How John Pilger met Wikileaks’ Julian Assange

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In an exclusive clip from an interview with The Canary’s Pablo Navarrete, Australian journalist and filmmaker John Pilger speaks about how he first became aware of the work of Wikileaks‘ Julian Assange. 

On October 27th and 28th 2021, at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, the US government of Joe Biden will appeal the January 2021 UK court judgement that Assange shouldn’t be extradited to the USA, where he faces a possible prison sentence of 175 years.

For more information; read The Canary’s coverage of the Assange case, watch John Pilger’s documentary The War You Don’t See and find out about the UK-based Don’t Extradite Assange campaign.

Video transcript

Pablo Navarrete: I think few things for me exemplify the darkness in the political class in Britain, as the Julian Assange case. I know it’s a case that’s very close to your heart. Tell me a little bit about how you came to this case?

John Pilger: I think you’re right to mention the Assange case, as almost a microcosm of the impact of the extremism that has swept across societies that hold up a facade saying “democracy”. And they’re not – they’re not accountable. Yes, greed is an element in this but it’s about very hard-nosed ideology. And it’s an ideology that believes that at best in two-thirds-societies: with the middle-third, struggling as best they can; and the bottom-third, abandoned; and the top-third, in charge. The word “class” is almost never used. And certainly class has changed a great deal – certainly in my lifetime. But this is the issue that we’re talking about and with that, of course, has come a state of almost permanent warfare.

And the great majority of this permanent – almost permanent state of war – is an increasingly extremist West led by an increasingly extremist United States. So when you consider that background, along comes an organisation called Wikileaks, whose founder – Julian Assange – has invented a way for us to find out what these extremists are thinking: what they’re planning, what they’re doing, why they start wars. It’s a window into their cynicism. And Wikileaks got going really about 2006. But it came to international prominence with, as you’ll remember, the distribution of the Collateral Murder video which showed an American Apache helicopter gunning down civilians, including journalists, including children, in the middle of Baghdad, and the crew mocking their victims. It had a searing effect. Anyone watching it unless their humanity had departed them completely, would be absolutely shocked as they could be by it. And that brought to prominence Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange, an Australian. Now, I’d been following the rise, if you like, or the development of Assange and WikiLeaks for a couple of years. I hadn’t met him. I found it very interesting.

When Julian arrived here in London, in 2009, I believe, and WikiLeaks really set up their headquarters as part of the Centre for Investigative Journalism, which was then run by a mutual friend, Gavin MacFadyen, the late Gavin MacFadyen. And it was through Gavin that I met Julian. I was then making a film, coincidentally, called The War You Don’t See and it was about the role that the media play in the starting of wars: the way they play the role of beating war drums and preparing us for unnecessary wars and invasions.

Read on...

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It was a history as much as concentrating on the most notorious recent example, that is the invasion of Iraq based on lies and the invasion of Afghanistan. 

I mean what you’re saying is that money and money making are at the centre of modern war and it’s almost self perpetuating. 

Julian Assange: Yes, and it’s becoming worse. 

John Pilger: That’s when I first met him. I found him, almost a self effacing character. 

The first Wikileaks releases had happened and had had such an enormous impact. He was clearly feeling the impact of that. But then we sat down and we had an interview that must have run for an hour and a half, in which he produced this almost encyclopaedic knowledge of  what Wikileaks had, but also a dry sense of humour. His ability to communicate was extraordinary. And I wished I’d been able to use more. 

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