Rolling Stone journalist Michael Hastings was with WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange when the pretrial military hearing for accused Army whistleblower Private Bradley Manning was taking place in Fort Meade, Maryland, last month. Hastings says the military’s case against Manning, coupled with President Obama’s recent authorization of a measure expanding indefinite detention anywhere in the world in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), has added further urgency to Assange’s effort to avoid extradition from Britain. “Julian Assange’s fear is that he will be extradited to Sweden…and then there will be some kind of media campaign where the U.S. government or the Swedish government starts leaking things about ‘Oh, Assange helped the Iranians’ or ‘Assange helped the Taliban with this information,'” Hastings notes. “And then they’ll say, ‘Well, you know, we need to try him as a spy.’ And though that case might be very, very difficult to prove, it’s the threat of it that, in my mind, is so damning.” [includes rush transcript]
Amy Goodman: I wanted to switch gears and ask you about the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, Michael Hastings. Rolling Stone is out with your piece today based on your interview with Assange. You were with him when the pretrial military hearing for accused Army whistleblower, Private Bradley Manning, was taking place in Fort Meade, Maryland. At that time, we spoke to Guardian reporter Ed Pilkington, when the pretrial opened, and he described the scene inside, noting Assange’s lawyers were there.
Ed Pilkington: On the left side was Julian Assange’s lawyer, who is attending the trial. But rather humiliatingly for them, and they’re very cross about it, they’re being relegated to the public benches and being withheld full access to the trial, which, they argue, is completely wrong, because Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, as we know, are all also being investigated by the Department of Justice in a criminal investigation, in which Bradley Manning is likely to be a main witness. So they say their case is intimately tied into the Bradley Manning hearing, and they should therefore be given full access.
Amy Goodman: That was Ed Pilkington of The Guardian, while Bradley Manning was inside that Fort Meade pretrial that is now leading to a court-martial. You were sitting with Julian Assange in London—in Britain.
Michael Hastings: Right.
Amy Goodman: Can you talk about how he was monitoring this?
Michael Hastings: Yes. I mean, the time I spent with Julian, the Bradley Manning trial was his primary focus. And it’s very important, what’s actually happening in Manning trials, vis-à-vis Julian Assange. And the key is that the Department of Justice is investigating WikiLeaks and trying to flip Bradley Manning as a witness to basically say that Manning and Assange committed this sort of conspiracy for espionage, which is completely nuts, to be honest, you know, when you’re talking about an organization that is basically doing, sort of in a different and revolutionary way, in many sense, but they’re essentially doing kind of a journalism and what should definitely be protected free speech.
Amy Goodman: The concern of Julian Assange right now, the possibility that he would be extradited to the United States, with the NDAA just passed, that President Obama said he would veto and then he passed, that said anyone can be picked up anywhere, anytime, in this country or outside, and held without charge indefinitely—
Michael Hastings: Yeah.
Amy Goodman: Is Julian Assange fearful of this?
Michael Hastings: I believe, yes. Well, I know he is. I mean, this is—this is the nightmare scenario. Now, people in Sweden and in England will say, “Oh, no, that’s never going to happen.” I wouldn’t be—if I was in Mr. Assange’s shoes, I would not take those—I would be a little skeptical of those words, as well, because we’ve seen some of the gross abuses that can happen. So, yes, Julian Assange’s fear is that he will be extradited to Sweden—and they’re going to make that decision on February 1st—and then there will be some kind of media campaign where the U.S. government or the Swedish government starts leaking things about “Oh, you know, Assange helped the Iranians” or “Assange, you know, helped the Taliban with this information” and sort of lay the groundwork. And then they’ll say, “Well, you know, we need to try him as a spy.” And though that case might be very, very difficult to prove, it’s the threat of it that, in my mind, is so damning.
Amy Goodman: Michael Hastings, I want to thank you for being with us, contributing editor at Rolling Stone. His new book is called The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan.