Wikileaks Campaign Director: Boston police ‘executed’ bombing suspect.

A week before Julian Assange formally launched his Wikileaks Party earlier this month, he had announced former President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA), Tasmanian Greg Barns to be his National Campaign Director. Barns is no stranger to politics, having been a Liberal Party staffer for many years and was Malcolm Turnbull’s Campaign Director during the failed Republican bid in 1999. He was even a lower house candidate for Liberals in the 2002 Tasmanian State elections until he was disendorsed for criticising the Liberal party’s asylum seeker policy. So it’s not really surprising to see him throwing political and legal barbs around, indeed here’s one from yesterday aimed at the Liberal Party’s Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis on the indefinite detention of asylum seekers who fail ASIO security checks:

This indefinite detention applies to asylum seekers who have been assessed as genuine refugees and furthermore who have no recourse to full rights of appeal. Only to a review that can be ignored by ASIO. A policy which abhor as much as Barns and one potentially made worse by a future Attorney-General in George Brandis. Someone I’m certainly not looking forward to holding office if the Liberals gain power as the latest polls suggest. Indeed I’m sure there are many policies Greg Barns and I would agree on, the need for drug law reform in Australia for instance. However a few hours before that tweet, in response to a retweet by journalist Amanda Meade of a BBC video showing the moments immediately prior to the capture of 19-year-old Boston marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Greg Barns tweeted the following:

No question mark or other qualifier, rather a statement of fact that the suspect was executed by the Boston Police and therefore the US had no respect for the rule of law. Having read multiple reports of the tragic events in Boston this week, this comment struck me  as having no real connection to the media coverage, both conventional and social, of the events in question. Barns might have been referring to Dzhokhar, but as he was still alive in hospital, this didn’t make much sense. Most likely he was referring to the death of Dzhokhar’s older brother Tamerlan, who died on Thursday night during a confrontation with Boston Police in Watertown, situated just outside of Boston proper. However this still jarred with reality, as the reporting of the events of that night could in no way be objectively seen as an ‘execution’, something Amanda Meade and myself quickly pointed out:

Barns responded a few hours later, making it clear he was referring to Tamerlan, though now claiming it was “a deliberate killing” on behalf of the police instead of an “execution”.

Barns also tried to distance his remarks from Wikileaks and Assange by labelling them as personal, which I think is a bit trite. Campaign directors of political parties must know that their remarks in public will be, and I would say should be, taken as a marker of that parties thoughts on issues. Plenty of party officials have gotten into hot water from ill-advised public statement. As they should.

Thankfully he now admitted that “execution” was the wrong word, but continued on the direction of criticising the police over the death, something he still pinned on the police. By this time he had also made another complaint about the events, this time at the celebrations by Bostonians once Dzhokhar had been captured Friday. Something which may be distasteful to some, and an act I find hard imagining myself partaking in. I don’t think its hard to imagine wanting to rejoice an end to a  horrible week of violence resulting in four deaths, over a hundred more injuries and an hours long manhunt along with gunfire and explosions and a locked down city. Without being there and feeling the emotions of such events I can’t bring myself to criticise  too harshly those who felt the need to cheer.

What’s more important in my mind is his defence of this position with the following:

Where were these high ideals of democracy and the presumption of innocence in his original tweet? Why are the bombing suspects given this privilege by Barns, but not the police officers who put themselves in harm’s way to protect others? Or does Barns only see fit to uphold these principles when it suits his politics?

Coming from a barrister of such high standing, former President of the ALA, and someone not coy about criticising others on the rule of law , these comments are nothing short of disgraceful in my opinion. Without any evidence, without any presumption of innocence he has baldly stated that police officers executed a suspect and showed no respect for the rule of law. Even his later softening of his terminology barely changes his claims. The implication that they acted improperly and outside the law remained. What law did the police officers break? On what evidence does Mr. Barns support these statements? What actions should have the police taken?

