Transcript: (Democracy Now! vom 5. Juli 2011)
In one of his first public events since being held under house arrest, WikiLeaks Editor-In-Chief Julian Assange appeared in London Saturday for a conversation with Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, moderated by Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman. They discussed the impact of WikiLeaks on world politics, the release of the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, and Cablegate — the largest trove of classified U.S. government records in history.
“From being inside the center of the storm, I have learned not just about the structure of government, not just about how power flows in many governments around the world that we’ve dealt with, but rather how history is shaped and distorted by the media,” Assange said.
Assange also talked about his new defense team, as well as U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning, the accused Army whistleblower who has been jailed for the past year. Assange is currently under house arrest in Norfolk, outside London, pending a July 12 appeals hearing on his pending extradition to Sweden for questioning in a sexual misconduct case. He has now spent six months under house arrest, despite not being charged with a crime in any country. Assange was wearing an ankle monitor under his boot and Saturday’s event concluded shortly after 6 p.m. so he could return to his bail address by his curfew.
The event also marked the publication of the paperback edition of Žižek’s "Living in the End Times," in which he argues that new ways of using and sharing information, in particular WikiLeaks, are one of a number of harbingers of the end of global capitalism as we know it.
The discussion was sponsored by the Frontline Club, founded in part to remember journalists killed on the front lines of war.
Please note that this program contains the words sh*t and bullsh*t and may NOT be suitable for broadcast.
VAUGHAN SMITH: Good afternoon. Good afternoon, my name’s Vaughan Smith. I’m a founder of the Frontline Club, co-founder actually, co-founder with my wife Pranvera who is hidden somewhere amongst you somewhere. We are very excited to be doing this today. This is the last event we’ve done in at the Frontline Club. I’d like to thank Will of the Trotsky club. I’d like to thank all of you for coming. I’d like to thank Dan, our branding man because I’m standing in front of a hundred logos, which are all new, so thanks Dan. Our new look. We’re not shy of our new look. I’d like to thank the Frontline Club staff who has worked extremely hard to put this on, particularly Flora and Milly. So, thank you all. I’m extremely proud of you all.
The Frontline Club exists to promote what is best in journalism and to put on debates and discussions like us. We’re a social enterprise and, if you wish to support us, come to Paddington if you haven’t already been where we can feed and entertain you. We do 200 events a year. As a social enterprise, any money you spend tonight and any money you spend at the Frontline Club helps us do this work, so we’re very grateful for it.
If you want to help Julian or Slavoj or Democracy Now! you can buy some books or make donations at the end, that facility will be there. Now, it’s Julian’s 40th birthday tomorrow, so if you want to help him with those exorbitant legal fees, give generously at the end.
So, all that remains is for me to welcome Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! Amy is a multiple award-winning journalist and the main presenter for Democracy Now! and has flown all the way from America to be here, and she’s a pretty fine person. I’m extremely glad to hand over to her now. Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: It is a great honor to be with you this afternoon and a shout out to all of the people who are watching this broadcast all over the world. We are live streaming this at democracynow.org. By the way, how many of you watch, or listen to, or read Democracy Now!?
AMY GOODMAN: We’ve given out about a thousand fliers of where we broadcast in Britain and also where you can watch, read and listen to the broadcast. We’re also live streaming, we’ve offered the embed for anyone to take to put on their website. The Nation is live streaming us, michaelmoore.com is live streaming us, Free Speech TV is broadcasting Democracy Now! across the United States and there are many others. I hope people Tweet in and Facebook and let us know what you are doing with this broadcast. It’s extremely important because information is power. Information is a matter of life and death.
We’ve learned that through these remarkable trove of documents that have been released in the last year. The Iraq War Logs, the Afghanistan War Logs, and what’s been called Cablegate, the U.S. state department documents that are continuing to be released. Why does it matter so much? Well, we’ll talk about that this afternoon, but let’s just take one example, that came out in the Iraq War Logs, February of 2007.
The war logs show that two men were standing under an Apache helicopter, the men have their hands up, they clearly are attempting to surrender, the Apache helicopter can see this. So, they are not rogue. The soldiers call back to the base and they say what should we do? These men have their hands up. The lawyer on the base says you cannot surrender to a helicopter and they blow the men, attempting to surrender, away—that was February 2007.
Now, we will fast forward to July 12, 2007, a video that has been released by WikiLeaks. This devastating video of an area of Baghdad called "New Baghdad", where a group of men were showing around two Reuters journalists.
Well, one was a videographer, a young up-and-coming videographer named Namir Noor-Eldeen and one was his driver, Saeed Chmagh; he was 40 years old, he was the father of 4 and they were showing them around the area. The same Apache helicopter unit is hovering above. They open fire. The video is chilling. I am sure many of you have seen it. If you watch or listen to Democracy Now! we played it repeatedly discussing it with various people from Julian Assange to soldiers who were there on the ground, over time we dissected this.
The soldiers opened fire, you have the video of the target and you have the audio of the sounds of the soldiers cursing laughing, but not rogue, always going up the chain of command asking for permission to open fire. In the first explosion Namir Noor-Eldeen and the other men on the ground are killed. Saeed Chmagh, you can see him attempting to crawl away. And then a van pulls up from the neighborhood and they are attempting to pick up the wounded, there are children in the van and the Apache helicopter opens fire again and Saeed Chmagh, others in the van are killed. Two little children are critically injured inside.
Now, I dare say that if we had seen what came out in the Iraq War Logs in February of 2007, if we had learned the story at the time after it happened, of the men with their hands up trying to surrender, there would have been an outcry. People are good, people care, people are compassionate, they would have called for an investigation. Perhaps one would have begun, but it might well have saved the lives of so many. Certainly, months later, perhaps that same Apache helicopter unit under investigation would not have done what it did. And maybe Namir Noor-Eldeen, the young Reuters videographer and his driver Saeed Chmagh, not to mention the other men who were killed and the kids critically injured, none of that would have happened to them. That’s why information matters. It is important we know what is done in our name. And today we are going to talk about this new age of information.
We’re joined by two people, many of you know well. Earlier I asked a young man, who would come to the gathering, why he traveled so far. He said, "are you kidding, to be with two of the most dangerous people?" The National Review calls Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, the most dangerous political philosopher in the West and The New York Times says he’s the Elvis of cultural theory. Slavoj Žižek has written over 50 books on philosophy, psychoanalysis, theology, history and political theory. His latest book Living in the End Times—and we’ll talk about what he thinks and talks about around the world.
Now, we’re joined by another man who has published perhaps more than any one in the world. In fact he wrote a book on the underground computer information age called, "Underground: Tales of hacking, madness and obsession on the electronic frontier." But with the Iraq War Logs, the Afghanistan War Logs, and now the U.S. government cables that have yet to be fully released, I would say that perhaps Julian Assange is the most widely published person on earth.
Today we’re going to have a conversation about information and I’d like to ask Julian to begin by going back to that moment in 2007, as we talk about the Iraq War Logs. And talk about the significance of them for you and why you’ve chosen to release this information.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Amy, I suspect under that criteria perhaps Rupert Murdoch is the most widely published person on earth. Something people say Australia has given to the world Rupert Murdoch and me, big in publishing. Well, in some ways things are very easy for us and very easy for me in that we make a promise to sources that if they give us material that is of a certain type, that is a significant—of diplomatic, "cryptical", ethical, or historical significance, not published and under some sort of threat, we will publish it. And that actually is enough. Of course, we have a goal with publishing in general.
It has been my long term belief that what advances us as a civilization is the entirety of our international record, the entirety of our understanding about what we are going through, what human institutions are actually like and how they behave. And if we are to make rational policy decisions in so far as any decision can be rational then we have to have information that is drawn from the real world, and a description of the real world. At the moment we are severely lacking in the information from the interior of big secretive organizations that have such a role in shaping how civilization evolves and how we all live.
Getting down in to Iraq, so that was 400 thousand documents. Each one written in military speak, on the other hand, each one having a geographic coordinate down often to 10 meters, a death count of civilians, U.S. military troops, Iraqi troops and suspected insurgents.
So, it was the first, rather the largest, because we also did the Afghan War Logs, the largest history of a war, the most detailed significant history of a war to have ever been published, probably at all, but definitely during the course of a war. And so it provided a picture of the every day squalor of war. From children being killed at road side blocks to over a thousand people being handed over to the Iraqi police for torture, to the reality of close air support and how modern military combat is done—linking up with other information such as this video that we discovered—men surrendering, being attacked.
