On the third and final day of its regional conference on investigative journalism, ARIJ on Sunday hosted a Q-and-A session with Julian Assange, founder of the revolutionary whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
Assange addressed a group of journalists from countries including Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Mauritania, Sweden and Denmark via open-circuit video link hours before the expected release of some 250,000 documents by his organization.
Due to the connection, parts of the session were not audible. Assange did not disclose his location.
Below is an unofficial transcript of the session.
We released the Iraq warlogs some one month ago and that has resulted in tremendous interest and diplomatic change all the way from the United Kingdom holding an official inquiry of some 80 people involved to examine a UK official involved in the Iraq war, to Denmark trying to get a copy of the unredacted logs for Iraq from us because the United States government wouldn't give them to Denmark, its major ally.
But of course over this last month much of my energy and activities have been spent preparing for the upcoming release of a diplomatic history of the United States. Over 250,000 classified US cables from US embassies all around the world and we can see already in the past week or so that the United States has made movements to try and disarm the effect that this could have. It has contacted the governments of almost every nation on earth to brief them … about what some of those embarrassing revelations will do. They're in a rather unusual difficult position where it is not sure precisely what is going to be revealed… So it has been treading this rather thin line on briefing its allies on what it thinks we are going to reveal.
We just had some correspondence with the ambassador of the United States in London concerning an overture we made to the US State Department for information concerning this pending release – what type of names they might have been concerned about, covert agents or other informants – and that overture has resulted in the US taking a sort of "we won't negotiate" … position in assisting us … or the other media partners … That is something that has happened way back since April, that the United States government has refused to engage while stating publicly that it is concerned for the names of soldiers or other people … and hyping up that issue a great deal in public.
It has engaged in something quite unusual that the world press, and we and every journalist and media organisation, are … to a new interpretation of espionage.
That's something that, while not completely new, is new at this scale. There has been more leaked prosecution of media… under the Obama administration than all previous presidents combined. That is a highly unusual and concerning shift by the Obama administration into a regime that doesn't believe in the freedom of the press and doesn't act like it believes it. it is bothersome to me that that is happening. They can have that attitude but they are coming up against another phenomenon which is that the internet meant that people across the world can connect together and those individuals, who believe in the power of the press, and the freedom of the press, and the importance of the historical record, are able together to resist and expose the demands of a superpower.
The pentagon explicitly stated in August this year that we were to destroy all our previous publications of a classified nature from the pentagon, all our upcoming publications and we were to stop dealing with US military whistleblowers. Those interesting demands were an attempt to tap into a new interpretation of the US espionage act to put the intent in our heads, and other journalists' heads, that if we were to publish then we would have the knowledge that we were publishing something that the pentagon viewed as classified
Part of these coalitions we have been putting together of major press organizations has the effect of being able to stand united against very significant pressure from the United States government
Q: You mentioned Denmark in the beginning but I didn't understand exactly what you meant.
A: We've had quite a long involvement with Denmark, going back one year … and our organization was involved in exposing abuse by the Danish ministry of defence whereby they published a book that in fact they had translated to Arabic written by a Danish … soldier and then gave that to … one of the biggest Danish publications … without saying that they had translated and pretending that jihadists had translated the book and were going to use it to kill Danish soldiers in Afghanistan…. This pertains to the Danish MoD asking the United States government for unredacted copies of the Iraq warlog, those 400,000 files we released about the Iraq war, because they saw that Danish soldiers may have been involved in deliberately handing over Iraqi prisoners to the … brigade and other Iraqi army units for torture…as a form of internal renditioning … The Danish MoD has set up an investigation team to understand if that happened and to hopefully prosecute those individuals responsible if that occurred because it is of course a breach of the international convention against torture. Now the United States when asked by Denmark, a close NATO ally, an ally that is present with it in Afghanistan, to provide those records so it could investigate whether those … had occurred … refused.
Q: Have you come under any threats?
A: Good things are always in turmoil. And this organization as a good thing is under … attack … Critical parts of our infrastructure have come under attack … so it's difficult to keep it running when there are such attacks against us and the legal situation is also troublesome.
Q: You are a man currently wanted in Sweden on rape charges. When will you hand yourself over?
A: There is information on this as well as other aspects of Swedish society that will be released soon. I have been advised … to let my lawyer … speak.
Q: The information you have released and are about to release could put people at risk not only with the State Department, or in Britain, but in the areas that are already suffering the atrocities of war. When you weigh out the risks versus the outrage your project has sparked and the change it has made… what's your assessment?
A: This is an organization with a four-year publication history. As far as we are aware and as far as anyone has every alleged in any credible manner whatsoever no single individual has ever come to harm as a result of anything that we have ever published. Of course abusive titanic organizations when exposed grasp at all sorts of ridiculous straws to try and distract the public from the true nature of the abuse. In this latest instance we see the US State Dept refusing to provide us with details which we know they have of specific cable numbers which they claim mention people that they would like to keep protected. They've point-blank refused to do that. We have guaranteed them confidentiality … They do not assist. They did not assist other media. They did not assist our request for the Iraq warlog … in fact they are playing a dangerous game … And I think this really reveals their true interests and concerns that, although we are a responsible organization and no one has come to harm… The State Department understands that we are a responsible organization so it is trying to make it as hard as it can for us to publish responsibly in the hope that it can get us to not publish anything at all because not publishing anything at all would mean not publishing the abuses by that organization.
Q: Do you intend to involve the media of Arab countries you are going to release documents on in that release?
A: Yes indeed we think it is very important to have the media of the country that is most concerned and knowledgeable about a subject have access to the … material… For this forthcoming release, over time, we will make alliances with Arab media. Some of those are already being negotiated.
Q: Will the release be linked only to US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, or will it be linked to internal issues o policy of the US related to aid to the region, or will it be only linked to the war on terror?
A: We have released leaked documents from over 100 countries in the past four years from assassinations in east Timor to the behaviour of some of the biggest United States private banks so we cover everything. If you're asking about what's coming up soon, the material that we are about to release covers essentially every major issue in every country in the world including extraordinary reporting across all Arab states.
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