In an interview with 60 Minutes, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange compares his values to those of the Founding Fathers of the United States and argues that he is actually playing “inside the rules.” He defends his actions by leaning heavily on the First Amendment, stating that “our founding values are those of the U.S. revolution.”
On the possibility of facing prosecution in the U.S. for leaking sensitive diplomatic cables and military documents, he argues: “There’s been no precedent that I’m aware of in the past 50 years of prosecuting a publisher for espionage. It is just not done. Those are the rules. You do not do it.”
Both the U.S. Justice Department and the Pentagon are conducting a criminal investigation against Assange and WikiLeaks, but if WikiLEaks is charged with a crime for publishing classified documents, it begs the question of whether other publishers such as the New York Times (which also published part of the documents) could also be prosecuted. Of course, the U.S. government is not currently going after the New York Times. It is going after WikiLeaks. But Assange makes the case that should not be tolerated:
If we’re talking about creating threats to small publishers to stop them publishing, the U.S. has lost its way. It has abrogated its founding traditions. It has thrown the First Amendment in the bin. Because publishers must be free to publish.
Below are some key exchanges from the interview transcript. Watch the whole interview (Part I above and Part II below).
On whether WikiLeaks is anti-American:
Kroft: There’s a perception on the part of some people who believe that your agenda right now is anti-American.
Assange: Not at all. In fact, our founding values are those of the U.S. revolution. They are those of the people like Jefferson and Madison. And we have a number of Americans in our organization. If you’re a whistleblower and you have material that is important, we will accept it, we will defend you and we will publish it. You can’t turn away material simply because it comes from the United States.
On whether WikiLeaks is playing outside the rules:
Kroft: You’re shocked? Someone in the Australian government said that, “Look, if you play outside the rules you can’t expect to be protected by the rules.” And you played outside the rules. You’ve played outside the United States’ rules.
Assange: No. We’ve actually played inside the rules. We didn’t go out to get the material. We operated just like any U.S. publisher operates. We didn’t play outside the rules. We played inside the rules.
Kroft: There’s a special set of rules in the United States for disclosing classified information. There is longstanding
Assange: There’s a special set of rules for soldiers. For members of the State Department, who are disclosing classified information. There’s not a special set of rules for publishers to disclose classified information. There is the First Amendment. It covers the case. And there’s been no precedent that I’m aware of in the past 50 years of prosecuting a publisher for espionage. It is just not done. Those are the rules. You do not do it.
On setting a dangerous precedent for future leaks:
Kroft: There are people that believe that it has everything to do with the next threat. That if they don’t come after you now that what they have done is essentially endorsed small, powerful organization with access to very powerful information releasing it outside their control. And if they let you get away it, then they are encouraging…
Assange: Then what? They will have to have freedom of the press?
Kroft: That it’s encouragement to you…
Assange: And? And?
Kroft: …or to some other organization?
Assange: And to every other publisher. Absolutely correct. It will be encouragement to every other publisher to publish fearlessly. That’s what it will encourage.
Kroft: To publish information much more dangerous than this information.
Assange: If we’re talking about creating threats to small publishers to stop them publishing, the U.S. has lost its way. It has abrogated its founding traditions. It has thrown the First Amendment in the bin. Because publishers must be free to publish.
On being an activist:
Kroft: It’s a dirty word. And people think that what you’re trying to do is to sabotage the workings of government.
Assange: No. We’re not that type of activists. We are free press activists. It’s not about saving the whales. It’s about giving people the information they need to support whaling or not support whaling. Why? That is the raw ingredients that is needed to make a just and civil society. And without that you’re just sailing in the dark.