So, as an archive of human history this is a beautiful and horrifying thing—both at the same time. It is the history of the nation of Iraq and most significant recording during its most significant development in the past 20 years. And while we always see newspaper stories reporting and revealing some individual, if we’re lucky, some individual event or some individual family dying. This provides the broad scope of the entire war and all the individual events. So, the details of over 104 thousand deaths.
And we worked together to statistically analyze this with various groups, around the world, such as Iraq Body Count, who became the specialists in these areas and lawyers here in the U.K. who represented Iraqi refugees—to pull out the stories of 15 thousand Iraqi civilians, labeled as civilians by the U.S. military, who were killed and were never before reported in the Iraqi press, never before reported in the U.S. press, world press even in aggregate—even saying today 1,000 people died. Not reported in any manner whatsoever. And, yeah just think about that—15 thousand people whose deaths were recorded by the U.S. military, but were completely unknown to the rest of the world—that’s a very significant thing.
I mean, compare that to 3,000 deaths on 9/11. Imagine the significance for Iraqis. That is something that we specialize in and that I like to do and that I always do is go from the small to the large, not just by abstraction or analogy, but actually by encompassing all of it together. And then trying to look at it and abstract, through mathematics or statistics. And so to try and sort of push both of these things at the same time, the individual relationship, plus the state relationship, plus the relationship that has to do with civilization as a whole.
AMY GOODMAN: Slavoj Žižek, the importance of WikiLeaks today in the world?
SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK: Wait a minute, to understand properly this question, this question is just, you can withdraw and just give me two hours. No, but we’ll try to condense it. First, let me say also how proud I am to be here and mention something, which maybe most of you don’t know—that, how difficult it was even to organize this event. Like, it had to be moved two times—out and more out from Central London and so on.
And so, what again, what I want to say is let me begin with the, uh, the significance of what you—Amy started with, this shots, I mean not shooting, but video shots of those Apache helicopters shooting on...You know why this is important? Because the way ideology functions today it’s not so much that—let’s not be naive, that people didn’t know about it. But I think the way those in power manipulate it. Yes, we all know dirty things are being done, but you are being informed about this obliquely in such a way that basically you are able to ignore it.
Can I make a terrible, maybe sexually offensive, but not that dirty don’t be afraid, remark? You know, like a husband, sorry for making male chauvinist, uh twist—a husband may know abstractly my wife is cheating on me and you can say, okay I’m modern, tolerant husband, but you know when you get the thought of your wife doing things it’s quite a different thing. And I would say with all respect, something similar, it’s very important because it, just say no, I’m not dreaming here.
The same thing happened about two years ago in Serbia. You know, people rationally accept that we did horrible things in Srebrenica and so on, but you know it was just abstract knowledge. Then by chance all the honor who served media, to publish this, they got hold of a video effectively showing a group of Serbs pushing to an X and shooting a couple of Bosnian prisoners. And the effect was a total shock, national shock, although again, strictly saying nobody learned anything new.
So here, so that I don’t get lost, if you allow me just a little bit more, here we should see the significance of WikiLeaks. Many of my friends who are skeptical about it are telling me. So, what did we really learn? Isn’t it clear that every power in order to function you have collateral damage—you have to have a certain discretion? What you say, what you don’t say, but to conclude I mean to propose a formula, what WikiLeaks is doing and it’s extremely important. Of course, I’m not a Utopian. Neither me nor Julian believes in this kind of pseudo-radical openness—everything should be clear and so on. But what are we dealing with here?
Another example from cinema, very short, Ernst Lubitsch’s Ninotchka. You find there a wonderful joke where, I think towards the beginning of the film, the hero enters a cafeteria and says, "can I get some coffee with cream please?" And the waiter answers him, "sorry we run out of cream we only have milk. So, can I serve you coffee without milk?" That’s the trick here. When we learn something from the media, like, if I may repeat the metaphor, they behave as if they are serving coffee with cream.
That is to say of course we all know they are not telling the entire truth, but you know, that is the trick of ideology, even if they don’t lie directly the implication is the unsaid is a lie. And you bring this out. You are not so much putting them, catching them, as they put it, with their pants down and lying on behalf of what they explicitly say, but precisely on behalf of what they are implying. And I think this is an absolutely crucial mechanism in ideology. It doesn’t only matter what you say it matters what you implied to say.
So, just to make the last point, I think that—are we aware that what an important moment we are living today? On the one hand, as you said information is crucial and so on. We all know that it’s crucial economically. I claim that one of the main reasons capitalism will get in to crisis is intellectual property. In the long term it simply cannot deal with it. But what I’m saying is just take the phenomenon that media are trying to get us enthusiastic for clouds. Like you know, computers getting smaller and smaller and all is done for you up there in a cloud.
Okay, but the problems is that clouds are not up there in clouds—they are controlled and so on. For example, you rely on, maybe you have an iPhone, but you mentioned Murdoch. [His] name was mentioned here. Do you know, it’s good to know if you rely on your news through iPhone or whatever, that Apple signed an exclusive agreement with Murdoch. Murdoch’s corporation is again the exclusive provider of entire news and so on and so on. This is the danger today. It’s no longer this clear distinction, private space-public space. The public space itself gets, as it were, privatized in a whole series of invisible ways—like the model of it being clouds; which is why and again this involves new modes of censorship, repeat this.
That’s why you say, but what really did we learn new? Maybe we learned nothing new, but you know it’s the same as in that beautiful old innocent fairy-tale, the Emperor is Naked. The Emperor is Naked. We may all know that the emperor is naked, but the moment somebody publicly says, "the emperor is naked," everything changes, but the moment somebody publicly says the emperor is naked everything changes. This is why even if we learned nothing new – but we did learn many new things – but even if nothing learned, the forum matters.
So, don’t confuse Julian and his gang – in a good sense not the way they accuse – don’t confuse them with this usual bourgeois heroism, fight for investigative journalism, free flow and so on. You are doing something much more radical. That’s why it aroused such an explosion of resentment. You are not only violating the rules, disclosing secrets and so on. Let me call it in the old Marxist way the bourgeois press today has its own way to be transgressive. Its ideology controls not only what you can say but also how you can violate what you are allowed to say. You are not only violating the rules, you are changing the very rules how we were allowed to violate the rules. This is maybe the most important thing you can do.
AMY GOODMAN: And, yet, Julian even as you were releasing information in all different ways, you then turn to the very gatekeepers who in some cases had kept back this information and you worked with the mainstream media throughout the world in releasing various documents. Talk about that experience and that level of cooperation and what has happened after that.
[Audience member interrupts – inaudible]
JULIAN ASSANGE: Volume for the balcony.
SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK: Now they will again accuse you that he’s the authoritarian leader who commands. I’m not saying this is not true. I think this is the only way to keep things going.
JULIAN ASSANGE: If you want to have an impact and you promise an impact and you’re an organization which is very small where actually you have to co-opt or leverage the rest of the mainstream press. So, under our model of how you make and impact and get people to do things that you wouldn’t have been otherwise be able to do, unless you have an army that can physically go someplace and divisions that can roll over.
The only way you can easily make an impact is push information about the world to many, many people. So, the mainstream press has developed expertise for how to do that. And it’s competition also for people’s attention. So, if we had several billion dollars to spend on advertising across the world, if we could get our ads placed, we wouldn’t easily be able to make the same impact as we did. And we don’t have that kind of money.
So, instead we entered into partnership with over 80 media organizations all over the world, including many good ones that I wouldn’t want to disparage. To increase the impact and push our material into over 50 different countries endemically. That has been, yes, subverting the filters of the mainstream press.
But an interesting phenomena has developed amongst the journalists who work in these very large organization that are close to power and negotiate with power at the highest levels, which is the journalists having read our material and having been forced to go through it to pull out stories have themselves become educated and radicalize. And that is an ideological penetration of the truth into all these mainstream media organizations. And, that to some degree, may be one of the lasting legacies over the past year. Even Fox News, which is much disparaged, is an organization that wants viewers. It cannot do anything else without viewers. So, it will try and push news content.
So, for example, with collateral murder, CNN showed only the first few minutes and blanked out all the bullets going to the street, completely blanked it out – and said they did it out of respect for the families of the people who were killed, well there was no blood, there was no gore. And then they cut out all the most politically salient points. And the families had come forward and said that it was very important for us to have seen it. Fox actually displayed the first killing scene in full. Quite interesting. So, Fox not perceiving itself to be amenable to the threat of it not acting in a moral way actually gave people more of the truth than CNN did. So, Fox also motivated to grab in a hungry way this greater audience share as possible took this content and gave it to more people.
Afterwards, of course, they put in their commentators to talk against it but I think that the truth that we got out of Fox was often stronger than the truth we got out of CNN and similarly for many institution in the media that we think of as liberal – and perhaps Slavoj would like to talk more about that.
SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK: I cannot emphasize, like, first I treated you not as an idiot out of politeness but I am more and more forced to admit that you are not an idiot. What you said now is extremely important. For all the respect that I have for, and I don’t mean this ironically, for honest liberals who really that people should be informed and so. But there are limits in there only mode of how they function so we should ruthlessly, not in an unethical way – we should ruthlessly use, as you pointed out in this example of CNN and Fox, every window of opportunity here. Let me add another example from a totally different domain, but from fiction, cinema and TV series, which I think reproduces the same duality. We have the usually Hollywood left. All this to raise our spirits, left liberal pseudo-Hollywood Marxist thrillers: Pelican’s Brief, All the President’s Men, which may appear very critical “Oh my God, the president himself is corrupted, connected to certain corporations and so on”.
But, nonetheless this is all ideology. Why? Why do you exit the movie theater in such high spirits after seeing, I don’t know —? The message is look at what a great country we are, an ordinary guy can topple the mightiest men in the world and so on and so on. On the other hand, let me take an equivalent in TV programming of Fox News . . . please don’t take me for being crazy, 24. Yeah, yeah, Jack Bauer and all that. The last series of 24, I watched it with pleasure. For me, my God, again I approach it as you approached those shots. It’s, for me, much more consequential in criticism.
You get Jack Bauer who is in total despair. His whole worth crumbles down. He has to admit this way what he tried do in previous seasons this idea of someone has to do this dirty job, torture the prisoners, I will do it. He says, no I cannot live with it. It has to come public. His liberal counter-part, Allison Taylor, the president, steps down. You know what the true message is? The message is simply that within the existing ethical, political coordinates, you are just stuck in a deadlock and there is no way. It’s a very pessimistic message, much more honest than all that uplifting Hollywood Marxism, what a great country we are and so on and so on.
So, yes, at all levels, not only in journalism as such, I agree with you and I’d even say that all leftist tradition knows this. For example, already Marx said, I’m no fetishist of Marx, but nonetheless — he said we can often learn more from honest conservatives than liberals, because what honest conservatives do is that they don’t sell you at the end some uplifting bullshit, they’re willing to confront some deadlock and that’s what’s important today.
AMY GOODMAN: I don’t want to look distracted looking down, but I want to get these quotes accurate so I have them on my phone. Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House in the United States, said: “Julian Assange is engaged in warfare . . . Information terrorism, which leads to people getting killed is terrorism. And Julian Assange is engaged in terrorism . . . He should be treated as an enemy combatant and WikiLeaks should be closed down permanently and decisively."
Bill Keller of the New York Times said "arrogant, thin-skinned, conspiratorial". Judith Miller who often wrote or co-wrote articles that appeared on the front page of New York Times alleging weapons of mass destruction without named sources said, “Julian Assange isn’t a good journalist . . . didn’t care at all about attempting to verify the information that he was putting out or determine whether or not it would hurt anyone."
Joe Biden, vice-president of the United States, said: “Julian Assange is a high-tech terrorist”. Congress member Peter King of New York called for Assange to be charged under the Espionage Act and asked whether WikiLeaks can be designated a terrorist organization. Not to just focus on the U.S., Tom Flanagan, a former aide to the Canadian prime minister, has called for Assange’s assassination. And former Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, called you, Julian, an "anti-American operative with blood on his hands". Can you respond to these charges?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, after Bill Keller said that I was thin-skinned it doesn’t really leave much ground for reply does it? Sarah Palin also, once on Twitter, complained about my grammar, which is really the biggest insult for me. Calling for a drone attack is perfectly understandable, correcting my grammar from Sarah Palin, that’s a real insult.
That event in the United States was very interesting. Obviously, the calls are wrong and outrageous and so on, but the social and political event in which they occurred were fascinating. So, within a few months, we saw a new McCarthyist hysteria arise in December, January – December last year, January this year. That is quite worrying that a new McCarthyism can come up so quickly.
On the other hand, yes, there are a lot of opportunistic politicians playing to their base, playing to their pals in the military-industrial complex. But, on the other hand, power that is completely unaccountable is silent. So, when you walk past a group of ants on the street and you accidentally crush a few, you do not turn to the others and say “Stop complaining or I’ll put a drone strike on your head”. You completely ignore them. And that is what happens to power that’s in a very dominant position. It does not even bother to respond, does not flinch for even an instance.
Yet we saw all these figures coming out and speaking very aggressively. Bill Keller, in a recent talk, as a way of perhaps legitimizing why he was speaking with me, said “if you have a dealing with Julian Assange, you’re fated to sit on panels for the rest of your life explaining what you did.” No, actually that’s a choice made by Bill Keller, a choice to twist history and whitewash history, and adjust history on a constant basis. Why? Why expend energy doing that? Why not just knock off another pager of the New York Times? Because, actually, these people are frightened of the true part of history coming about and coming forth. So, I see this as a very positive sign.
And, I’ve stated before, we should always see censorship, actually, as a very positive sign, and attempts towards censorship as a sign that society is not yet completely sewn up, not yet completely fiscalized but still has some political dimension to it. I.E: What people think and believe and feel and the words that they listen to actually matters. Because, in some areas, it doesn’t matter. And, in the United States, most of the time, actually it doesn’t matter what you say We managed to speak and give information at such volume and of such intensity, people were actually forced to respond. It is rare that they are forced to respond.
So, I think this is one of the first positive symptoms I’ve seen from the United States for a while. If you speak at this level, the cage can be rattled and people can be forced to respond. In China, the censorship is much more aggressive, which, to me, is a much more hopeful sign that it is still a political society, even though it is fiscalizing, even though it is being sewn up in contractual relationships and banking relationships as time has gone by. At the moment, the Chinese government and public security bureau are actually scared of what people to think.
SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK: Again, I hate myself because I want that — what is that movie called? “There will be Blood”. But, unfortunately, there will not be a lot of blood between the two of us because, again, I agree. Speaking of China, let me tell you, maybe you know it – it is not an anecdote – it perfectly confirms your point. Did you know that about a 2 or 3 months ago, a Chinese government, I don’t know which agency, passed a law, which formally prohibits in public media – they mean press, books, comic, TV, movies – all stories that deal with time travel or alternative realities. Literally. I double-checked with my friends in China. The official justification was that history is a great matter and it shouldn’t be left to such trifling games and so on.
But, of course, it’s clear what they’re really afraid of: for people to even imagine alternate realities and so. Again, to repeat your point, I think this is a good sign. They, at least, need the prohibition. With us, we don’t even need the prohibition, most of the time. If somebody proposes a radical change, we simply accept this spontaneous everyday ideology but we all know what our economic realities are like. You propose to raise for 1% healthcare spending. No, it would mean lose of competition and so on and so on. So, again, I totally agree with you right here.
A final comment of the people who you, Amy, list. Newt Gingrich for me is — sorry to use this strong word – scum of the earth. I don’t have any great – no, no, no, I’ll be very precise. I don’t have any great sympathy for Bill Clinton, but I remember when there was this campaign, Monica Lewinsky campaign. Newt Gingrich was making all these moralistic attacks and then it was confirmed in media – I listened to interview with him where he confirmed it that when his wife was dying in cancer, Newt Gingrich visited her in hospital forcing her to sign – not even having the decency to let her die – forcing her to sign a divorce agreement, so that he could marry another woman. And he was, at the exact time of the Lewinsky affair, already cheating on her with the secretary there and so on and so on.
Listen, these are people who simply – my God, I become here a kind of moral conservative. There should be some kind of ethical committee that imply claims that people such as these are a threat to our youth and they should be prohibited from appearing in public, whatever. Now, I will make a more important point to this terrorism stuff. Let me make it clear — but I’m not crazy, I mean this in a positive sense – yes, in a sense, you are a terrorist. In which sense? In the sense that I like to repeat that Gandhi was a terrorist. What you are doing, let’s face the facts. It’s not just something that can be swallowed, oh look all the interesting news in the newspapers. Here this is happening, there Slavoj Zizek is dating Lady Gaga and here – totally not true. And here there’s Wikileaks. You effectively...
AMY GOODMAN: Do we have a denial – an official denial there on dating Lady Gaga?
SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK: Absolute denial on everything. I didn’t even listen to not one of her songs. My God, I listen to Schubert and Schumann songs. Sorry, I’m a conservative.
AMY GOODMAN: I don’t know her representatives were not that defiant. They just said no comment
SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK: My friends were telling me the same: “You stupid, you should have said ‘no comment’ then you will enjoy much more glory and so on”. Ok, let’s go on, No, no, no, I have a more serious point to make. What does this mean? In what sense was Gandhi a terrorist? He effectively tried to stop, interrupt the normal function of the British state in India. And, of course you are trying to disrupt the normal – which is very oppressive – of the information circulation and so on.
But the way that we should respond to this point is, I repeat myself here, I know. Endless paraphrase of that wonderful line from Brecht’s Beggar’s Opera: “What is robbing a bank compared to founding a new bank?” What is your, under quotation marks, “terrorism” compared to the terrorism, which we simply accept, which has to go on day by day so just things remain the way they are? That is where ideology helps us. When we think of violence, terrorism, we always think about acts, which interrupt the normal run of things, but what about violence that has to be here in order for things to function the way they are?
So, I think, if – I’m very skeptical about it – in my provocative spirit we should use the term “terrorism”, it’s strictly a reaction to a much stronger terrorism that is here. So, again, instead of engaging in this moralistic game “Oh, no, he’s a good guy”. Like Stalinists said of Lenin “You like small children, you play with cats, you wouldn’t . . .” – as Norman Bates says in Psycho – “you wouldn’t hurt even a fly”. No, you are, in this formal sense, a terrorist. But if you are a terrorist, but then, by God, what are they who accuse of you terrorism?
AMY GOODMAN: For that, we can be taken off the air. I wanted to ask you, Julian, about Bradley Manning. Mike Huckabee, who also was a presidential candidate, the governor of Arkansas, said that the person who leaked the information to Julian Assange should be tried for treason and executed. He said whoever in our government leaked that information is guilty of treason and I think anything less than execution is too kind a penalty.
Bradley Manning is a young U.S. soldier who was in Iraq, um, has been held for more than a year, much of that time in solitary confinement in Quantico in Virginia. Um it was exposed that his treatment was tantamount to torture. P.J. Crowley, the White House State Department spokesperson, spoke to a group of bloggers at MIT and said his treatment is stupid. For that he was forced out of the State Department. Bradley Manning was then moved to Fort Leavenworth because of the outcry, but he remains, uh, in prison. He remains, um, not tried. What are your comments on him
JULIAN ASSANGE: First of all, Amy, thanks for answering this question‚ asking this question, but it is difficult for me to speak in detail about that case, and but i can speak about why it is difficult for me to speak about it. So Bradley Manning is an alleged source of WikiLeaks who was detained in Baghdad, and then although there was very little ‚no mainstream press at the time, shipped off to Kuwait, where he was, if you like, held in an extrajudicial circumstance in Kuwait in a similar manner to which detainees are held in Guantanamo Bay.
Eventually, through some legal, creative legal methods, he was brought back to the United States, and he’s been imprisoned now for over year. He was being kept in Quantico for eight months under extremely adverse conditions. Quantico is not meant for long-term prisoners. Other prisoners, the maximum duration over the past year has been three months, and people that have been visiting Bradley Manning say, and we have other sources who say, that they were applying those conditions to him because they wanted him to confess that he was involved in a conspiracy to commit espionage against the United States with me. That pressure on Manning appears to have backfired.
So by all reports, this is a young man of high moral character and when people of high moral character are pressured in a way that is illegitimate, they become stronger and not weaker. And that seems to have been the case with Bradley Manning and he has told U.S. authorities, as far as we know, nothing about his involvement.
Now there has concurrently been a secret grand jury taking place six kilometers from the center of Washington. That grand jury involves nineteen to twenty-three people selected from that area. Now why was it in Alexandria, Virginia six kilometers [from] the center of Washington, that that grand jury was placed? And those people drawn? Well, it has the highest density of government employees anywhere in the United States.
The U.S. government was free to select the place, and they selected this place in order to bias the jury from the very beginning. This, is in fact, wrong to call a jury. This is a type of medieval star chamber. There are these nineteen to twenty-three individuals from the population that are sworn to secrecy. They cannot consult with anyone else. There is no judge, there is no defense council, and there are four prosecutors. So that is why people that are familiar with the grand jury the United States say that a grand jury would not only indict a ham sandwich; it would indict the ham and the sandwich. And that’s a real threat to us.
A grand jury, which was removed from U.K. jurisprudence because of abuses, combines the executive and the judiciary. So this old common lore notion of the separation of these branches of power is removed in a grand jury. U.S. government argues that these captive nineteen to twenty-three individuals are the branch of the judiciary, if they perform a judicial function, where of course, actually, they’re just captive patsies for the Department of Justice, United States and the FBI.
So they have been going out and they have coercive powers. They can force people to testify, and they have been pulling in all sorts of people that are connected to WikiLeaks and people that are not.
They have recently a number of individuals that have been pulled to the grand jury understand what is going on and they have refused to testify and have pleaded the First Amendment, Third Amendment‚ Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination to‚ well I’m not sure the purpose, I don’t have direct communication, but from the outside it appears to nullify that political witch hunt in the United States against us.
Now, in response, the grand jury has been instructed to send out immunity certificates. So these are certificates that go to subpoenaed individuals that say that if you come to the grand jury to testify, your testimony cannot be used against you and therefore you have no right to plead the Fifth. What this means in practice is coerced, compulsive interrogation in secret with no defense council. There’s not‚ not even lawyers for, for the subpoenaed witnesses are permitted into the grand jury. It is just the prosecutors and these people from six kilometers away from the center of Washington. That’s something that should be opposed.
There is another grand jury that has sprung up here in the United States and is investigating anti-war activists, engaged in the same sort of witch-hunt. So these are a really a classical device that was looked at very critically in the UK four hundred years ago, and the result in the UK’s concept of, the, if justice is to be done, it must be done publicly. And, that is being a concept that is way late. It’s interesting why or how it has been way late.
So on the surface this device of, well you want the police to have an investigation, an executive says it wants to conduct and investigation into some group of people. Well, we get people from the community, nineteen to twenty-three people from the community, and they monitor the investigation. They make sure it’s not overstepping and so on. But actually this has been turned on its head and used as a way to completely subvert the judicial system in the United States.
SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK: First, again, I’d like to say again crucial are the terms that you both mentioned. All this extralegal space, unlawful combatants, and so on and so on. The paradox is that I think we should read these terms as strictly connected to universal human rights. I have nothing against universal human rights, what I’m opposed to is how the reference to universal human rights is de facto used in today’s ideological struggles. That, in order to sustain, support within the space of ruling ideology, universal human rights, you have to construct a space that is no longer the space of the enemy – in this sense enemy in terms of who the rules apply, Geneva convention or so on – but you have to create what the great American thinker and politician Dick Cheney referred to as the “Grey Zone” once. We have to do something discretely so don’t ask us about it and so on and on.
Here, I would say that things are even more complex than they may appear. What I find really terrifying is that concepts of “unlawful combatants” are becoming legal categories. I’m not a utopian here. And, maybe I’ll shock some of you here. Let me be brutally open. I can well imagine a situation where I could not promise you in advance that I will not torture someone. Let’s imagine this ridiculous situation where a bad guy has my young daughter and I have in my hands a guy who knows where my daughter is. Well, maybe, out of despair I would have tortured her, him, whatever. What I absolutely opposed to is to legalize this.
I think, if out of despair I do something like this, it should remain something unacceptable, you know, that I did out of despair. What I’m afraid of is that this system that gets institutionalized as it were because we know what’s at the end of the road. I had a polemic exchange in the New York Times with Alan Dershowitz who wants legalization of tortures. And I read one of his proposals — it’s an obscenity. You would have doctors – let’s say, just a friendly example to scare you a little bit – Amy Amy and me are the torturers and you – someone has to play this role – will be tortured. Let’s say we call a doctor who...
AMY GOODMAN: Speak for yourself, Slavoj. You are the sole torturer.
SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK: Yeah, yeah, ok. You know what I’m saying. Who investigates and determines that you can torture him to that degree if, and so on and so on. For me what is horrible is, of course, torture at such. But it is even more obscene this normalization of torture, which is why even more than you — I mean this respectful — Manning is the hero. You had this certain moment of gory and so on and so, but that more guy who, for me, did something extraordinary. You know how difficult are these decisions when simple elementary morality prevails over legal considerations and so on.
