Thursday marks two years that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and to mark that dubious anniversary Assange and his attorneys hosted a conference call before reporters around the globe on Wednesday morning, where they called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice to end their four-year investigation of him and WikiLeaks.
That investigation originated after WikiLeaks published thousands of previously classified U.S. State Department and related documents online about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and U.S. dealings with other countries. But Assange contends that he acted as a journalist and should not be be prosecuted for bringing to light documents provided to him by whistleblowers inside the U.S. Government. And he says he doesn't believe Holder when the Attorney General says he doesn't want to imprison reporters.
"The dealing with sources, protecting them, enabling them to engage in a safe communication is a natural part of the national security reporting process," Assange said. "The DOJ's weasel words in our analysis are designed to split off national security reporters from those reporters who simply report the contents of a press conference. National security reporters are required to have intimate interactions in order to assess and clarify and investigate the nature of the material that they are dealing with. So I call on Eric Holder today to immediately drop the ongoing national security investigation against WikiLeaks or resign."
Assange has been living at the Ecuadorian embassy in London for the past two years after Ecuador offered him asylum, but that asylum has not been recognized by the U.K or Sweden, where he faces the prospect of criminal charges related to sexual misconduct allegations. Assange insists he's innocent in that case, and today his attorney said at four different times his lawyers have offered to testify to Swedish authorities, whether in writing or on Skype, but they say prosecutors there have refused to respond to that request.
When asked by one reporter on how tough it must be to be required physically to remain in one house or else lose his freedom altogether, Assange said there are other people out in the world who face more difficult circumstances, and referred to Chelsea Manning, the former U.S. Army solider who was sentenced to 35 years last year for alleged national security disclosures that he leaked to WikiLeaks.
Despite his sequestration, Assange's attorney, Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, says that WikiLeaks and Assange continue to be extremely active. Ratner says that the group was instrumental in guaranteeing that Edward Snowden could leave Hong Kong and get temporary asylum from Russia. "But for that, Edward Snowden would be in a U.S. prison," Ratner says, adding that WikiLeaks also continues to release documents regarding the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership as well.
But the "bear in the room," Ratner says, remains the criminal investigation in the U.S. against WikiLeaks and Assange.
Twenty-six international human rights, fair trial, and jurist organizations and 33 Latin American civil society organizations have criticized Sweden for what they say has been a violation of Assange's fundamental human rights, and are calling for the U.S. to disband the grand jury investigating Assange.
It wasn't all high intensity on the call. Assange said that though the broadcast transmission was spotty, he has been watching the World Cup, and says he's rooting for Ecuador, though he says that Brazil could also take it all.
And he got into a bit of a heated exchange with a British Channel 4 reporter, who challenged Assange, asking if Assange was so into transparency, why would he be afraid of dealing with the charges that the Swedish government has against him? "If he goes to Sweden that's a one-way ticket to the U.S.," Ratner interjected, prompting the reporter to then ask why Assange couldn't answer the question for himself (though he initially attempted to before allowing his attorneys to speak).
When asked if, with all of the attention on whistleblower Edward Snowden for leaking documents about U.S. government surveillance in the past year, he was no longer capable of making as big an impact, Assange quoted the late U.S. author Joseph Heller, who, when asked why none of his other work carried the power of his best-selling Catch-22
, was quoted as saying "well, neither has anyone else."