But what’s worse than all this is that Greg Barns hasn’t even bothered to check the basic facts before shooting of his mouth (or rather his keyboard). Here’s how Lesly Clark from McClatchy News on Saturday described the events of that Thursday night.

It was the Watertown’s second round with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The first came when he and his brother, who had allegedly shot and killed a Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus police officer, careened into the sleepy streets of Watertown in two vehicles, including a Mercedes SUV that they had carjacked.

Watertown police were able to track that car, Deveaux said, and knew what streets it was on because the carjacking victim’s cell phone was still in the vehicle. They knew they were tracking the Boston Marathon bombing suspects because they had bragged about their role to the carjacking victim, Deveaux said: “We did the Boston Marathon bombing and we killed a police officer,” the chief said the victim had quoted them as saying.

Deveaux said a Watertown officer on duty spotted the two cars at about 12:30 a.m. and called for backup. But before other officers could arrive, the brothers jumped out of the cars and opened fired. “They came out shooting,” Deveaux said.

They pair carried handguns; a rifle, which Deveaux described as a long arm, was found in the car.

The police officer, still the sole responder, reversed his car to give himself some distance from the gunfire, as several more officers pulled up.

Deveaux said a shift had just ended and two off-duty officers on their way home responded to the call. Altogether, six police officers engaged in the gunfight, Deveaux said, estimating that there were more 200 shots fired over five to 10 minutes, in addition to an uncounted number of pipe bombs and other explosives that the two men were lighting and throwing.

One of those explosives was a pressure cooker bomb similar to the ones used in the marathon bombs; Deveaux said its remains were found embedded in a car down the street. Two devices that didn’t explode were also found, he said.

“How the Watertown police aren’t attending a funeral of our own based on what happened on that street over that period of time is just talent, guts and glory that my officers did,” Deveaux said.

He said the gunfight was largely over by the time “the whole greater Boston area” was arriving to help, though one of the earliest to arrive, a Metropolitan Boston Transit Authority officer, was seriously wounded.

Deveaux offered an almost cinematic description of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s final moments. He said the 26-year-old amateur boxer had begun walking down the street, firing at the Watertown police, when he ran out of ammunition. A Watertown officer tackled him, and police began to handcuff him.

But Deveaux said his officers suddenly saw the carjacked car aimed at them and dived out of the way. That’s when the younger Tsarnaev ran over his brother and dragged him “a short distance down the street.”

So not only did the two suspects fire on police with handguns and a rifle, as well as set off explosive devices, all quite clearly justifying the use of deadly force, Tamerlan was not even killed by the police. He was killed by his brother’s attempt to use the stolen SUV to escape while further maiming police officers, which resulted in him running over his brother. A brother who had been tackled to the ground by police when he had run out of ammunition and was being handcuffed. Actions taken by police despite explosives being found on the body. The police had in fact subdued the suspect despite the violent events, and would have taken him into custody had it not been for the actions of Dzhokhar. Hardly a case of excessive force, let alone a ‘deliberate killing’. Any suggestion of ‘execution’ is downright ridiculous.

Is this what we are to expect from the Wikileaks Party campaign? Hyperbole, jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions based on nothing more than a political agenda and an axe to grind?

I think it may well be.

UPDATE April 22 6:09pm

Greg Barns replied to me on twitter this morning, though due to him misspelling my twitter handle I didn’t see it until this afternoon. Here is his comment and my responses:

As I said to him, I think his ‘personal views’ defence doesn’t cut it. He is the National Campaign Director for the Wikileaks Party. His statements in the public sphere while he is employed in that role certainly will and indeed should be seen in that light. Especially when he uses his tweeter handle for party matters:

Barns then went on to make what I think is a quite stunning denial:

Going back to his original tweet, it’s very clear that he did indeed make very serious claims of criminal activity by Police, without any evidence at all. Completely unsubstantiated.

He can dance all he wants and evade taking real responsibility, but it’s there for all to see.