I hope that I am not a utopian. Don’t you have any of these organs that propose candidates for Nobel Peace Prize? That would be a nice, crazy movement. If there is a person who deserves Nobel Peace prize today, it’s Manning and people like him. No, no, I’m not laughing, simple, ordinary people – and I’m not even idealizing him. There are many examples of people who I know who are not anything special, they are not saints. But, all of a sudden, they see something like probably – if he’s the one – he saw all these documents and something told him, “Sorry, I will not be pushed more, I have to do something here.”
This is so precious today because it also goes against a note, which is in a way true but exploited by our enemies, this idea today that ideology is cynical, people are totally duped and so on. No they are not, I prefer her to play a little bit of simple moralism. From time to time there are ethnical miracles. There are people that still care and so on and so on.
This is very important because, you know, let us not leave this domain of simple dignified, ethical acts to agencies such as Catholic church and so on. Who are they to talk about it? We, the left, should rehabilitate this – I don’t it doesn’t sound very post-modern or cynical — this idea that there are out there are quite ordinary guys who all of a sudden as if in a miracle do something wonderful. That’s almost, I would say, our only hope today.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Speaking on that, one of the difficulties for alleged sources – actually we have another one in prison, which has recognized very little attention. The case of Rudolph Elmer who is imprisoned in Switzerland for allegedly revealing banking information. There’s no trace to us, but that’s the allegation that’s being investigated. If they put up their hands and say, “yes, yes, it was me”, it makes it very easy to defend them in a moral way, and it makes it very easy to shower them with awards, but until they do it – there defense is that they didn’t do it, so it’s very hard for us to start praising people because inherent in that praise — we would be alleging they are guilty of the offense.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of banks, Julian, you mentioned a while ago that you had a good deal of information on the Bank of America. But they haven’t been released. Are you planning to release them
JULIAN ASSANGE: There’s a complication with those documents and another group of documents, so we are under a type of blackmail in relation to these document, which will be dealt with over time, but is quite difficult to deal with at this moment. I don’t want to specify what type of blackmail it is because it might make it harder to address the situation, but it is, perhaps, something like people might guess. You know, there’s a range of possibilities, and it’s probably the first or second possibility if you’re guessing at least..
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s talk about the beginning of Wikileaks. Tell us how you founded it, named it, and what your hopes were at the time, and if – at this point—you’ve been disappointed by what you’ve been able to accomplish or amazed by it? Wikileaks, how it started.
JULIAN ASSANGE: I think I’m amazed by it, of course. Who couldn’t be. It’s an extraordinary time I’ve lived through, and to see many of your dreams and ideals come into practice. That said, we’re only a hundredth of the way there in there in terms of what we need to release, and discover, and put into people’s hands, and solidify a historical record.
We need a Cablebate for the CIA, we need a Cablegate of the SVR, a Cablegate of the New York Times, actually. All the stories that have been suppressed and how they’ve been managed. Once we’ve gotten that type of volume and concretize and protect the rights of everyone to communicate with each other, which – to me – is the basic agreement of civilized life. It is not the right to speak. What does it mean to have the right to speak if you’re on the moon and nobody is around. It doesn’t matter. Rather the right to speak comes from our right to know.
The two of us together, someone’s right to speak and someone’s right to know, produce a right to communicate, so that is the grounding structure for all that we treasure about civilized life, and by civilized I don’t mean industrialized. I mean people collaborating not to do the dumb thing. To, instead, learn from previous experiences and pool with each other together to get through the life that we live in a less adverse way.
So, that quest to protect the historical record and enable everyone to be a contributor to the historical record is something that I’ve been involved in for 20 years in one way or another. So, that means protecting the people who contribute to our shared public record, and it also means protecting publishers and encouraging distribution of the historical record to everyone who needs to know about it. After all, a historical record that has something interesting in it that you can’t find is no record at all.
So, that long-term vision is something that I developed in various ways. And I saw, around 2006, that there was a way of achieving justice through this process that could be realized using the intellectual and social capital that I had available. That was quite a complex plan. You should read, perhaps, there’s a number of essays on Wikileaks that go into this in more detail.
So, to pull all of this together was a difficult thing to do, and to plan it out and marshal the resources and build an ideology that people could not only support and were encouraged by – and sources were encouraged by – but that people would defend. It’s one of the, I think that it’s extremely interesting that, although, twice this venue – not this venue, sorry – the venue we had rented was cancelled at the institute for education from the University of London on the basis that it would be too controversial.
That’s why we ended up at the Trotsky, at this venue. Despite that, actually, Slavoj Zizek, myself, and Amy Goodman have managed to pack out nearly 2,000 people in London on a Saturday at 25 pounds a seat. So, I see that as extremely encouraging. On the one hand, we have the everyday tawdry institutional censorship of saying that something is too controversial therefore you can’t hold it in an institute of education.
On the other hand, all of you came, and I’m not sure if that would have happened five years ago. In fact, I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have happened 5 years ago. Both of those things wouldn’t have happened 5 years ago. So, when I said before that censorship is always an opportunity, and censorship reveals something that is positive about a society, and a society with no censorship is in a very bad state. If you like, the censorship of not giving us this venue so easily is also related to why you are all here, it’s the other side of the coin. That people are worried that change is possible.
And you’re all here because you thing change is possible, and you’re probably right. So, that’s been a pretty interesting journey to see that. And I thought I was pretty cynical and worldly 5 years ago and, of course, I was simply a very young and naïve fool in retrospect. And learning how to — from being inside the center of the storm, I’ve learned not only about the structure of government, not just about how power flows inside many countries around the world that we’ve dealt with, but rather how history is shaped and distorted by the media.
And, I think the distortion by the media of history, of all the things we should know so we can collaborate together as a civilization, is the worse thing. It is our single greatest impediment to advancement, but it’s changing. We are routing around media that is close to power in all sorts of ways, but it’s not a forgone conclusion, which is what makes this time so interesting.
That we can wrest the Internet, we can wrest communication mechanisms that we have with each other into the values of the new generation that has been educated by the Internet. Has been educated outside of the mainstream media distortion, and all those young people are becoming important inside those institutions.
So, maybe this is something I’ll speak with you about later Amy, but I do want to talk about what it means when institution — the most powerful institutions from the CIA to news corporation are all organized using computer programmers, system organizers, technical young people. What does that mean when all those technical young people adopt a certain value system and they’re in an institution where they do not agree with the value system and yet actually their hands are on the machinery.
Because, there has been moments in the past like that. And it is those technical young people who are the most Internet educated and have the greatest ability to receive the new values that are being spread and the new information and facts about reality that are being spread outside mainstream media distortions.
SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK: I feel now like that Stalinst commentator, you know, “The leader has spoken; I provide the deeper meaning and so on with pleasure”. No, first I would like to begin with what you said – it’s really extremely important I have philosophical term for it when you moved from right to speak, right to know, communication and so on.
I think that, as many of you know, in the history of modern thought, the first one to formulate this was Immanuel Kant in his wonderful distinction between private and public use of reason. This distinction is wonderful because private use of reason is not I gather with my friends in a kitchen of my apartment or in a pub.
No, private use of reason is for Kant theological faculty, legal faculty, political sciences where what you are thinking, debating, developing serves a goal set up in advance by a power structure or ideological structure and so on. For Kant, we here, at a distance from a hierarchal political establishment, we are the public use of reason.
Why is this so important? What I see Wikileaks as part of a global struggle that doesn’t concern in the narrow sense the right to know as the right to information and so, but even education. You know – by you, I mean UK citizens — what horrors are made in the UK university reform. New privatizations and so on and so on.
This is all one concerted attack on the public use of reason. It goes on all over Europe and the name is Bologna Higher Education reform and the goal is very clear. It’s to make universities more responsive to social life, to social problems. It sounds nice, but what it means is that we should all become experts.
As a French guy later minister explained to me in a debate in Paris. For example, cars are burning in Paris what we need is psychologists who will tell us how to control the crowds; urbanist who will tell us how to restructure the streets to break up the crowd; whatever. We should be here ideological or specialist servicemen to resolve problems formulated by others. I think this is the end of intellectual life as we know it.
And we should go here to the end, you know when all those right-wing anti-immigrant bull-shitters are talking – I’m sorry, I used the word, I know I shouldn’t. Do it in a Stalin’s way and put some music of some heroic working class song. Sorry, no, but more seriously. When we hear about “Oh, immigrants, Pakistanis, Muslims are a threat to Judeo-Christian civilization.”
