In these audio excerpts from their extended conversation in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, Chris Hedges asks Julian Assange about legal strategy and the WikiLeaks founder’s thoughts on Pfc. Bradley Manning.
For much more, including an in-depth commentary by Hedges based on their conversation, an interactive timeline, resources and an original illustration by Mr. Fish, visit this related Dig.
Audio editing by Brittany Knotts. Transcript by Lucy Berbeo.
Clip 1: Chris Hedges talks with Julian Assange about his opponents’ legal strategies.
Chris Hedges: So what do you, when you watch all these sort of, you know, all this movement, what do you think they’re trying to do? How do they want to try and get you out of here?
Julian Assange: I think it’s a mess. I don’t think that they have—there’s so many different parties with different interests. It’s a mess. The U.K. wants it to go away, but doesn’t want to lose prestige in relation to Ecuador. The situation in Sweden is getting so bad now that … Sweden will never offend the U.S. Neither country—neither the U.K. or Sweden will ever offend the U.S. But within that, the situation is so bad now in Sweden—
CH: What do you mean so bad?
JA: Politically, it’s—the head of the Swedish Supreme Court came out and said that the case is a mess.
CH: Have you had any indication that the Americans have attempted to manipulate the case in Sweden?
JA: They don’t need to. … We have some indications. The [then-U.S.] ambassador for the U.K., Louis Susman, said in the beginning of 2011 that they were waiting until after the Swedish case. The Independent [newspaper]—
CH: Waiting for what?
JA: What’s the U.S. interest in this situation? It’s up for my extradition. He didn’t say that, but it’s the obvious context.
Assange’s assistant: So the U.S. ambassador to the U.K. said early—
Assange’s assistant: … early 2011 that the U.S. was waiting to see what happened with the Swedish case.
Assange’s attorney Michael Ratner: They wouldn’t file at the same time, because then there’d be two competing extraditions—and so they would wait until—
CH: Oh, I see. OK, I got it.
JA: If not, there’d be one in the queue, and then the other one would come in, and then it would be the plight of the home secretary to make a decision, a reviewable court decision, a politically reviewable decision, to swap the precedent for these.
MR: So what they would do, is if they were going to actually, if Julian had won a non-extradition, they would likely at that point in the U.K. court file their extradition.
JA: Yeah, or the rights to … I go to Sweden. So that’s what the ambassador said, and then also The Independent’s diplomatic correspondent said in late 2010 that there were already informal talks between Sweden and the U.S.
Assange’s assistant: The day after, the day after you went into prison.
CH: Informal talks between Sweden and the U.S. So you—extradite you to Sweden and then—
JA: And the details were that, I think in that he said it was on conclusion, would be on conclusion of the Swedish case. And then for the U.S., where I think the political equation is the most interesting. You have prosecutors in the [Pfc. Bradley] Manning case that are clearly gearing up for the 12-week Broadway musical, where they have their star diva, which is the Navy SEAL guy, and they’re going to make him sing. And it’s such a big machine—141 prosecution witnesses that they’ve listed. And the grand jury investigation has been such a big machine; I mean, so many people, so many records, all sorts of court cases about it; things spun off from it. EPIC [Electronic Privacy Information Center] has a court case in relation to FOIs [Freedom of Information] which is very interesting information, by the way, about—
MR: You know EPIC at all?
JA: It’s a Washington-based NGO, the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Sort of like the ACLU for privacy. And so they asked for all FBI and DOJ records about lists of WikiLeaks supporters. They’re making an attack under the associative rights … there was interference, potential interference with associative rights. But anyway, in litigating that case, the way that the FBI and DOJ is defending the thing, we have these classes of documents, and we’re counting how many documents in each class, and they form sort of sections, like the section of the DOJ that has to do with extradition—interesting pitch. Anyway, you can see that there’s a really very big machine. There’s, you know, over a dozen different U.S. departments significantly involved. But that machine is now quite hard to stop, insofar as there’s budgets already predefined. For example, there was a tender put out by the DOJ about a year ago for a case management computer system for the WikiLeaks case. The tender was 1 to 2 million dollars for that computer system just to look at the documents. There’s all sorts of career interest from prosecutors, FBI, et cetera, in keeping that big thing going. They want to, you know, score. Now, at the level of the senior generals, uh Eric Holder. … Actually let’s just go down one, Neil MacBride.
MR: You know who he is?
JA: The DA for Massachusetts has become—
MR: No, no. Neil MacBride, just so you know, he’s the attorney, U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Virginia. … He’s the head U.S. attorney guy.
JA: He’s the guy who’s responsible for the national security prosecutions, and in particular, most of the U.S.’ extraterritorial prosecutions. There was a hagiographic article appeared in The Washington Post about him, maybe four months ago; it’s really worth reading to understand the geopolitical aspect of the legal part of the case, which I sort of hadn’t realized before, but there’s a lawfare thing going on with U.S. law, to apply U.S. law to as many jurisdictions as possible. And if you have control over use of force in a foreign jurisdiction, it’s your jurisdiction. It’s part of your state by definition. So he’s involved with this project to push to encompass as many states as possible under U.S. law and to bring them back. That article says there’s 60-something territories that they’re pulling people in and prosecuting them in Alexandria, Virginia. He’s also handling the Kim Dotcom case.
JA: So there’s a question as to whether there’s a sealed indictment already. If there is a sealed indictment, we believe based on the lots of evidence through leaks, but particularly based on the behavior of the DOJ and Neil MacBride, and through questions, that there is a sealed indictment.
