My Exclusive Interview with WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange
CENK UYGUR, GUEST HOST: First, our exclusive interview with WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, who sparked a global uproar with his release of hundreds of thousands of pages of secret government documents and diplomatic cables, information ranging from the outrageous — we had innocent and unarmed reporters and Iraqi civilians being killed by U.S. troops — to the downright embarrassing, comments about the hard partying and the corruption of different world leaders.
Not long after that latest release, Assange found himself in legal trouble in Sweden. But not for any reasons having to do with the leaks. Instead, he was booked on a series of sex charges.
With the help of people like the American filmmaker and activist, Michael Moore, Mr. Assange is now out on bail and speaking out to us.
Let’s now go to Ellingham Hall in Norfolk, England, where Julian Assange is currently on house arrest.
Julian, great to have you with us.
JULIAN ASSANGE, FOUNDER, WIKILEAKS: Good evening, Cenk.
UYGUR: All right, the first question I have for you, Julian, is do you consider yourself a member of the press?
Are you a journalist?
ASSANGE: Well, I have been a member of the Australian press union for many years. I co-authored my first book when I was 25 and have been involved in setting up the — the very fabric of the Internet in Australia since 1993 as a publisher.
So quite interesting that this is something that is being raised.
It’s — it’s actually a quite deliberate attempt to split off our organization from the First Amendment protections that are afforded to all publishers.
You know, as time has gone by and our journalism has increased, I’ve been pushed up into senior management, into a position where I manage other journalists. I now even am in a — in a position where I’m managing the interrelations between “The Guardian,” “Spiegel,” “The New York Times,” “Al Jazeera” and so on, which were used in — in our last production.
So, yes, unfortunately, I don’t write that much anymore, because I’m busy being editor-in-chief, coordinating the actions of other journalists. But a quite deliberate attempt to split us off in the mind of the public from those “good” traditions of the United States, protecting the rights of the press to publish, to split us off from the support of the press in the United States, the support of journalists.
Some of those journalists have fallen for that.
Because they’re worried that they’re going to be next. They believe that if they sell us out, if they say, well, he’s not really a journalist, they can have the U.S. — have the Washington authorities target us and destroy us and somehow steer clear of the crossfire, which they worry will — will scatter out through all journalists.
But I have a message to them. They’re going to be next. And we’re seeing these statements that “The New York Times” is — is, you know, is now also being looked at in terms of whether it has engaged in what they call a conspiracy to con — commit espionage.
So us journalists and publishers and writers, we all have to stick together to resist this sort of reinterpretation of the First Amendment, this attempt to use the 1917 Espionage Act, something that was put in place in the middle of World War — toward the end of World War II, in the middle of the U.S. involvement in World War I, to stop bona fide espionage in World War I.
Now, we’ve got this antiquated act that they are trying to apply to publishers, arguably, unconstitutional. But that will take many years to get through the court.
And in the meantime, what happens?
In the meantime, we have our people harassed. We have calls to apply this to — to other newspapers.
All members of the press and — and all the American people who believe in freedom and the — and the good founding principles of revolution — of the revolutionary fathers have got to pull together and resist this attack on the First Amendment. . . .
UYGUR: And do you think they have pulled together or do you think that large portions of — whether it’s the American media or the international media — have abandoned you and not come to your defense when people in government call you a high tech terrorist?
ASSANGE: Yes, well, they were. They were. But we saw a bit of a shift around 10 days ago. You know, once I was put in prison, this really focused the mind of people intently into what was happening. So we — we have seen a turnaround.
We saw the — the House Judiciary Comm — Committee issue a finding that this would be a — a grave step and — and an attack on the First Amendment. We’ve seen the New York-based Human Rights Watch saying that this would be a very grave step and should not be done. We’ve seen Reporters Without Borders issue an open letter to Obama condemning that sort of interpretation.
And we have seen a number of members of the mainstream press rightly stopping forward and understanding that there has to be a line drawn in the sand, that this erosion of the First Amendment must be stopped.
And so I’m quite hopeful about that. I think people are — are saying that it’s going too far. You know, always in this sort of situation, you have an institution like the State Department connected with military contractors and an institution like the Pentagon, an institution like the CIA, able to respond fairly quickly and get its agenda up fairly quickly because they are organized. They have a chain of command. They have internal e-mail communications and systems. They have existing contacts with the press. They spend an enormous amount of money on public relations. So they’re — they’re able to get their message out quickly.
But the reality is that a large swathe of the population sees things differently, not just in the United States, but in Australia, my home country, where the — the prime minister made similar sort of statements to the United States.
Now, that’s completely turned around in Australia and Australians have gotten together —
UYGUR: Well —
ASSANGE: — to even take out a full page ad in “The New York Times” condemning that — that sort of behavior.
As time goes by, the large number of people — the silent majority start to become organized. And that’s what we’ve seen over the last two or so weeks — the gradual organization of the silent majority to resist a new type of tyranny, a new type of privatized censorship, a new type of digital McCarthyism that is being pushed from Washington.
People don’t like it. Around the world, people don’t like it. They don’t like it in the United States, especially because of these good First Amendment, revolutionary traditions about the rights and freedoms of all people to criticize and open up their government.
UYGUR: Well, Julian, I want to get to as much as possible here. So I want to give you a chance to respond one by one to your critics.
First to Mitch McConnell, who is, of course, the leader of the Republicans in the Senate and to Joe Biden, who both said that — called you a high tech terrorist.
How do you respond to — to Joe Biden, the vice president of the United States, saying that to you?