No, sorry, the greatest asset of Judeo-Christian civilization, which you can even detect it in those notions of the holy spirit as a community of believers outside established structures, it’s precisely this independent space of public reason. So, I’m saying, that if there’s something to really defend of the so-called — I hate the word also — Judeo-Christian legacy this idea of democracy not only as this masturbatory right to caste a vote totally isolated, but also — as you said public space of communication and so on – then that should be our answer to all those populist, anti-immigrant politicians and so on.
Not this white liberal guilt: Oh, you are defending Judeo-Christian legacy; no, we feel guilty; how many bad things we did – all the bad things in the world are a result of European imperialism. Ok, maybe, but what we should say to them is “who are you to even speak of Judeo-Christian legacy?” This university reform today in the U.K., this is the greatest threat to Judeo-Christian legacy and so on. Anti-immigrants, they are the nightmare. Imagine Le Pein in power in France and so on. That’s the end of Europe for me in the sense of what is progressive in Europe. So, again, this is for me, part of a much larger problem, especially with the problems — ecological problems for example.
Let me give you an example, which I think is so beautifully clear. Recently – I would like to ask you, if I may, through you – you in China – not you, but Wikileaks in China because Chinese people will pay such a price for precisely the suppression of public space of reason there. My Chinese friends told me this. In China now, a month or two ago, even the government admitted the catastrophic, ecological consequences of those three gorges dam. You know, it’s the greatest artificial lake in the world 250 miles, 400 kilometers long.
Now, they, the government, admitted that the problem is this one: that lake is just above some subterranean faults, which they move when there is an earthquake. SO they admitted that three years or so ago that the big sichuan earthquake was not triggered, but definitely rendered much stronger because of this. And this is not like some proverb you know, “after the battle everyone can be the wiser general.” No, friends when I visited Beijing 4-5 years ago, my friends there told me the majority of geologists were already warning the government about these dangers.
Second thing, because of this collection of water there, the affect of drought are much stronger felt. Point two, you know because, you know, the Yellow River is the main transportation line venue in China. The traffick there is practically stopped and so on and so on. Just to conclude, one more thing. This is not a critical point against you, but a point to clarify what Wikileaks can do.
We should not fetishize Truth as such. We live in times of incredible ideological investments, time when ideology is very strong precisely because it is not even experienced as ideology. What can happen? Let me tell you a story from Israel that my friends told me there.
Some 5-6 years ago, one of their historians wrote a more truthful account of how also in the independence ’48, ’49 war the Israeli army did burn some Palestinian villages and so on and so on — a more balanced view. First, all the lefty critics had a sort of intellectual orgasm. Wonderful, and so on. Then, they got a shock of the lifetime when this guy said “No, no, no, but what I meant was that this was necessary, we should have done it even more.” The line of this guy was “We should have thrown all of the Palestinians from the West Bank and we wouldn’t have any problems today.”
So, what I’m trying to say that I disagree not with you but, for example, another person who I have respect: Noam Chomsky. A friend of mine told me recently that he had lunch with Noam Chomsky in New York and he said that all of the obscenities are so clear that we don’t need any critique of ideology, we just need to tell to the people the truth. No, truth must be contextualized in the sense of what does it say, what does it justify, what does it deny, so on and so on?
So, to really conclude, this would be my point about Wikileaks. That you are not just simply telling the truth. You are telling the truth in a very precise way of confronting explicit line of justification, rationalization or whatever — the public discourse with its implicit prepositions.
It’s not just about telling the truth, and this is very important. Why? Now I conclude, don’t be afraid. You know this wonderful Marx brothers joke, which I think serves perfectly as a model of today’s ideology. Why? Because, like, if you have listened to someone – you know that failed businessman who then ruined the American army as a defense minister — Donald Rumpsfeld, he’s called, no? I read a biography of him and they prove it conclusively that, my God, he was a bad, stupid manager. It’s a total myth he was a business genius.
Ok, now, to the point. Basically, his cynical line about Iraq when it was discovered that there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction and so on was that “Ok, we were lying, but we were lying in a truthful way with a good intention. We manipulated you, but this was part of a larger strategy and so on.” This is maybe the most intelligent but a tricky and effective and cynical defense of a liar. “Ok, I’m lying, but so what? I openly confess that I’m lying so I’m truthful.”
Here we should repeat that Marx brothers claim – and it is what I claim that you are doing. You know that wonderful phrase from Groucho Marx when he’s playing a lawyer defending his client, and he’s saying: “This guy looks as an idiot and acts as an idiot. This shouldn’t deceive you, this guy is an idiot.” We should say to Donald Rumpsfeld, “Ok, you admit that act as a liar and you are a cheater and liar, but this will not deceive us. You are effectively a cheater and a liar.” We should not allow them this space of selling their lies themselves as a deeper truth. This is how ideology today functions.
AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange, I want to ask you about the Arab Spring and what you see as Wikileaks role as what started in Tunisia, and Egypt, what we’re seeing in Bahrain and Yemen, Syria, Libya. What role did Wikileaks play
JULIAN ASSANGE: It’s hard to disentangle, but the story that we have back from people who are back in Egypt and from the newspaper al-Akbar, one of the great newspapers published in the Middle East out of Lebanon.
AMY GOODMAN: You lived in Egypt for a time
JULIAN ASSANGE: I lived in Egypt during 2007, so I’m familiar with the Mubarak regime and the tensions within the Egyptian environment. Actually, I was staying at that time, in a rather unusual circumstance, where I was staying in Ms. Egypt’s house.
And, Ms. Egypt’s house – other than having paintings of Ms. Egypt all throughout – was clustered right between the U.S. Embassy and the U.N. High Commission with a van outside fueled with 24 soldiers in front of my front door. So, for the sort of work we were doing, this seemed to be the ultimate cover, if you like, to be nested right amongst this. But, you know, Egypt’s a very interesting place. At that time, you didn’t feel in most areas of Cairo the presence of a dictatorship.
In fact, if you look out on the streets, men go to work, they go to cafes to have shisha in the afternoon. The pigeon boys come out onto the roof and there’s weddings on a Saturday and Sunday. In fact, the economic and the technological basis to Cairo seems pretty much the same as London if you compare it to Australian aboriginals.
To my mind, actually, if we say that it is democracy that rules and manages the United States, or it is electoral democracy that manages and rules London, this is completely ridiculous. Because when we look at countries that are dictatorships, or soft dictatorships as in the case of Egypt, the day to day life and the technological activities and the patterns of behavior for most people are exactly the same.
But its when you stray into those areas of Egypt and areas of Cairo where the Interior Ministry is, or the Foreign Ministry is, that the level of paranoia and fear and the number of people guarding with submachine guns and so on increases. At that time there was around 20,000 political prisoners of different types in Egypt. But remember Egypt has a population of around 18 million.
This is always something that I am aware of when you have an inteligencia that writes and writes about its problems. Because this is a mirror image of the problem we have with the mainstream press, which is writers always write to their own favor and their own considerations and their own self interest. So a country can go from a position of not treating writers well, to treating writers well and not treating everyone else well. By writers I mean people who have the ability to project their voice.
So for those 20,000 political prisoners in Egypt, they could gain no traction in the Western press, and yet others such as in Iran we hear about all the time. It’s very interesting that Egypt was perceived to be a strong ally of Israel and strong ally of the United States in that region, so all the political and human rights abuses that were occurring every day in Egypt simply did not get traction.
There was one moment where, rather actually unusual for Egypt, but perhaps a sign of the cleverness that came to be represented in the Arab Spring, where these 20,000 prisoners started a strike demanding conjugal rights–demanding that their wives be permitted to visit them in prison for sex. And then they got some prominent muftis to come out and say look, ’Its bad enough these people are political agitators, let alone homosexual political agitators. And that is then something that was picked up by the Western press because it had this extra salacious flavor. So that was some of my experiences with Egypt when I lived there.
Later on, when we worked on Cablegate, we selected a French partner, Le Monde, in order to get the cables into, into French, because we knew they would have an effect in Francophone Africa. Also, cables were published in early December by Al Akbar in Arabic from Lebanon, and also Al-Masry al-Youm, uh, in Egypt, although the material that was published in Egypt, back in December, under Mubarak, was pretty soft, uh, because of the threats that that newspaper was under. But, Al-Masry al-Youm pushed hard, and there was, a number of critical cables came out about the Tunisian regime, and about Ben Ali. Now, of course, the, the argument that has often been used, including, for example, in the electoral result that we were involved in in Kenya in 2007 is you just tell the people what’s going on, and then they’ll be angry about it and they’ll oppose it.
