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A rare glimpse of Julian Assange

WikiLeaks founder offers insight into the release of the Afghanistan documents at a rare press confe

Julian Assange gave a rare press conference yesterday, and some intriguing details emerged about the publication of the leaked Afghanistan documents that lend even more weight to this already extraordinary story.

Early on in the press conference, Assange referred to some of the incidents detailed in the documents as "war crimes", but then refused to clarify what he meant by this, dismissing multiple questions on the subject with increasing annoyance. Eventually, he said thay "it is up to a court to decide if something is a crime, but there seems to be prima facie evidence here", referring specifically to the Task Force 373 reports.

Assange dismissed any suggestion that the information he helped to release would cause deterioration in relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, or be useful to the Taliban as propaganda, saying: "There is no perfect information. The truth is all we have." This was a theme throughout; as you would expect, Assange clearly believes there are very few circumstances in which information should be withheld, even if it holds the potential for danger in the future.

However, he was unexpectedly complimentary about the US military:

Outside of the PRs, army personnel are basically engineers, who build roads and fire guns. They are frank and direct, and the top people mostly won't lie to you unless they're repeating a lie that someone else told them.

Surprisingly, it also emerged that WikiLeaks has only been through about 2,000 documents in real detail, instead using a tagging and keyword system to flag up certain types of document likely to require closer vetting.

Of course, the site is still in possession of about 15,000 documents that still require what Assange terms the "harm minimisation process" and will probably need to be redacted before they can be published. Despite not having actually read the bulk of the leaked material, Assange strongly defended this system as "responsible publication".

He obviously would not comment on the identity of the original whistleblower, but did confirm that WikiLeaks had "committed funds" to Bradley Manning's laywer "for such time when he seeks civilian counsel". Manning, a US army intelligence analyst, is now in custody in Kuwait and has been charged with improperly downloading state department cables.

Assange described Manning as "the only alleged US military source" for the documents so far, but went on to say that "as far as we see, there is no evidence and no correlation" linking Manning to this leak.

The rare opportunity to quiz Assange in person naturally drew the world's media in droves, and he seemed very happy to talk as long as journalists could still think of questions.

The assembled hacks had much to ask about the details of the documents' release and his aims and ambitions in doing so. But as the conference went on, people started to drift away, and the realisation dawned: Assange is no expert on Afghanistan, and could only speak about the contents of the documents and their implications in the most generalised way.

He's made the material available; now it's up to us to make what we can of it.