking a pointed question. Dressed in a suit and tie, he said his staff has uncovered evidence her government has exchanged information with foreign powers about Australian citizens who worked for WikiLeaks.
“So prime minister, my question to you is this: When will you come clean about precisely what information you have supplied to foreign powers about Australian citizens working or affiliated with WikiLeaks?” he asked. “And if you cannot give a full and frank answer to that question, should perhaps the Australian people consider charging you with treason?”
Gillard was unflappable, but her response also provided her with plenty of wiggle room.
“On the exchange of information that he's talking about, I honestly don't know what he's talking about, so I'm afraid I can't help him with full and frank disclosures,” she said. “I don't know anything about exchanging information about people who work for WikiLeaks. To my knowledge it hasn't happened.”
She went on to say that her government regularly shares intelligence with United States officials.
“It's part of our alliance, and it's in the best interests of this country,” she said.
AFP later quoted Australian Foreign Minster Kevin Rudd denying Assange's claim, but his statement was also open to interpretation.
“I am not aware of seeing any such material myself,” Rudd was quoted as saying.
ABC gave Assange a “no-strings attached invitation” to question Gillard and gave the prime minister no advanced knowledge of the arrangement, according to The Australian.
An Australian citizen, Assange has been critical of Gillard's government for not doing more to shield him from US investigators trying to prove the WikiLeaks founder was complicit in the in the suspected leaking of thousands of classified diplomatic cables by Pfc. Bradley Manning. The former US Army intelligence analyst was recently charged with 22 additional crimes, including aiding the enemy, an offense that carries the death penalty.
Asked if she would guarantee Assange wouldn't be extradited to the US where he might face similar charges, Gillard said:
“Once again, we're doing hypotheticals on hypotheticals here, but policy-wise, we do not extradite people who could be subject to the death penalty. It's not a question of Mr. Assange or not Mr. Assange. That's Australian policy. We just don't.”
Assange remains under house arrest in Britain pending his appeal of last month's decision by a London court that he be extradited to Sweden to answer questions in sex assault investigation. ®