But actually the real situation is much more rich and interesting than that. Rather, yes, the demos knows, the population starts to know, and they start to know in a way that’s undeniable, and they also start to know that the United States knows, and the United States can’t deny what was going on inside Tunisia. And then, the elites within the country and without the country also know what is going on, and they can’t’ deny it, so, a situation developed where it was not possible for the United States to support the Ben Ali regime, and intervene in a revolution, in the way that it might have. Similarly, it was not possible for France to support Ben Ali or other partners in the same way that they might have been able to.
Also, in our strategy in dealing with this region, uh, and, uh, our survival strategy for Cablegate, was to overwhelm, that is, we have Saudi Arabia, for example, propping up a number of states in the Middle East, and in fact invading Bahrain, to do this.
But, when these states have problems of their own to deal with and political crises of their own to deal with, they turn inwards, and they can’t be involved in this proper. So, Cablegate as a whole caused these elites that prop each other up into region within the Arab speaking countries, and, within, between Europe and these countries and between the United States and these countries, to have to deal with their own political crises, and not spend time giving intelligence briefings on activists, or sending in, um, the SAS, or other support, and activists within Tunisia saw this, very quickly, I think they started to see an opportunity, and that information, uh, our site, a number of Wikileaks sites, were then immediately, um, banned by the Tunisian government, Al Akbar was banned by the Tunisian government, a hacker attack was launched on Al Akbar, many had been launched at us but we had come to defend against them.
Al Akbar was taken down, their whole newspaper was redirected to a Saudi sex site, believe it or not, there is such a thing as a Saudi sex site, and they rested it back through involvement to the foreign, the foreign ministry back in Lebanon, and then, what I believe to be state-based computer hackers, cause of the degree, the sophistication of the attack, came in and wiped out all of Al Akbar’s cable publishing efforts.
The cables about Tunisia were then spread around, um, online, um, in other forms, uh, translated by a little internet group called Tunis Leaks, and, so, present, presented, a number of different f-facets that everyone could see and no one could deny that the Ben Ali regime was fundamentally corrupt, um, it’s not that the people didn’t know it before, but it became undeniable to everyone, including the United States. And that the United States, or at least the state department, could be read, that if it came down to supporting the army or Ben Ali, they would probably support the army, the military class, rather than the political class. So that gave activists and the army, uh, a belief that they could possibly pull it off.
But this wasn’t enough. So all that was intellectual. And, was, was making a difference and was stirring things up in Tunisia. Uh, and then, you had this action by a twenty-six year old, uh, computer technician, who set, um, afire, who self immolated, uh, on, er, in December, um, sixteenth, um, last year. (mumbling) Yeah. And was hospitalized and died on January fourth. And that taking a sort of intellectual frustration and irritation and hunger for change and undeniably to an emotional, physical act on the street, is then what changed the equation. There’s other things that sort of, uh, more of a systemic issue that was gradually breeding up, which is, you had aging rulers in the middle east that, who’s regimes to that extent were becoming weaker, that the intellectual management of them was decreasing, um, you also had the rise of satellite tv, and, the decision of Al Jazeera staff to film and broadcast protest scenes on the street.
So most revolutions kick off in a crowd situation like this one, where everyone can, you know, all the time the regime is saying, this voice is an outcast voice, this a minority, this is not popular opinion.
And what the media does is censor those voices and prevents people from understanding that actually, that what the state is saying is in the minority is in the majority. And once people realize that their view is in the majority, then they understand they physically have the numbers, and there’s no better way to do that then in some kind of public square, which is why Tahrir square in, uh, Egypt was so important, because everyone could see that they had the numbers.
Um, and that’s, you know, I often perceive that there are moments like that, politically, um, yes the Middle East was one that we might be going through, you know, you saw just before the Berlin Wall fell, everyone thought that it was impossible. Why? I mean, if, if it’s not that people suddenly received a lot of new information, rather what the information that they received is that everyone, a large majority of people, had the same belief’s that they’d had, and people became sure of that, and uh, and then you have a sudden switch, a sudden state change, and then, then you have a revolution.
So I often feel that we, we’re on the edge of that, and, that, alternative ways of people becoming aware of what their beliefs are, what each other’s beliefs are, is something that introduces that truly democratic shift. I’ve, I’ve often lambasted bloggers as people who just want to demonstrate peer value conformity, and who don’t actually do any original news, who don’t actually do any original work, uh, when we release original documentation on many things, although the situation is, very interestingly, improving. Uh, often we find that all of these left wing bloggers do not descend on a fresh cable from Panama revealing, as it did, today, that the United States has declared the right to board one-third of all ships in the world without any justification.
They do not descend on that, rather, they read the front page of the New York Times and go “I disagree” or “I agree” or “I agree in my categories” and that is something that sort of, that hypocrisy of saying that you care about a situation, um, but not actually doing the work is something that has angered me.
But, it does serve an important function. The function that it serves is the function of the square. It is to show the number of voices that are lining up, on one side or another.
‘AMY GOODMAN:’ Before you respond, I just wanted to ask, since you talked about what you released today, you also have just sued MasterCard and Visa, can you explain this weekend why you did that?
‘JULIAN ASSANGE:’ You know, when Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers, actually I spoke to Daniel Ellsberg last night, he told me an incredible story about that, but did you know the New York Times had a thousand pages of the Pentagon Papers one month before Daniel Ellsberg gave the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times? Fresh news. Amazing stuff. Uh, yeah. I’ll leave that aside.
Um, sorry, what was the question? Oh yes, MasterCard. So, when Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers, did they suddenly change things? Actually, Nixon was re-elected, after Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers, the Vietnam War didn’t stop, the information was very important in all sorts of ways, and its importance over time was very important. The most important thing to come out of the Pentagon Papers was the reaction to the Pentagon Papers, because the Pentagon Papers described a situation in the past, what the past was like, but the reaction to the Pentagon Papers described what was going on right now, and, it showed a tremendous overage by the Nixon administration, various attempts to cover things up, and actually the New York Times actually probably really wouldn’t have published the Pentagon Papers unless they thought it was going to be published anyway, which they did, it was scheduled to be published, um, in four months time, in a book, very, very interesting.
So, on December sixth last year, these, uh, MasterCard, PayPal, The Bank of America, uh, Western Union, all ganged up together to engage in an economic blockade against Wikileaks, and that economic blockade has continued since that point.
So it’s over six months now, we have been suffering from an extrajudicial economic blockade that is occurred without any process whatsoever. In fact, the only two formal investigations into this, one was on January thirteen last year, by Timothy C. Geithner, the Secretary of the Treasury, who found that there was no lawful excuse to conduct an economic blockade against Wikileaks. And other, was by a Visa subsidiary, who was handling our European payments, Teller, who found that we were not in breach of any of Visa’s bylines or regulations.
Those are the only two formal inquiries. And yet, the blockade continues, it’s an extraordinary thing, that we have seen that Visa, MasterCard, Western Union, and so on, are, instruments of U.S. foreign policy, but, instruments of U.S., of not U.S., as in a state operating under laws foreign policy, but rather instruments of Washington’s patronage network policy. So there was no due process at all. And so, over the past few months, you know we have a number of cases on, so we’ve been a bit distracted, but over the past few months we have build up the case against Visa, and MasterCard, under European law.
And, Visa and MasterCard together own about ninety-five percent of the credit card, um, payment industry in Europe, and therefore they have a sort of market dominance, and that means, under European law, they cannot engage in certain actions to, uh, unfairly remove people from the market.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of other legal cases I just wanted to ask you about what you face next week, the extradition case on July 12th. The Nationmagazine has done two pieces- one is forthcoming. And they quote your new lawyer, Gareth Peirce who is very well known for representing prisoners at Guantanamo, a renowned human rights attorney. And Tom Hayden, who writes the piece, interviewed many people in Sweden and the United States and sort of talks about a feeling in Sweden of an attack very much represented by your past lawyers on the Swedish justice system-and on the integrity of the women in Sweden. And he quotes Gareth Peirce saying…
JULLIAN ASSANGE: lawyers never attacked any integrity of women
AMY GOODMAN: Well, he quotes Gareth Peirce saying, “the history of this case is as unfortunate as it is possible to image. Each of the human beings involves deserves respect and consideration. And I just wanted to ask if you are seeing this as a change of approach with your legal team in dealing with your possible extradition to Sweden?
