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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Time Magazine's Richard Stengel Interviews Julian Assange

Julian Assange is no stranger to tough questions. Time Magazine's Richard Stengel recently interviewed the 39-year-old Assange, and was able to get some answers from the controversial Wikileaks founder. The two met via Skype Nov. 30.

Launched in 2006, Wikileaks has published many sensitive and classified documents from various secret and anonymous sources.

What is the purpose of Wikileaks? Assange explained to Stengel that Wikileaks is dedicated to a more open and transparent society, one in which governments are not permitted to employ unethical methods and practices. He desires for government leaders to say in public the same things they say in private. In other words, Assange feels that they should be practicing what they preach.

"...Organizations can be efficient, open and honest, or they can be closed, conspiratorial and inefficient," he said.

Many government officials, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have stated that Wikileaks, by exposing this sensitive information, has put many lives in danger.

"This sort of nonsense about lives being put in jeopardy is trotted out every time a big military or intelligence organization is exposed by the press," said Assange.

Julian Assange (MSNBC Photo) 

Assange explained that there have been no deaths, nor has anyone been wrongfully imprisoned as a result of the information that Wikileaks has published. He compared the record of Wikileaks to that of organizations and governments that he feels have been responsible for thousands of deaths.

When asked if he felt if he were practicing what Stengel called "civil disobedience" in order to expose wrongdoing at a much higher level, Assange answered that he felt Wikileaks was practicing "civil obedience" in its attempt to make the world a more just place. According to Assange, in some 100 legal attacks against Wikileaks, none have been successful in proving any wrongdoing.

While many tend to feel that the US is one of the most free societies in the world, Assange disagrees. He explained that the US has become less and less free in the last thirty years.

"And what has kept the United States in check, to the degree that it has been kept in check from abusing its powers, is this federalism, this strength of the states," he said.

But Assange does not see the US as the only nation guilty of unethical practices. He mentioned China as a nation that he would like Wikileaks to focus on in the future, but for different reasons. In his opinion, when nations are more politically-based, rather than fiscally, there is still potential for change; when money becomes a prime focus, there is no hope. Assange feels that China is on its way to a more open society.

While Assange appears to believe that he is a messenger of truth and information, a savior of journalism and transparency, he is also aware that this role is a dangerous one. He has been quoted several times as saying that his life is in danger.

Assange also has been the focus of attacks on his character. Most recently, he was charged with sexual misconduct in Sweden.

According to the UK's Media Guardian, Assange said, "This case in Sweden is a travesty. No person should be exposed to that type of investigation and persecution."

There is speculation that Assange will soon face charges in the Unites States under the Espionage Act.

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