ASSANGE: Well, let’s look at the definition of terrorism. The definition of terrorism is a group that uses violence or the threat of violence for political ends.
Now, no one in our four year publishing country covering over 120 countries has ever been physically harmed as a result of what we have done. And that’s not just us saying that. It’s the Pentagon saying that. That’s NATO in Kabul saying that. No one — not a shred of evidence. There are — believe me that if they could find or even easily manufacture a shred of evidence, they would be doing that immediately.
So it’s clear that whoever the terrorists are here, it’s not us.
But we see constant threats from people in the Re — you know, Republicans in the Senate trying to make a — a name for themselves, the people like Sarah Palin, top shock jocks on Fox and, unfortunately, some members, also, of the Democratic Party, calling for my assassination, calling for the illegal kidnapping of my staff.
And — and just a few days ago, it was in Fox, that was the phrase that was used — illegal. He should be illegally murdered if necessary– assassinated by the law, if possible, if not, illegally.
What sort of message does that send about the rule of law in the United States?
That is conducting violence in order to achieve a political end — the elimination of this organization or the threat of violence to achieve a political end, the elimination of a publisher. And that is the definition of terrorism.
UYGUR: Now, I want to give you a chance to respond personally, though, because here Mike Huckabee is making it very personal. You saw that quote we had up. He says, I think anything less than execution is too kind a penalty for you. Sarah Palin is saying that you are like al Qaeda and the Taliban and he — you should be pursued with the same urgency.
So how would you respond to Mike Huckabee, who is a top Republican leader, who’s likely to run for president again?
How do you respond to Sarah Palin, a top Republican leader who might run for president again?
ASSANGE: Oh, it’s just another idiot trying to make a name for himself. But it’s a — it’s a serious business. I mean if we are to have a civil society, you cannot have senior people making calls on national TV to go around the judiciary and illegally murder people.
That is incitement to commit murder. That is an offense. You cannot have senior people on national TV asking people to commit an offense.
That is not a country that obeys the rule of law.
Does the United States obey the rule of law?
Because Europeans are starting to wonder whether it is still obeying the rule of law?
And it needs to be very careful.
Is it going to descend into an anarchy where we don’t have due process, where those great Bill of Rights traditions about due process are just thrown to the wind, when — whenever some shock jock politician thinks that they can use it to make a name for themselves?
Or do we take things according to laws expressly made by the people and their representatives?
That is the way things should be done. And — and when people call for illegal, deliberate assassination and kidnapping of others, they should be held to account. They should be charged for incitement to commit murder.
UYGUR: Well, that’s a very strong charge. And what they’re saying is very strong.
What — what’s actually happened, the only person who’s actually been arrested on any leak is actually Private Bradley Manning. He’s actually been in prison for the last seven months. And I know you spent a week in prison and you got a little sense of how bad it can be. He’s had 200 days of solitary confinement in a small cell for 23 hours a day. He gets a 5:00 a.m. Wake up call. He’s not even allowed to exercise in his cell. He’s not allowed to have sheets or a pillow, etc. Etc. Etc.
A lot of people, including some of the top human rights analysts in– in the world, believe that this is cruel and inhumane treatment.
Do you think Private Manning is, one, a hero?
And, number two, do you think the American government is treating him wrong by keeping him in isolation for so long?
ASSANGE: We don’t know whether this young man is our source or not. Our technology is set up so we don’t know that. That is the best way to protect people.
But let’s look at the allegations. Regardless of whether he was the whistleblower behind some of these res — revelations or not, he is a young man that has been caught up in this, kept in solitary confinement for some six months — some 5,000 hours now — in conditions that were even worse than the ones that I was in, held in a — he’s now held in a military brig. His visits are very limited, only once a week. And his lawyer has said that they have been getting worse and that his psychological health has been getting worse.
If we are to believe the allegations, then this man acted for political reasons. He is a political prisoner in the United States. He has not gone to trial. He’s been a political prisoner without trial in the United States for some six or seven months. That’s a serious business. Human rights organizations should be investigating the conditions under which he is held and is there really due process there?
Now, we’ve recently heard calls to try and set up a plea deal with Brad — Bradley Manning to testify against me, personally, to say that we engaged in some kind of conspiracy to commit espionage — absolute nonsense. Absolute nonsense. That’s not how our technology works.
UYGUR: Well —
ASSANGE: That’s not how our organization works. I never heard of the name Bradley Manning before it appeared in the media.
But actually, mainstream journalists in the United States, mainstream investigative journalists, how do they operate when they’re investigating a story?
They do actually ring up their sources and say, do you have anything on this?
That is how they operate.
And if we are to — if they want to push the line that when a newspaperman talks to someone in the government about looking for things relating to potential abuses, that that is a conspiracy to commit espionage, then that’s going to take out all the good government journalism that occurs in the United States.
And, fortunately, as an organization, we’re not too exposed to that because that’s not how our technology works. But other journalists are. And they need to take action now.
And they need to understand another thing, that in this case of Bradley Manning, his conditions have been getting worse and worse and worse in his cell as they attempt to pressure him into testifying against me.
That’s a serious problem.
UYGUR: Right. Right, Julian.
And I want to let the audience know that Private Manning, of course, has not been convicted of anything. He’s in isolation as we keep our most serious criminals, even though he has not been convicted.
ASSANGE: But Julian Assange, we — we really appreciate your time today.
Thank you for joining us.
ASSANGE: All right.
UYGUR: And — all right. Merry Christmas to you, as well.