JULLIAN ASSANGE:Possibly, I mean the situation…. What is happened to Europe and what is happened to Sweden is fascinating. It is something I have come to learn because I’ve been embroiled in it. But it is intellectually extraordinary- so we see for example that- the European Union introduced an arrest warrant system. And that arrest warrant system to extradite from one state of the EU to another state of the EU was put in place in response to 9/11 to extradite terrorists- to have fast extradition of terrorists.
And it introduced this concept, or rather recycled a European Union concept of mutual recognition. This is sort of a very feel good phrase- that one state in the EU mutually recognizes another state in the EU- and that sunk down into mutual recognition between one court in the EU to another court in the EU. But actually what it seems to be talking about it, if you think about it, given the reality that three people a day are extradited from this country to the rest of Europe- is a mutual recognition of the elite in each country in the EU. It is a method of, um, of being at peace.
So the elite in each country in the EU, has, if you like, made literally a treaty with each other, to recognize each other and to not complain about the behavior. Now you might say that, well ok we have justice systems in the EU and various countries. Some are better some are worse depending on your values system- but we have sunk so low that it’s not even like that anymore.
The European arrest warrant talks about the mutual recognition of judicial authority- so courts. But it has permitted each country to define what they call a judicial authority, and Sweden has chosen to call policeman and prosecutors judicial authorities. And the whole basis of this term being used in the original introduction of the European Arrest Warrant was that you would keep the executive separated from the judicial system. That it was meant to be a natural and neutral party who would request extradition- and it’s not.
So there are many things like this that are going on in that case. I haven’t been charged. Is it right to extradite to a state where they do not speak the language? Where they do not have family, they do not know the lawyers, they do not know the legal system. If you don’t even have enough evidence to charge them, you won’t even come over as we have offered many times to speak to the people concerned.
So previous complaints about these sort of problems have lead to some inquires in Sweden. For instance, the biggest Swedish law magazine that goes out to all the lawyer had a survey on this and one third of the lawyers responding said that yes, these complaints about the Swedish judiciary system, they truly are a problem.
On the other hand, it has entered a situation where the Swedish Prime Minister and the Swedish Justice Minister have personally attacked me. Um, and said, the Swedish Prime Minister said that I had been charged to the Swedish public, when I hadn’t been.
So it is a delicate situation, Sweden- the Sweden we have now is not the Sweden of Olof Palme in the 1970s. Sweden recently sent troops, recently passed a bill to send marines in Libya. It was the fifth country out to send fighter jets into Libya.
This is a different dynamic, we have to be carful at dealing with it. It’s one thing to sort of be considerate of differences in the way various justice systems are administered- but it’s another to tolerate any difference. And I don’t think any difference should be tolerated in the EU.
You know, what is it that prevents the justice systems of EU states from fundamentally collapsing and decaying? You say there is mutual recognition. There’s mutual recognition between the UK and Romania, and what if the Romanian justice system collapses more and more and more? Who’s going to account for that? Who’s going to scrutinize it? Is it going to be some bureaucrats in the EC that are going to scrutinize the Romanian justice system? No. The only sustainable approach to scrutinizing the justice systems of the EU is the extradition process.
So it is extradition lawyers and defendants who have the highest motivation to scrutinize the quality of justice in the state that they are being extradited to. And that’s a healthy system that permits outside scrutiny?and so it can stop European states from decaying. But the European Arrest Warrant System removes that possibility; it’s not open to us to look at any of the facts in the case in the exerdition at all- that is completely removed. All we’re arguing about is whether the two page request that was filled out which literally has a box ticked rape, is a valid document.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll end with Žižek.
SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK: , first I am so sad I don’t have time to go into it because I found this again, yet another this, I mean by this- strange mutual recognition and this absolutely- think about it what you’ve heard. This properly Kafkaesque paradox of being extradited without even being trapped. I mean, are we aware where we are? But let’s not take that path first. I cannot but restrain from making an obscene remark of how you said when you were staying with the ms. of Egypt, no- I hope there will be some American from the Middle East who will say “ah, now everything is clear. There you were seduced by that ms. who was really Al Qaeda agent and then you were turned into a terrorist agent through her to do your terrorist activity, now things are clear now. Let’s go on with more…
AMY GOODMAN: We have one minute to go.
SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK . Yeah, yeah- but one minute in this broader Christian sense where time is eternity and so on. Very briefly, first I’ll …we admit it- we are doing bad thing on the West Bank but you cannot negotiate if they bomb you like- let’s just. If you, of course, examine Gaza on the West Bank there was practically total peace the last five, six, even more years. The image you get form this papers is that there was an incredibly compromising spirit from the Palestinian side- offering entire Jerusalem and so on. And it was absolutely clear that it’s Israel which is not interested in peace.
Second point, just a couple of points. I think it is so important the exact words you use- which make my point. Which confirm my point- mainly how undeniable- they could no longer deny and so one- that’s important. You know again we are in that situation where I know you know- I know that you know. But we can still play the cynical game, let’s act as of we don’t know. The function of Wiki leaks, even more important, I claim, in complete ideological and political situations —then learning through Wiki leaks— to push us to this point where you cannot pretend not to know.
Let me give you another example, again, I am not a total fan of Obama, although I still have certain respect for him- but…this is cynicism at its purist, you remember this outcry in Zionist circles where Obama made the simple point that the basis of peace should be the sixty seven boarders. My god. The critical reaction was as if Obama said something, I don’t know, following orders from Al Qaeda or what. But this was the official U.S. policy expect that the obscenity of the situation was that although this was part of the official U.S. policy it was part of the unwritten deal not to talk about it- to ignore it. That’s our situation here. Step further, Egypt. I know, you know what’s for me, and you have here a lot. The truth about Egypt.
We Western Europeans have this normal spontaneous racist attitude. No. We would love to see a secular democratic movement in Arab countries, unfortunately all they can do is some stupid anti fundamentalist, nationalist, whatever, outburst. Now, officially we got what we wanted. A purely secular uprising and so on and you know how we behaved?
My last obscene example. Did you see Francois Telfo Day and Night, where a guy wants to sleep with a girl- tries to convince her for a long time -then finally they are alone because of an accident by a lake and again, he starts, “please let’s do it quickly, we are alone here” and the girl says “ok, let’s do it” and starts to unbutton her trousers. And the guy says “my god, just like that?” he is shocked.
We were a little bit like that. Officially we wanted secular democracy, the Egyptians said, “OK, I pull down my trousers you can have your stupid secular democracy. And uh uh – you can’t get it just like that. It was such a clear example of hypocrisy. Now really to finish, maybe the most important thing- what you already said Amy – I think this is one of the ways if we are approaching the end to conclude it.
Even if you ignore Wiki leaks, it’s changed the entire field. It’s again, even at the level of publishing and spreading information you pushed things in a very formal way- to a point of undeniably. Nobody can pretend that Wiki leaks didn’t happen. And it would be very interesting to classify all reactions to Wiki leaks.
You know, in different form of in Chekhovian terms, repression, denial, whatever- some people say formally “yeah yeah” but try to neutralize it “ohh, another chapter of freedom of the press” “investigative journalism” others says “direct terrorism” I wonder the approach I would have followed if I were to be on the other side.
It would have been something like, it’s basically a good thing, it’s just misused by some extremists you know. And then you kind of say- to save the good core of Wiki leaks. So, what I am sayings is, again, to conclude, don’t worry. This is the moment of truth. Wiki leaks is an event, not only because of what it is in itself- because nobody can ignore it- it changed the entire field. The point is not to allow to be renormalized. To be faithful to it.
AMY GOODMAN: A note: Slavoj and I will be out signing books on the left in the lobby right afterwards and would love to talk to you. Yes you do. Defiantly pick up a flyer. And I want to end on this question Julian. Tomorrow, July 3rd, you turn forty years old. What are you hopes for the future?
JULIAN ASSANGE: There’s the big future, there’s the deep future that one can long for. So that is a future where we are all able to freely communicate our hopes and dreams, factual information about the world with each other and the historical record is an item that is completely sacrosanct. That would never be changed, never be modified, never be deleted, and that we will steer a course away from Orwell’s dictum of 'he who controls the present controls the past.'
That is something that is my life long quest to do. And from all- from that justice flows because each, most of us have an instinct for justice and most of us are reasonably intelligent and if we can communicate with each other, organize, not be oppressed, and know what’s going on then pretty much the rest fall out. So that is my big hope. In the short term, it is that my staff stop hassling to tell me to go.
SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK What I wish you, all the best, is another, even more beautiful mischief.