Julian Assange on Sweden, Persecution of WikiLeaks & Decay of Rule of Law
Ecuador granted diplomatic asylum to WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange around two weeks ago. He remains in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been living for over two months. He delivered a speech expressing gratitude to Ecuador, Latin America and his supporters days after the decision was announced by Ecuador. Assange also highlighted the United States’ war on whistleblowers and dissidents and urged the country to dissolve its investigation into WikiLeaks.
Now, in an interview by Jorge Gestoso for Telesur, a pan-Latin American news station based in Venezuela, Assange addresses the political persecution he faces from the United States, why Ecuador was right to grant asylum, the Swedish case against him and the efforts to marginalize the WikiLeaks organization by refusing to consider it a journalistic organization or by accusing it of having “blood on its hands” for releasing documents.
[View the full four-part interview in English here.]
“I am a person that it has been established is under a political persecution by the United States and its allies,” Assange declares. “That’s a fact. That fact was recognized, though we had to put a lot of work into giving the Ecuador government evidence about that fact.”
He goes on to express his belief that Ecuador “has been right to demonstrate its values in this case” and contends they went the “extra mile” in defending his rights because they correlate with Ecuador’s values. He knew Latin America supported WikiLeaks, but he was pleasantly surprised with the solidarity the region has shown recently.
In regards to the case in Sweden, Assange says he is going through the formal methods of cooperation. He noted the country’s prosecution authority had “refused to accept a written sworn statement.”
When Gestoso uses the words rape, sexual molestation, etc, to describe the allegations he faces, he dismisses the use of such language and told Gestoso it had been the police in Sweden that ultimately chose to bring this case, not any women. And, he expresses anxiety and frustration over trying to respond to allegations that are discussed in the media:
…It’s like to wrestle with a pig. You get mud all over yourself and it just suits the people who are throwing mud. If you respond, you bring yourself into the situation. You legitimize the scurrilous allegations that are being made against you. This sort of situation—People care about women. They care about children. And they don’t like to see bad things happen to them so when you make such an accusation against someone the instinct is to fight for the alleged victims. I have this instinct…
He acknowledges why people would be upset with the thought that he committed these allegations, but nonetheless, urges those viewing to read original police reports posted online that show what people involved in this have actually said. He recounted how he had stayed in Sweden five weeks then in the middle of the release of US diplomatic cables an Interpol red notice was put out, which was “not right” for someone who had been “completely cooperative in trying to assist an investigation.”
Prompted by Gestoso, he shares his view on Sweden’s neutrality or ability to act independent from the United States’ agenda:
Sweden’s a very interesting country. There’s historically a lot of good things about Sweden. There’s important advances of some kinds that were made in the ’70s, but it’s changed in a very sad way and most Swedes—Swedes who are old enough see what has happened and they see the change. And they see a state that has said it was proud of its neutrality. There’s been questions, even in the ’70s, about how neutral it was. [It’s] to a position now where Sweden is on over 100 NATO committees, where its forces under US command in Afghanistan, where it’s the fifth in to Libya with planes. It was the first to have its parliament to vote to send planes into Libya. It’s the number one per capita arms manufacturer in the world, nearly double that of Israel. It was number one supplier of arms to the United States during the Iraq War in absolute terms. And it is now currently the third largest arms supplier to the United States.
Assange references a cable from a US ambassador to Sweden sent in 2009 that was sent under the heading, “New Swedish Defense Priorities: Sweden Puts Neutrality In The Dustbin Of History.”
The founder takes on the notion that WikiLeaks is not engaged in investigative journalism. Particularly insightful is Assange’s explanation of how the word “journalist” has been turned against the organization by media and political elites:
This particular word, journalist, has never had such power as in relation to the assault on WikiLeaks—the concern as to the definition of this word. Now, when a cameraman goes to war and he photographs something and comes back, we all acknowledge he’s a war journalist, even though he is not writing an opinion piece.
It is simply not physically possible to write individual news stories about one million documents. That is not possible. We work at a higher level, which is that we create the structure of analysis. So that is, after all verification and publication is done, to, for example, with the Afghan war logs, to show exactly where on maps people were killed, how many by the size of the circle on the map…
…US involvement in Afghanistan, State Department, Syria government—these are big organizations. These organizations have to be understood by understanding their many millions of pieces all at once and that’s what we do. I don’t care whether people call this journalism or not. That’s completely irrelevant. This is more important than that. It’s about adding to our shared intellectual record, documenting what is actually going on, producing just change as a result of our documentation.
To a key allegation against the WikiLeaks that the organization has “blood on its hands” after the release of US documents, he illuminates the “rhetorical trick” to shift attention from the bloodshed caused by the US to WikiLeaks. He notes there has been no claim by the US government that the organization has been directly responsible for any deaths but mentions how the Afghanistan War Logs showed several thousand people had been directly killed in Afghanistan by US forces. Twenty thousand people had been indirectly killed. They’re a “machine to put blood all over Afghanistan.” The US military was shown to be spreading blood all over—the blood of children, the blood of women, the blood of men and the blood of its own soldiers. But it turned the facts around and pointed at WikiLeaks and said, no, that organization has blood on its hands.
Media corruption only contributed to cementing this perception. There are more results on Google when one searches for “WikiLeaks” and “blood on hands” than when one searches for “Pentagon” and “blood on hands,” despite all the wars fought including the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Gestoso asks Assange about the Internet, social media and social movements. He outlines how Western powers had the globe on a trajectory toward “pending transnational totalitarianism” because of the total surveillance that now exists.
This exchange occurs:
GESTOSO: So, it’s almost like something perverse if you want. The official line is we’re promoting or we are living in states that are democratic. We’re talking about some Western countries. When in reality….
ASSANGE: It’s completely perverse. It’s completely perverse. It’s in such runaway accelarating decay, the rule of law in the west. We saw this with Guantanamo Bay. That’s where it first—detention without trial in Guantanamo. You now have a case I worked on, the Omar Khadr case, young man, fifteen years-old, detained, from Afghanistan. He has been kept in Guantanamo for ten years now. He’s gone from being a boy to be a man in Guantanamo. The only life he knows now is Guantanamo. Over 80 people there, cleared for release. Even the US government says they were never terrorists. Still there after years. The most grievous offense against the rule of law to deliberately and intentionally order the murder of your own citizens outside of any judicial process, where there is no possibility to review…
Finally, as is being widely reported in the media, Assange says he thinks he could be in the embassy for six months to a year. What is likely to precipitate an end to the standoff, he hopes, is the dropping of the case in Sweden by the authorities. (He did not mention going before the International Court of Justice to argue for “safe passage” to Ecuador.)
“I must continue the fight. The fight is not just about me,” he concludes.
It is not just about me. I have an organization of people and supporters and others who are close allies who have also been attacked and targeted. This is not just a persecution of an individual. This is a persecution of an organization. This is a persecution of a group. This is persecution of people, who believe in something, who believe in human rights, who actually believe in this, who are not just using it for propaganda purposes to bash the Soviet Union or to bash China or something but who actually believe that it is important because we want a civilization that is civilized…
When there’s arbitrary law, when the rule of law is in collapse, there’s no safe place you can go. You can’t decide that, well, if I pal up to this bit of the establishment here or there and if I keep my head down, I’ll be okay because it is arbitrary. It’s unpredictable. It doesn’t matter if you do something that is perceived to be wrong or perceived to be right because it is arbitrary. So, it is necessary for us, for me, for everyone to continue that fight because otherwise we are all moving toward an international system of arbitrary rule by complex groups that are connected to each other. It’s not about the electoral system. It’s non-democratic rule of these people for their own interests. I mean, they need to understand by supporting such actions they are moving their societies into a regime where even they won’t like the outcome.