In a long interview published in the Paris Match of Dec. 23-29, 2010, translated below in its entirety, Julian Assange said that whether he's extradited to the United States "depends on the American people: if they decide that it's not tolerable to extradite a journalist for espionage, then there will be no extradition." ...
[Translated from Paris Match]
JULIAN ASSANGE: "I HAVE NO CHOICE. PUBLISH OR PERISH"
By David Le Bailly
** The founder of WikiLeaks, who set the world of diplomacy on fire, accorded us an interview in Suffolk as he awaited his hearing **
December 23-29, 2010
[PHOTO CAPTION: On December 17, in front of Ellingham Hall. The property, which includes a park of nearly 1,500 acres, belongs to Vaughan Smith, a former British army officer turned war reporter. Assange has to respect a 10:00 p.m. curfew, and report to the local police station every day between 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.]
[PHOTO CAPTION (print edition only): Julian Assange, on December 20, in the living room at Ellingham Hall. On his left ankle is the electronic bracelet the court forced him to wear. He has access to the Internet, and therefore continues to work -- even as he complains about the poor quality connection in this region.]
After a year with no fixed address, he is preparing to spend Christmas in an English country house. Freed on bail on December 16 by a London court, Julian Assange is staying with a friend at Ellingham Hall, in Suffolk. On February 7, an English court will decide whether he should be extradited to Sweden, where the Australian is suspected of having committed acts of sexual assault. But the cofounder of WikiLeaks is above all afraid of being extradited to the United States, a risk that he considers "more and more likely." The site, created in 2006, has multiplied its revelations: "Collateral Murder," the video of an American army air raid in Baghdad, the "War Logs," secret documents about the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and the release, still ongoing, of diplomatic cables sent by American embassies. Despite the threats, at 39 years of age he has no intention of stopping. He confided to our reporter: "We have only accomplished one fiftieth of our mission."
* * *
The founder of WikiLeaks met us in a large dark living room. A firm handshake. He's tall and looks quite youthful, with a rather stiff, almost comical gait. Wearing a tweed jacket and a little V-necked sweater, he could pass for the owner of the place were it not for his rocker hair style. "'Rolling Stone Italy' has conferred on me the title of rock star of the year!" he told us with a laugh, his eyes as crinkly as a child's. It made him laugh, the way a schoolboy laughs at a joke. But when he answered questions, he turned into a thinker: his face serious, slow delivery, his words weighed and carefully chosen.
PARIS MATCH. Those nine days in prison, in solitary confinement, have they affected your determination?
JULIAN ASSANGE. During my detention I asked myself this question: "Is what I'm doing worth it?" I asked myself: "Have I made mistakes? Do my ideals match the real world?" But in the end, my sense of conviction has been strengthened by it. I came to an understanding that I'm on the right path. Even if the obstacles on this path are "uncomfortable."
PARIS MATCH. Are there nevertheless moments when you've said to yourself: "I should be more careful. I've gone too far"?
JULIAN ASSANGE. No. The day when I heard the judge announce that I would be imprisoned, I wanted to explode. But then I thought that the world would understand that there was something wrong about the way my case was handled. And that that would cause a lot of people to come to the support of our organization, to protect my work. And that is exactly what happened.
PARIS MATCH. You're under house arrest until February 7, the day of the hearing to decide about your extradition. You're wearing an electronic ankle bracelet. Do you feel you're a free man?
JULIAN ASSANGE. Wearing a bracelet is much more bothersome than being in prison. It's like... like a chastity belt. Something that undermines your physical integrity. Even if I'm beginning to think of it as a sort of... electronic jewelery!
PARIS MATCH. In France, you often hear this question: Who is Julian Assange? What cause is he fighting for?
JULIAN ASSANGE. I find that question disturbing. As if our enemies wanted to cast doubt on what we're doing. We've said what our cause is, what we're fighting for: to help build a more civilized world.
PARIS MATCH. After the publication of the first diplomatic cables, a French minister said this: "A transparent society is a totalitarian society."
JULIAN ASSANGE. Was it a former Communist? The Germans have a different way of answering, a way that's more nuanced, because of their past. Their answer is: "A transparent government, not transparent individuals." Transparency should be proportional to the power that one has. The more power one has, the greater the dangers generated by that power, and the more need for transparency. Conversely, the weaker one is, the more danger there is in being transparent.
PARIS MATCH. You call for transparency but we know very little about WikiLeaks.
JULIAN ASSANGE. And what do we know about News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch's company? About the assets he's hidden in offshore tax havens? What do we know about most multinationals? Absolutely nothing. I have no excuses to make. It's true, the names and addresses of our collaborators are not available. Two of our collaborators were assassinated in Kenya, we've also been attacked in Luxembourg. We are faced with security risks. Our finances were public, and because of that they've been frozen, seized. In order to protect ourselves, to protect our sources, we need secrecy. We're not promoting transparency. Only the transparency of the most powerful organizations.
PARIS MATCH. WikiLeaks has become a powerful organization.
JULIAN ASSANGE. That's absurd! We are an extremely small entity that's being deprived of financial resources. And we are attacked by the United States and its allies. We're not a superpower!
PARIS MATCH. Yet you have acquired real power. Everybody today has heard about WikiLeaks.
