Julian Assange on Manmohan Singh's disputation of the authenticity of the U.S. Embassy cables
“I am very encouraged by what's happened in India,” says Julian Assange, Editor-in-Chief of WikiLeaks, referring to the public response to The Hindu's agenda-shaping publication, over 21 consecutive days, of a spectrum of articles based on the India Cables, accessed by the newspaper through WikiLeaks. Noting that “India has terrible corruption and something must be done about it,” he speaks warmly of “so many people... now pushing strongly against it,” including “the Gandhi-ist” Anna Hazare. He suggests that courageous acts by individuals elsewhere, for example in Tunisia, offer “a method that will provide widespread will to battle against corruption.”
Mr. Assange is genuinely distressed and not a little outraged by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's disputation in Parliament of the authenticity of the India Cables, his Lok Sabha statement that the government “cannot confirm the veracity, contents or even the existence of such communication.”
The WikiLeaks chief has strong words to say on this:
“We have not come across this reaction and that reaction disturbed me. Because Hillary Clinton had been involved in informing the Indian government, in December, as well as many other governments, that this was coming. There has been no question as to the credibility of any document we have ever published in the last four years, let alone the [U.S. Embassy] cables – which have been authenticated by the very aggressive action of the State Department towards us and by hundreds of journalists from the most reputable institutions across the world.
“That is why I said I find that statement a deliberate, knowing attempt to mislead the Indian population...Because it is directly from Prime Minister Singh's mouth and he knows better than to do that. While I have heard – I have no proof but the consensus seems to be that – he is not personally corrupt, here's a clear attempt to cover up for the possible corruption of other people. Rather than simply playing it straight, which he should have done, and say, ‘Look, there are allegations. They are serious and we will investigate them and come to the truth of the matter and give a full report to Parliament.'
“I think if he had taken that approach, he would have been served a lot better. So he has acted against his own interests and acted against the interests of his party, which is odd. So I would suggest it means that he has a habit that he was following rather than thinking things through – and a habit of reactively covering up allegations of corruption.”
These observations were made in response to one of my questions during a one-hour interview given to The Hindu at Ellingham Hall, a stately Georgian country house set amidst acres and acres of farmland in the county of Norfolk. Here, as part of his bail conditions, the WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief is a house guest of his friend, strong supporter, and free speech campaigner, Vaughan Smith — former British Army officer and the founder of London's Frontline Club.
When we arrive at the Hall, early for the 2 p.m. interview, on Friday, April 8, we are greeted courteously by Mr. Smith. As we busy ourselves setting up the cameras and digital recorders in a tastefully decorated drawing room overlooking the grounds, Mr. Assange wanders in, gives us some practical advice on the set-up, and goes off for a walk across the fields. When he returns, he is completely relaxed and engaged with the hard copies I have brought him of the WikiLeaks coverage in 21 consecutive issues of The Hindu, and with the impending interview.
First, he is impressed by “a spectrum of publishing in India” which, in his view, is comparable with WikiLeaks' positive experience with its regional partners in Latin America – “the local focus is able to really burrow into important details.”
Secondly, “I am tempted to say, based upon my reading of The Hindu, that it is in a position to report more freely than these other papers are in their respective countries.” He offers an interesting hypothesis on what has made this possible.
Responding to my question on the impact of the Embassy cables on countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, Mr. Assange offers us and The Hindu's readers a fascinating insight into what has happened and is in progress across this region and WikiLeaks' role in all this.