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Curiosities Abound in Assange Case

By Dennis Bernstein
December 18, 2010

Editor’s Note: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was released on bail in London on Thursday, after nine days in the bowels of a Victorian-era prison awaiting possible extradition to Sweden over charges of sexual misconduct. But Assange also faces a threatened indictment in the United States for “conspiracy” in disseminating leaked U.S. government documents.

After the hearing, Assange told supporters outside the High Court that "I will continue my work and continue to protest my innocence" regarding the accusations from two women in Sweden. On Thursday, Dennis Bernstein of Pacifica’s “Flashpoints” program spoke with filmmaker and author John Pilger, who was present in the courtroom:

DB: Let me get your overview here of Julian Assange and what is happening to him. How do you see this? 

JP: Well, it’s a very complicated and very suspicious case, of course. Today [Thursday[ we saw a pinch of justice, that’s all. But his bail is weighted down with conditions. He’s virtually under a kind of house arrest. Now if he wasn’t Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, none of this would have happened. I doubt whether there would be any prosecution, we’d be having this conversation.

And we learned today [Thursday] that the Swedes had not initiated this appeal against bail that was heard today in the London court. It was the British. Why were they doing it? Were they doing it on behalf of the U.S.? I don’t know the answer to those questions. But suspicions really do mount in this case.

Because the unspoken in the court … was the possible prospect of Julian Assange being extradited to the U.S. to be prosecuted under a law, which at this point doesn’t exist, which the Attorney General in the U.S. is at the moment is trying to invent. ‘Cause there isn’t such a law against whistleblowers, certainly not against those who facilitate whistleblowing as WikiLeaks does. But that is speculation.

But then there’s the Swedish case which is very strange indeed. I’m not saying that it is being run by the CIA or anything like that but it’s got very strange and dark elements and very contradictory elements to it. So more of this is going to emerge when the expedition issues are heard. I think the next hearing is in January but it will probably run through for a couple of months. 

DB: In the United States, everybody has everything on the table now, not for Iran, but for Julian Assange. Arrest him, prosecute him, lock him down, assassinate him. Could you talk about this?

JP:  Well, I mean, you know there’s always been this tension in the U.S. hasn’t there? Between all that rosy history of Georgian gentlemen handing down tablets of good intentions and the other side, a bunch of lunatics. I’m not saying these people writing those columns are lunatics but they’re on the fringe of that fringe. So they’ve always been there, and so we expect to hear from them at times like this.

But I think what’s more worrying is that the, as I mentioned, the Attorney General in the Obama administration is making all these boorish noises about he’s going to prosecute him. For what? For what? This is supposed to be the land of the First Amendment. And I dug out a statement by Obama just before he came to power about how he wanted it to be the most informed period in modern U.S. history and all that nonsense. I think that’s the worry.

The truth is the Obama administration is worse than the Bush administration certainly in this area. You know Bush didn’t actually prosecute a single whistle-blower. He made a lot of noises. Obama is breaking all records in Justice Department prosecuting whistle-blowers. So there is clearly a motivation there to try and get Assange.

DB: I suspect that the idea, in part, is to keep the focus on Assange and off the information -- some of which helps to fill in some pretty big holes. Speaking about some of the documents, it was rather interesting and significant that we saw the administration and the Congress in the U.S. playing a key role in trying to prevent the former Vice President of the U.S., Cheney, et al, from being indicted by a Spanish court, indeed trying to suppress the court from indicting members of the Bush administration for torture and related adventures. That kind of material is interesting and it seems to put the fire under Obama and official Washington to go after WikiLeaks.

JP: Yeah, because it might lead to them. They know that they’ve all got secrets, and they want to keep their secrets from us, and they are all implicated, to some degree. And they are worried. A lot of these people are worried about what’s going to come out, all over the world.  

Truth, they are worried about the truth getting out. That’s why there’s such intense feeling about, as you say, distracting from all this by pursuing Assange but also trying to shut him up. They won’t, of course, because WikiLeaks is all over the world. It won’t shut him up one bit. In fact, I think it will have the opposite effect. 

It is interesting as the Swedish case came up WikiLeaks released a whole lot of documents in Sweden that showed the nefarious relationships between the government and the media and the U.S. and so on. So it’s an interesting struggle.

DB: Official documents are for journalists, often more effective than eyewitness accounts. Because sometimes what people see through their senses is deeply affected by everything and the chemistry of the moment. But when you see the cold rule on the page you can work with it and you can make a very strong case.

JP: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. There is nothing like evidence in their own words.That doesn’t mean to say we have to believe everything they’ve written down, of course not. But it gives us a very good idea of the thinking of those in power in their own words. That’s the most revealing of all. 

DB: Well what are your concerns now? What do you see as some of the pitfalls? Some people are already active in this country, one, in creating all kinds of devices to shut down Internet sources like WikiLeaks and their secondary support services. And we’ve also seen moves to say that this is why we can’t have this kind of Internet. 

JP: Well, they’re not going to succeed. They won’t shut it down. And WikiLeaks has shown that there are so many mirrored sites, WikiLeaks sites, all over the place. You know, they keep duplicating themselves. It’s not possible.

They can throw the amassed ranks of Mastercard and Visa and Paypal and all the rest of at them. And the Pentagon can try its best to conduct a kind of cyber-warfare against them but it won’t work. They won’t succeed. So it’s very interesting.

DB: Do you think that those people, those journalistic institutions given access now have done a good job?  Do you think maybe it’s time to have a consortium of independent thinkers/journalists going through this stuff in a methodical way. How do you perceive the best way to deal with this amount of information?

JP: Well, I think that is happening. WikiLeaks itself is very good at analyzing and interpreting the material. If you look at their site it is very clear in the way it interprets and kind of navigates through the documents. And then you also have, well, particularly the Guardian has done a skillful job in putting out the documents. So you know I think it is out there. I think it is there. You get the New York Times completely runs to the White House to “please sir, can we….”

DB: To get permission…

JP: Yeah. So I wouldn’t…what I have seen of the New York Times’ slant on them I wouldn’t really take the time to read it the way they do it. But I have been reading them in the Guardian and it’s pretty straight. So yeah, I don’t think people have any difficulty reading these documents actually. I’ve seen plenty of them and once you unscramble the acronyms and the codes and all that, they are pretty easy.

DB: Well, final question and I have to say, I don’t really quite get it or accept the fact as has been suggested that the overwhelming amount of these documents came from one private in the military. Maybe they did. But what do you think about that story and the potential that it could have been a private somewhere in the U.S. military that could reveal this amount of information.

JP: Well, I mean, it’s surprised [me] to read that for the certain diplomatic cables they were available to 2.5 million people. They had clearance to have access to them. So who should be surprised that they were leaked? It’s amazing they weren’t leaked before. 

I can only speculate, the technology for all this is beyond me. But it does seem farfetched to think that … suggesting Bradley Manning would have done it. He seems to have leaked, or may well have leaked the Apache footage and some of the other material. I don’t know. I don’t know. 

But when I spoke to Julian Assange about this he was clear and spoke about people who he compared with the conscientious objectors in the First World War so he was talking in the plural. So I think, the suggestion is there’s more than one and perhaps many more than one.

DB:  Did you talk to him today [Thursday]?  Do we know how he was treated?

JP:  Well, he was in solitary, so he was isolated basically. He looked ok in court, he looked fine. It’s an unpleasant experience.

DB: And just to underline where we started, you are saying, it is your understanding now that the reason he stayed in jail was not the Swedes pressing the case but it was the Brits.

JP:  It appears that’s the case. Yes, he was given bail on Tuesday, and within two hours there was an appeal against that bail. Everyone assumed that the Swedes appealed and it emerged this morning that it wasn’t the Swedes. In fact the Swedes say “We don’t have a view on bail.” It was the British prosecution service who have tried to explain it away by saying “Well, it’s in this country, it’s up to us.” It wasn’t very convincing at all. So the question is “What’s going on?”

Dennis Bernstein produced this interview for "Flashpoints" on the Pacifica network, which was broadcast across the US on Thursday, Dec. 16, from the KPFA studio in Berkeley, California. You can access the audio archive of that entire show on their Web site,

From the Web site you can also sign up to the Flashpoints mailing list. Please follow Flashpoints on Facebook and/or Twitter at Additionally, you can get in touch with Bernstein at [email protected].

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