CH: What does that mean, a sealed indictment? In terms of, like—
MR: If there is an indictment and they won’t give public notice of it—
CH: Why wouldn’t they?
MR: Well, because in this case the person is—
JA: It’s normal.
MR: Yeah, it’s normal, if the person is outside the country—
JA: The person hasn’t been arrested yet.
MR: They don’t want to telegraph to that person, “you’ve been indicted.”
JA: If the person hasn’t been arrested yet, it’s normal. The indictment is sealed. And then, by law, it is a criminal offense, for any U.S. official aware of the sealed indictment to tell any person, even another U.S. official, of the existence of the sealed indictment, except in the course of executing a warrant.
CH: And can you tell me if there have been any public indications that seem to hint that there is a sealed indictment?
JA: Under their own procedure, if you ask “Are you a subject, target or witness for a grand jury inquiry?” they are meant to tell you. They refuse to do so.
MR: You can’t go to court on it, but their guidelines say—
JA: Their guidelines say—
CH: So if you were to ask if you’re a subject, target or witness for a grand jury, they would have to tell you.
JA: They are meant to. The guidelines are, the prosecutorial guidelines are that they should tell you. And they refuse to engage with the question at all.
CH: You posed the question to them?
JA: Yeah, we’ve posed the question. They refuse to engage.
CH: Oh, that’s interesting.
MR: It’s very suspicious behavior.
JA: But when you say, “Who should we speak to about it?” they go, “that guy, that guy”—you know, there is a “guy” that is responsible for answering that question, and he refuses to touch it. Why? Well, the easiest explanation is that he would be in breach of that law that says you can’t.
CH: Do you have any sense as to when that sealed indictment might have come down?
JA: There’s a leak from Stratfor, that was internal mail from Stratfor, which is “please don’t publish … there is a sealed indictment against Assange.”
CH: Oh right, I remember that.
JA: The vice president.
CH: I remember that—
JA: He used to work at [the U.S.] Diplomatic Security Service, so he actually had … on the other hand, he is a guy who is a bit fast and loose with records, so. …
CH: Do you have any sense of when it might have happened?
JA: Well if it … that email was from 2011, early 2011. Someone has said that maybe they had made an indictment and they were all ready, because if I won the case here, the extradition case, then they needed to move quickly. Or it’s possible that this was a draft indictment. They… always they have a draft indictment ready to go in case they need it. So maybe the draft indictment was ready always to go, and they didn’t file it until later on. But what’s quite suspicious is that for sure, they have said publicly “the investigation is ongoing,” but they refuse to follow their procedure and confirm my status, which would be natural if there was a sealed indictment.
Continue listening and reading with Clip 2 on page 2.
Clip 2: Julian Assange shares his thoughts on the Bradley Manning case.
Chris Hedges: Was there anything in the Manning statement that struck you in particular, surprised you?
Julian Assange: Everything [laughter].
CH: Oh Really? OK.
JA: That has to be my answer.
CH: We were there, and it was so moving. Oh my god, it was so moving. It just broke your heart. It was really—
Assange’s attorney Michael Ratner: Incredible.
CH: Yeah, it really was. And he was so poised.
MR: Oh, it was remarkable!
CH: It was really remarkable, articulate.
JA: I thought the mainstream media … what I call—I have different phrases for this beast. I think this week I’m on ‘the old media.’ The old media portrayal of him was to remove any heroic qualities from him. And a heroic quality is deciding to do something, as opposed to it being an unconscious, unreasoned expression of madness or sexual frustration or whatever. No one can follow in—you can’t follow in anyone’s footsteps, unless the person you’re following has made choices, and you might be—if they’ve made choices and they’ve done certain things, then you might be able to choose also to do that. But if you’ve done things because you were a mad homosexual, and no one can choose to be a mad homosexual. So they stripped him of—attempted to strip him of all his refinements.
CH: You know, I know exactly—
JA: You could say, look, he’s a rare event. Why does a rare event happen? Well, what do we know? Most people weren’t able to do this. Let’s say whoever this person was, if the idea is that it’s Bradley Manning, what do we know about Bradley Manning? We know that he won three science fairs, or we know the guy is bright. We know that he was interested in politics early on, and he’s very articulate, and outspoken, and didn’t like lies. And we know that he was interested in the state of the world. And we know that he was skilled at his job of being an intelligence analyst. And these things suggest that if you’re going to say, what, be careful, that the combination of abilities and motivations that might cause an action, here are talents and virtues that could perceivably give rise to the phenomenon. But instead people go … they look at all the, ya know, they say, “Oh, he’s a homosexual—this is the answer.” Ten percent, 10 percent, of the U.S. military are homosexuals; at least 50 percent are from broken homes. OK? You take those two factors together, that gets you down to say 5 percent; explanatory power, there’s 5 million people with active security clearances, so you’re down to what, 25? No, you’re down to 250,000 people. You’ve got to get down from 250,000 to one, now.
CH: Well, I mean, the easy way to survive in the media is to adopt the dominant stereotype and run with it, and if you challenge the stereotype—I’m just speaking as somebody who’s been inside that organization—you as a reporter, are going to catch a lot of shit from your editors, but most importantly from the other reporters, who peddle this crap. And so there became, they very skillfully created a kind of false persona, obviously completely false.
JA: It’s this East Coast—I think it’s because like Freud got into the East Coast [laughter] of the U.S., and then they started working with the sons and daughters of rich people who were disturbed. And so then it became a status icon to have a psychiatrist. I mean, how absurd is it, how absurd is it that on the East Coast of the U.S., to be a proper successful person, as a woman you have to have a psychiatrist, and as a man you have to have a lawyer?