Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Julian Assange Appears At The Cambridge Union Society

By Jerry Smith Mar 16 2011

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is still under house arrest, appeared last night and spoke to members of the Cambridge Union Society at Cambridge University. The Cambridge Union Society, or more commonly referred to as "the Cambridge Union" or "the Union," is a debating society founded in 1815. It is the largest society at the University of Cambridge, one of the oldest student debating societies in the world, and has developed a worldwide reputation as a symbol of free speech and open debate.

Over 700 students showed up at the Union to see Assange, who was making his first public appearance in months, besides court dates. Some people waited over 2 hours for the doors to open. No journalists except student journalists from the university's two papers were allowed in, organizers kept the rest out.

Lauren Davidson, the Cambridge Union president said:
"We create intimate settings and many speakers accept our invitations on the basis that they can speak frankly and personally to a contained group of union members."

"We are a private members' club, and we aim to give our members the opportunity to engage with the most interesting and influential figures in today's society,"

"A lack of press presence is our default position, as opposed to the other way around."

"Sometimes we let the press in but most of the time we don't."
When asked if Assange had asked for the media blackout, Davidson replied:
"It is a decision we made together."
Assange started the evening off by remarking that it was good "to get out of the house" and expressed some concerns about the restriction on reporting. He said:
"It seems to me that their restriction on recording is a bit rough, but I support it to a degree. Otherwise it would have become a press conference."
Assange spoke about the fruit-seller from Tunisia who set himself on fire to protest government corruption and said:
"His act took what was an online (campaign) about what was happening in Tunisia and expressed it in physical form. The cables showed the US would support the military over the Tunisian regime. This changed the dynamic between reformists and regimists."
He also spoke about how the diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks published made it harder for the U.S. government to continue to support some regimes and said:
"The Tunisian cables showed clearly that if it came down to it, the U.S., if it came down to a fight between the military on the one hand, and (President Zine al-Abidine) Ben Ali's political regime on the other, the U.S. would probably support the military."

"That is something that must have also caused neighboring countries to Tunisia some thought. That is that if they militarily intervened, they may not be on the same side as the United States."
Assange told the audience that the releasing of the US diplomatic cables about Tunisia had "changed part of the dynamics" in the country and said:
”The battle between those who want to use the Internet as a tool of liberation and those who want to use the internet as a tool of control, mass control, is not over. It’s only just beginning.”
The Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was forced to flee the country in January.

When protests and uprisings started elsewhere in the region, Assange said that WikiLeaks began to pump out information on key players Egypt, Libya and Bahrain "as fast as we could". President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt stepped down in February after 18 days of protests.

Assange said that the cables were published, not just so that the people in those countries could find out what was going on:
"because many of them already knew what was going on in great and grotesque detail, but rather so that it would not be possible for the West to stand up and support the (authoritarian leaders)."
Assange talked about how the cables released on Omar Suleiman, Egypt's vice president and former intelligence chief, prevented the United States from supporting him as a potential successor and said:
"It was not possible for (U.S. Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton to publicly come out and support Mubarak's regime."
During his speech Assange warned that the Internet was an obstacle to free speech, claimed that the Internet, especially social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, give governments the ability to easily spy on people and said:
"There was actually a Facebook revolt in Cairo three or four years ago. It was very small... After it, Facebook was used to round up all the principal participants and they were then beaten, interrogated and incarcerated. So while the Internet has in some ways an ability to let us know to an unprecedented level what government is doing and to let us co-operate with each other to hold repressive governments and repressive corporations to account, it is also the greatest spying machine the world has ever seen."

"The internet has a massive power to hold government to account"
Assange also claimed that technology was helping tyrannical regimes and said:
"It is not a technology that favors freedom of speech. It is not a technology that favors human rights. It is not a technology that favors civil life. Rather it is a technology that can be used to set up a totalitarian spying regime, the likes of which we have never seen."
He added:
"Or, on the other hand, taken by us, taken by activists, and taken by all those who want a different trajectory for the technological world, it can be something we all hope for."
Assange expressed support for U.S soldier Bradley Manning and said:
"Our support for his plight cannot be stated too loudly."
Manning is being held at the Quantico marine corps base under horrible conditions and is accused of leaking the embarrassing diplomatic cables, the classified documents about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the 'Collateral Murder' video to WikiLeaks.

Manning is in solitary confinement 23 hours a day in a windowless 6-by-12-foot cell, shackled and forced to sleep naked due to supposed fears that he may commit suicide. He is currently facing 24 charges, but one of the more serious charges against Manning is 'aiding the enemy'. If found guilty Manning could spend the rest of his life behind bars or get the death penalty.

The U.S. government has been trying to build a case against Assange in the US for publishing the cables, documents and video. Most recently U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan upheld her order for Twitter to give U.S. investigators the information it had on Assange, Manning and three others “associated with WikiLeaks,” Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir, US computer researcher Jacob Appelbaum, and Dutch volunteer for WikiLeaks Rop Gonggrijp.

Talking about the United States Assange said:
"Censorship by the US is every bit as pernicious as well-documented censorship in the Soviet Union."

"Wikileaks is facing attacks from the very peak of the United States media, and media in the western world more generally."
Assange added that the companies that dropped WikiLeaks:
"were acting at the behest of a global system of patronage which has its centre of gravity in Washington.”
Audience member Jonathan Lee, a 20-year-old maths student from Trinity Hall said about Assange:
"Overall I think what he's done is remarkable. I think he's shown us that governments try to keep vast amounts of information secret and that most of it should be out in public.
Lee's friend, fellow audience member and law student, 18-year-old Chris Monk replied to Lee by saying:
"Oh come on, most of the stuff that was released we already knew about. And you can't disagree with the idea that some information needs to be kept secret. I mean, what possible good was there in releasing that list of top terrorist targets?"
Robin McGhee, a 19-year-old Oxford student and audience member who lives in Cambridge said:
"I respect him as a person, for what he has done and what WikiLeaks has published. But as someone who stands for openness and transparency, I have serious reservations about how closed he is about his own story."
Lawyers for Assange have filed an appeal against Judge Howard Riddle's ruling that Assange should be extradited to Sweden because he felt Assange could get a fair trial in Sweden and that his extradition to Sweden would not violate his human rights.

Assange has been fighting extradition to Sweden where he has not been charged with anything but is wanted for questioning by the Swedish police about accusations of rape and sexual molestation made against him by Sofia Wilen and Anna Ardin. Assange denies the allegations and says he had consensual sex with the two women.

Assange and his lawyers fear that if he is extradited to Sweden he may then be extradited to the United States, where he could face torture, confinement at Guantanamo Bay, both, or even the death penalty.

Here is a picture showing the queue curving around the Round Church taken by Michael Derringer:

Here is a picture taken from the carpark near the Maypole by Michael Derringer:


  1. AnonymousJune 19, 2011

    Robin McGhee, a 19-year-old Oxford student and audience member who lives in Cambridge said:

    "I respect him as a person, for what he has done and what WikiLeaks has published. But as someone who stands for openness and transparency, I have serious reservations about how closed he is about his own story."

    Closed he is about his own story, is she crazy?

  2. AnonymousJune 19, 2011

    Looks like lots of people want to see him.