June 19, 2016 marked the fourth year that Julian Assange, the editor-in-chief of whistleblowing journalism organization WikiLeaks, has been trapped in the Ecuadoran embassy in London.
Several events were organized this week in cities throughout Europe, Latin America and the U.S. to commemorate this anniversary, and to bring attention to the escalating war on whistleblowers and journalists.
Assange spoke via videostream at an event in New York City on Wednesday (video below).
He stressed in his message that he has been effectively detained by the U.K. for five and a half years, even though he has never been charged with a crime.
In February, the U.N. ruled that Assange is being arbitrarily and illegally detained, and is due compensation for the "different forms of deprivation of liberty."
Despite the hardship, nevertheless, Assange was excited about the months ahead. "It’s going to be a very big year for WikiLeaks," he said.
Assange implored the audience to “get ready to gather around” in order “to protect our ability to be publishing.” "It will be very necessary in the coming months," the WikiLeaks editor stressed.
Many of the upcoming releases, he said, concern Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“I’ve come to know Hillary quite well,” Assange joked. WikiLeaks has released thousands of Clinton's emails, and he has read many of them.
“She is an extremely ambitious liberal interventionist hawk,” he explained. This is, of course, no surprise, he added, but the extreme degree of her belligerence is often not understood.
Clinton "was the leading figure behind the destruction of Libya," he said, echoing comments he said in an interview with Salon in February.
"If Hillary Clinton gets into office, it means endless war," Assange warned. "We are in fact already, under Obama, in endless war, but I think it will significantly ramp up under Hillary Clinton."
And "with a Democratic president in office, there is no strong Democratic opposition” to these policies, he noted.
Assange added that, at the end of the day, the differences between Clinton and her opponent, presidential candidate Donald Trump, will not have a big impact on the U.S. empire.
“I’m not sure it makes much difference which president” is in office, he said. Rather, the roughly 3,000 people appointed by the president are those who control how the U.S. empire operates. And the people whom Clinton chooses to surround herself with are hawkish liberal interventionists themselves.
Of those who work under her, Assange said, Clinton demands "total sucking up" and constant flattery. She "surrounds herself with people who don’t really challenge her."
It's "a liberal interventionist who surrounds herself with liberal interventionists," he described it, citing figures like Anne-Marie Slaughter, another so-called humanitarian interventionist.
The New York Times, which endorsed Clinton for president, pointed out that she is even more hawkish than her Republican rivals. The U.S. newspaper of record described her as "the last true hawk left in the race."
A digital Library of Alexandria
Assange was joined at the event by a panel of renowned journalists and activists, including Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore, Democracy Now founder Amy Goodman, The Intercept co-founder Jeremy Scahill and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges, among others.
Amy Goodman, who moderated the discussion, said it is amazing that, despite the sanctions, assassination threats and effective imprisonment Assange has endured for years, WikiLeaks remains strong.
“How have you kept WikiLeaks going?” she asked.
"I don’t know," Assange joked in reply. He said it has only been possible thanks to the help he has gotten from the WikiLeaks staff and from people throughout the world.
Assange added that he has had many “false friends,” who have betrayed him or were cowardly and timid in time of need. But he also thanked those who have supported WikiLeaks' work.
Besides, if he weren’t doing it, someone would take his place and continue the work, Assange argued.
Goodman followed up, asking him what he is proudest of. Assange said it is simply keeping Wikileaks alive.
“We have built a grand project, in some ways a grand dream,” he said, likening it to a contemporary digital Library of Alexandria.
WikiLeaks has actually now published more documents while Assange has been detained than it did before. “And we have not fired a single person,” he added.
Assange also spoke highly of The Intercept, the publication co-founded by Jeremy Scahill and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, who worked with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
“It’s use it or lose it,” Assange told Scahill, expressing support The Intercept's work.
Assange had pretty harsh words for the rest of the media.
He noted that the Pentagon has 20,000 people involved in public relations. The defense department writes thousands of propaganda stories each year “that they give away for free to the press.”
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks' documents have largely been ignored by the English-language press, although they are much more frequently cited in the international media, Assange said.
“We’re happy to accept the 'bad boy' label,” he joked.
"We are completely beyond the pale as far as a lot of the mainstream" press goes, Assange continued. But "we perceive those outlets to be beyond the pale" too.
"They destroy history; they contain it in themselves; they privatize it."
"History does not belong to journalists; history does not belong to a media organization," he argued.
Assange added, “history does also not belong to whistleblowers,” even though they can be “the most important part” in helping to create it.
"History belongs to human civilization to understand in order to better itself," he stressed.
The U.S. government
The WikiLeaks editor vociferously challenged the U.S. government's claim that his organization's work has harmed national security.
“It's all rubbish; it’s just all garbage,” Assange said. “The information that we have published has never led” to anyone facing violence.
The government has tried "desperately" to find a single case of a U.S. official being harmed, he noted, but has come up with nothing.
In a lighter moment, Assange also noted that, while he has major problems with the U.S. government, the U.S. “does have some good things going for it.”
He said he quite likes U.S. culture, and applauded the country's enormous diversity.
“London is a city-state” on the other hand, he lamented; it's an “inbred system.”
When asked about the June 23 vote on Brexit, the referendum on whether the U.K. should leave the E.U., Assange said it might not be so bad to do so.
He noted the E.U. frequently acts “in service of transnational capital.” He read from a 2008 cable released by Wikileaks in which William Hague, then shadow foreign secretary for the Conservative Party and later first secretary of state and foreign secretary, stressed that any prime minister inevitably "learns of the essential nature of the relationship with America."
"We want a pro-American regime. We need it. The world needs it," Hague said.
Assange also criticized Sweden, noting that, while it is sometimes applauded for its social democratic government, it is one of the world's largest per capita exporter of arms, and the only country that does rendition on its own people.
Someone in the audience asked about electronic activist Aaron Schwartz. Assange said he had empathized a lot with Schwartz, and understood the pain he went through.
The government's harsh crackdown on Schwartz, after he made millions of documents and scholarly articles freely available on the internet, ultimately led to his suicide.
“Aaron Schwartz was largely the victim of the crackdown against WikiLeaks,” Assange said.
Assange recalled being afraid of speaking with Schwartz during the government's investigation, because “there was such intense focus on me,” and he didn’t want to bring it to Schwartz. Assange said he regrets that now.
Civil rights activists have spoken of how the effect of COINTELPRO, grand juries and FBI investigations was to "atomize people," Assange noted. "There can be terrible side effects of that."
"An unusual power"
Assange remains optimistic, however. He even managed to find a silver lining in his unfortunate situation.
"There are some consolations to being an accused person and detained unlawfully," Assange said.
People who are accused develop "an unusual power" — and, he added, "there is no more severe accusation than being accused by a superpower."
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The video of the event can be watched below: