WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange appeared on ABC’s Sunday morning program, “This Week,” hosted by George Stephanopoulos, to provide an update on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. He was joined by Justice Department whistleblower and Government Accountability Project director of the national security and human rights division, Jesselyn Radack.
Assange said he wished he could give more details on the situation with Snowden but said it was a “matter of international of diplomatic negotiations now.” He said, “Why is it that Mr. Snowden is not in the United States? He should feel that he should be afforded to justice in the United States, but his situations is very similar to a situation that I face and my staff face, where we are being sucked into a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia. That’s where the charges for Edward Snowden came from.”
“Asylum decisions are always a mixture of the political and legal,” Assange replied when asked if any country would grant him asylum. “I think there are several countries where it is politically possible for Mr. Snowden to receive asylum and many countries, of course, where he is legally entitled to that kind of protection.”
Assange attempted multiple times to put the focus on the content of what Snowden had revealed. He declared, “Without the will of the American people, without the will of the American Congress, we now have a state within a state. We have a transnational surveillance apparatus.” He highlighted how journalist Glenn Greenwald had said, when speaking to attendees at the Socialism Conference in Chicago, that the NSA had brand new technology for putting into repositories 1 billion phone calls a day.
Stephanopoulos played comments from Secretary of State John Kerry, who said people could die because of Snowden’s whistleblowing. To that Assange responded, “We were subject to exactly this kind of rhetoric two or three years ago and it all proved to be false. We had this terrible discussion about, which even exists in some of the tabloid press today about WikiLeaks causing harm but not a single US government official.” (In fact, “This Week” played a clip of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying, “It puts people lives in danger, threatens our national security,” before the interview with Assange.)
“No one from the Pentagon. No one from any government has said that any of our revelations in the last six years has caused anyone to come to physical harm and the revelations by Snowden, these are even more abstract than the war crimes we were publishing,” Assange added.
Stephanopoulos asked him about Snowden’s father, Lonnie Snowden, suggesting WikiLeaks had manipulated Snowden.
“Mr Snowden’s father, as a parent, of course he is worried,” Assange replied. “Every father would be worried in this situation. We have established contact with Mr. Snowden’s father’s lawyer to put some of his concerns to rest.”
When asked if the secrets Snowden had would get out no matter what, he answered, “There is no stopping the publishing process at this stage. Great care has been taken to make sure that Mr. Snowden can’t be pressured by any state to stop the publication process. I mean, the United States, by canceling his passport, has left him for the moment marooned in Russia. Is that really a great outcome by the State Department? Is that really what it wanted to do?”
Assange condemned the United States for revoking Snowden’s passport and noted that there was still no “international warrant out for his arrest.”
As the interview wore on, Stephanopoulos became more adversarial toward Julian Assange. He asked about an email supposedly revealed from you by Bart Gellman in “Time” magazine, said that ”You hoped the revelations from WikiLeaks would bring about the total annihilation of the US regime.”
First, that is not the full quote and, if the full quote had been read, it would have sounded like, “The total annihilation of the current U.S. regime or any other regime that holds its authority through mendacity alone could be accelerated or advanced by several years if WikiLeaks does its job right,” which is a lot less sinister, right?
Anyways, this is the exchange that took place next:
ASSANGE: I did not say that and there is no such email. That is simply false.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It’s quoted in “Time” magazine in December 2010.
ASSANGE: Yes. Well, I mean, “Time” magazine. But this is — it’s very interesting that you raised such a thing like that. We are in a situation where we have these extraordinary revelations that are causing great embarrassment to a new national security state that is arising in the U.S. It’s not just the U.S. Similar national security states are rising in other countries, but it is trying to evade democratic will. It’s treating Congress like a bunch of fools. And we saw Clapper up there lying, bald-face lying to Congress. We have secret interpretations of the law. What does the law mean if there are secret interpretations in secret courts?