JULIAN ASSANGE. Everybody has heard about WikiLeaks. But the reality is that I was in solitary confinement, and today I'm under house arrest. Whereas people in the American adminstration who have organized murders by the thousands, war crimes, torture, are free. We are certainly a courageous organization, but not a powerful one.
PARIS MATCH. When you created WikiLeaks four years ago, could you have imagined that it would become this important?
JULIAN ASSANGE. I thought that we would have this much importance two years ago. We've only accomplished one fifthieth of our mission.
PARIS MATCH. Are you surprised by the violence of the American reactions, the calls to assassinate you that some senators have issued?
JULIAN ASSANGE. Their reactions are interesting. . . . And then we see that Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, and Bank of America are instruments of control at the beck and call of the White House. The American system is getting more and more like the Soviet system. Without the slightest legal process, large companies exercise economic censorship on orders from Washington.
PARIS MATCH. What are the financial consequences for WikiLeaks of the freezing of your bank accounts?
JULIAN ASSANGE. Seventy thousand euros that should have been transferred by PayPal have been blocked. Our foundation's lawyers are in the process of getting a grip on the situation. We'll get that money, it's a matter of time. We are constantly creating new systems of financing. But the ban put in place by Visa and MasterCard are hard to bear. After the first publications of the American cables, we lost nearly 80,000 euros a day because of them, and 15,000 euros a day because of PayPal.
PARIS MATCH. Do you feel like you're being treated like a terrorist?
JULIAN ASSANGE. Sarah Palin said that I should be pursued like Osama bin Laden. I say to her: "Good, that'll take you at least ten years!"
PARIS MATCH. What do you fear the most today, for you and for WikiLeaks?
JULIAN ASSANGE. There is a plan underway to accuse me in the United States of espionage. Joe Biden -- the American vice president -- confirmed that. It's something I take very seriously. I am protected, to a certain degree, by my celebrity. But I have become the principal target, because organizations that powerful cannot lose face. For that, they have to bring down the central figure, that is, me.
PARIS MATCH. It's also you who have chosen to put yourself forward.
JULIAN ASSANGE. Yes, because it's a shield for our team.
PARIS MATCH. Isn't there a inebriate thirst to defy the leaders of the world, though?
JULIAN ASSANGE. A euphoria? No. We're just doing our work, as we promised we would.
PARIS MATCH. According to the New York Times, you said you were "the heart and soul of WikiLeaks."
JULIAN ASSANGE. That's true. But WikiLeaks is in the process of growing and a part of my heart and soul has been transmitted to other people, who are strong enough to continue the mission without me. As founder, I can make the first moves in a more determined, more risky way. But our members are intelligent and courageous. On every continent, except Antarctica!
PARIS MATCH. Any French people?
JULIAN ASSANGE. Yes, quite a few. We have several servers based in France. Groups like La Quadrature du Net. The French are supporting us a lot.
PARIS MATCH. Yet there aren't many leaks about France.
JULIAN ASSANGE. That's because we are entirely mobilized by the American embassy leaks. We have no choice: publish or perish. We have to get all this material out, it's almost lethal.
PARIS MATCH. Let's talk about your legal problems in Sweden. Two women accuse you of having sexually assaulted them. You deny it. Have you tried since then to get in contact with them?
JULIAN ASSANGE. Unfortunately, I don't have the right to call them. Because of the proceedings. We have the statement of a friend of one of the two women that states that they were incited by the police to make a complaint against me. And a report according to which one of the two no longer wants to be associated with all that. As for the other one, she was pushed, I'd even say driven to make a complaint.
PARIS MATCH. Wouldn't it have been simpler to turn yourself into the Swedish police?
JULIAN ASSANGE. But I answered the police's questions!
PARIS MATCH. You didn't go to a second interrogation.
JULIAN ASSANGE. I had things to do in London. You have to understand the situation: there were incredible abuses of procedure in this proceeding. The matter was dropped at first, but, because of political pressures, the affair was got going again. Confidential information was communicated illegally to the media, my name thrown in as fodder. Why? Who did that? Again last week, on the eve of the hearing that was to decide my conditional release, parts of the file, which are supposed to be secret, were given to the press. Why, if not to influence the judge? And that's just one example among all abuses that this affair has seen.
PARIS MATCH. Do you think there's a frame-up?
JULIAN ASSANGE. I don't understand and that bothers me. I have not been charged. So why is all this money being spent on this affair, why these press releases, these carefully orchestrated leaks? Why is all this happening now? Something is being cooked up beneath all this.
PARIS MATCH. If the United States initiates an extradition proceeding against you, do you intend to turn yourself in or to flee?
JULIAN ASSANGE. More and more Americans are angry about the calls to assassinate me, to extradite me. Everything depends on the American people: if they decide that it's not tolerable to extradite a journalist for espionage, then there will be no extradition.
PARIS MATCH. And if that happens?
JULIAN ASSANGE. Extradition for espionage is a classical political tactic. It's up to the guest country to decide whether or not to pursue the extradition request. This is a purely political affair.
PARIS MATCH. Who is Julian Assange when he's not behind a computer?
JULIAN ASSANGE. It's not for me to answer that question! Let's say that one of my bedside books is Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The Cancer Ward. I like to walk with dogs, fish, hunt, ride horses. You know, I grew up like Tom Sawyer, on farms. I love to live outdoors, in the country, like here. So I like where I find myself today a lot, even if I can't really walk around much.
Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003
Home page: http://www.plu.edu/~jensenmk/