Julian Assange

Opening Remarks and Q& A During the Wikileaks Press Conference

delivered 23 October, London, England

Audio mp3 of Address

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[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

Thank you, Gavin [McFadyean]. Because we don't have much time, I won't speak for long.

But this disclosure is about the truth. Phillip Knightly, the great investigative reporter and Australian, who, over the past 30 or 40 years has made the UK his home, said that "the first casualty of war is the truth." The attack on the truth by war begins long before war starts and continues long after a war ends.

In our release of these 400,000 documents about the Iraq war -- the intimate detail of that war from the U.S. perspective -- we hope to correct some of that attack on the truth that occurred before the war, during the war, and which has continued on since the war officially concluded.

In that material, the deaths of some 109,000 people are documented. In total, we declared 66,000 civilians. Working with the Iraq Body Count, we have seen that there are approximately 15,000 never previously documented or known cases of civilians who have been killed by violence in Iraq. That tremendous scale should not make us blind to the small human scale that occurs in this material. In fact, it is the deaths of one and two people [unclear 2:11] that killed the overwhelming number of people in Iraq.

Following our release of the Afghan War Diaries, we thought we would try and pool together a broader coalition, not just involving print, but one that had the emotionality and impact of TV journalism, and extra research from other groups. So we structured a collaboration between The Guardian, Spiegel, [The] New York Times -- our -- our three previous partners -- and new groups: The Bureau [of] Investigative Journalism, Iraq Body Count, whose knowledge of deaths in Iraq is unsurpassed, SVT (Swedish Television), Al-Jazeera, Channel Four, BBC Radio, and I'm sure I've missed some others -- yes, Le Monde.

That collaboration seems to have worked, and we'll see over the next few days what's to be made of it. But so far we can see a fairly strong response. We have seen, as of 3:00am this morning, 1500 news -- 1500 articles according to Google News, and of course all around the world we can see the result.

We make a promise to our sources, who go through incredible risks sometimes to get us material, that we will do justice to their efforts and get them the maximum political impact possible. And while I'm not sure that we have achieved the maximum possible, I think we're getting pretty close.

You'll see on warlogs.wikileaks.org, the interface that Kristinn spoke of that permits full text searching of the entire redacted collection, including Boolean terms; you can search for keywords like "OGA," (Other Government Agency), a euphemism typically for the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] or DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency].

We also partnered with [unclear 4:44] to produce a system where people who have information about these events can comment on them and rate them. Go to the web site and have a look at that. There's a lot of -- obviously there's a tremendous worldwide interest at the moment, so those -- those systems may be slow. But if you persevere across the day you will find them to be quite usable. It's what we use partially internally and the Iraq Body Count also has a system which they'll describe.

[Audio edited to include only comments from and questions to Julian Assange]

Q: Hey, Deborah Haynes, for the Times, and this is a question for Julian. The Pentagon spokesman saying -- or said last night that the names of 300 Iraqis have been released as part of the Iraq War Logs, and their lives could now be in danger. And are you worried that the careful vetting that you outlined this morning, and that you were so careful enough, and people's lives [might now] be put at risk?

Assange: No, I'm worried that the Press chooses to credibly report statements like that from the Pentagon. In fact, the Pentagon would not have been able to review our material in those few hours. It is simply logistically impossible. And we also have strong confidence in our redaction process, which is an opt in process. So that statement by the Pentagon, presumably at its base, is referring to their own internal review of their collection of significant actions for Iraq. It is not referring to our material. But you'll notice that they do not say that fact. Instead they try and issue some deceptive statement to fool the world Press, as they did last time with some similar statements...reporting something that is not true.  

Q: Paul Harrison from Sky News. Julian, you said in your opening statement that you make a promise to all your sources that you will, in quotes, do them "justice" to all their -- for all "their efforts." But given that we've seen a very much a shrugging shoulders attitude or turning a blind eye from the Americans thus far, according to these documents, will that not continue -- and therefore the efforts of your sources may well largely be in vain? Or have you heard positive noises from the U.S. already?

Assange: Well, it's an interesting question, as to to how responsive government is to the condemnation of its people, and the rights of other people. But, the shrugging of shoulders is, of course, the second arm of powerful people. The first arm is silence. So, we've gotten beyond silence, and now we see an attempt to act in a nonchalant manner about something that is very serious. That does not mean that it is not treated seriously. Rather, there is, or at least was certainly early on with the Afghan material, an attempt to make it look like it would not be treated seriously, to frame the material as if it was of no consequence. I highly recommend a Daily Show episode which collected all those "There's nothing new in this material" reports for Afghanistan.

And as it has turned out, of course, that is not true. In fact, according to Pew research total war reportage in the United States for that week increased 300% from 6% to 18%. The approval rating for the Afghan war decreased approximately 15%, and Barack Obama's personal rating, depending on which poll you read, decreased somewhere between 4 and 8%. 

So, those are only, of course, proved because they speak about the whole, rather than individual cases. But we can see continual reportage far away -- high quality reportage in the past two weeks, Norway and L'espresso in Italy. Based upon that Afghan material, a number of parliamentary inquires. I will be speaking at the U.N. early next month in relation to the Afghan material. So I expect the same thing to happen for this material from -- from Iraq, and maybe even more. We're talking about 5 times the number of deaths in the same period.

We also put together, I think, a much stronger coalition, a much broader coalition this time involving not just print organizations but human rights groups and lawyers and so on. So I think we're going to see some concrete effects, if not just the perceptual effects about how wars are conducted.

An interesting note is that -- when I made the opening about the truth being the first casualty of war -- we actually see that most wars that are started by democracies involve lying. [The] Vietnam War and the Gulf of Tonkin incident involved lying. The start of the Iraq war involved very serious lies which were repeated and amplified by some parts of the Press.

Which leads us to say what? Not that isn't the world terrible because there's a lot of lying by officials. But rather leads us to a great hope that democracies don't start wars unless there's lies. So if there's enough truth early on enough, then perhaps we won't see these kind of wars.

Q: Hi, question for Julian. Ed Caesar, from the Sunday Times. There's been some suggestions in the hacking community that the systems that Wikileaks use -- uses don't offer sources the full protection that you advertise on the site. Can you comment on that?

Assange: There is a lot of tabloid Press surrounding our organization, and, of course, every organization that has a high profile, who's involved in controversial activities. I have seen no reports that are credible.


Research Note: Audio of presser conference edited to include only comments from and questions directed to Julian Assange.

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