We have Bradley Manning’s trial starting — continuing tomorrow. A young man, a good man, as far as anyone can tell, motivations are entirely political as far as anyone argues. The same with Snowden. Being put through this meat grinder, where a new precedent is trying to be set, which is communicating with the press is committing espionage. And it’s not just a precedent that is trying to be set on these whistle-blowers. It’s a precedent that’s trying to be set on journalists and politicians as well. We saw that in the case of–
STEPHANOPOULOS: Meantime, Mr. Assange, meantime, you’re being–
ASSANGE: — James Rosen.
STEPHANOPOULOS: — safe harbored (ph) by the Ecuadorian government. That — the Correa administration has been admonished by human rights organizations for restricting press freedoms, prosecuting journalists. The Inter American Press Association calls its new media law, quote, “the most serious setback for freedom of the press in the recent history of Latin America.” So does it make you uncomfortable to be harbored by a government that goes after journalists, and do you see a double standard there?
And those in the US media wonder why Edward Snowden has refused to do interviews. He does not want to answer questions that purely consist of propagandistic talking points or conventional wisdom derived from smears.
Stephanopoulos had a brief exchange with Radack about the law and contended what Snowden revealed truly showed that the secret surveillance programs were legal, which Radack heavily contested.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That’s not what he’s saying, sir. He has also broken the law. Let me bring that now to Jesselyn Radack, who is also here with me right now. Julian Assange mentioned Edward Snowden’s father, who has also written — his attorney has written a letter to Eric Holder, the attorney general, saying that he believes that his son would be willing to come back to the United States if he would not be detained or imprisoned prior to trial, if he would not be subject to a gag order, if he would be tried in the venue of his choosing. Do you think it would make sense for Snowden to return under those circumstances?RADACK: I actually don’t. I have represented people like Thomas Drake, who was an NSA whistle-blower, who actually did go through every conceivable internal channel possible, including his boss, the inspector general of his agency, the Defense Department inspector general and two congressional committees, and the U.S. turned around and prosecuted him. And did so for espionage and threatened to tie him up for the rest of his life in jail. I think Snowden’s outlook is bleak here, and instead of focusing on Snowden and shooting the messenger, we should really focus on the crimes of the NSA. Because whatever laws Snowden may or may not have broken, they are infinitesimally small compared to the two major surveillance laws and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution that the NSA’s violated.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But these surveillance programs, as the president has pointed out, were passed by the Congress, are overseen by a court.
RADACK: Well, both of those are incorrect. Congress has not been fully informed. Only the–
STEPHANOPOULOS: They passed the laws, there is oversight, or there is (inaudible).
RADACK: OK, but there is a secret interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which nobody knows, except for the Intel Committee of Congress, and even they say that they think most Americans would be appalled by that. And to say that it’s been approved by the courts is a misnomer, because it gives the impression that federal courts have approved this, when in reality, it’s the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has rubber-stamped every single–
STEPHANOPOULOS: Which is a federal court.
RADACK: No, it is a secret court set up at the Justice Department that has federal judges on it. But last year, it approved 2,000 out of 2,000 applications. They hear only the government’s side, and they have never — they have rejected an application one time since 1978.
But, Stephanopoulos did not want to talk about what Snowden revealed. He did not want to seriously address the issue of whistleblowing or press freedom in the United States or the fact that WikiLeaks is still the target of a Justice Department investigation or even that Wired published a story on the FBI having a paid informant that attempted to infiltrate WikiLeaks.
He, like CNN’s Erin Burnett, wanted to show he was a tough television journalist who could take down Julian Assange. But one is not a better journalist if they can confront a leader of a leaks organization, whose right to publish and participate in freedom of the press is being directly targeted by a widespread investigation into him and his organization’s entire staff.
“A real journalist,” as New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan recently wrote, “is one who understands, at a cellular level, and doesn’t shy away from, the adversarial relationship between government and press – the very tension that America’s founders had in mind with the First Amendment.”
Under that partial definition, it would be hard to consider Stephanopoulos a real journalist, especially since he appears to revel in his ability to defend and parrot the positions of government officials when met with people like Assange or Radack, who have a commitment to defending truth-tellers with the courage to stand up to power.