Speaking at an event in Sydney, Australia 8th August, Davis recalled how he’d closely followed Assange’s activities in the first half of that year in order to make a series of programmes on the WikiLeaks founder’s life for Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service - he ended up with so much material he was able to compile a documentary, ‘Inside WikiLeaks’.
In particular, Davis was granted intimate insight into the release of the Afghan War Logs - 90,000 US military incident and intelligence reports compiled January 2004 - December 2009. Provided to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning, the files offered damning and previously hidden evidence of war crimes perpetrated by Allied forces in the country, including a number of extrajudicial killings.Publication was ostensibly to be a collaborative effort in which WikiLeaks and a number of mainstream media outlets, most prominently The Guardian and New York Times, would work in concert curating the files and preparing them for publication – The Guardian went to the extent of establishing a dedicated operations room, dubbed “the bunker”, in order to facilitate the project.
Davis spent some time there, and feels his “eye-witness observations” serve to dynamite two “enduring slurs” against Assange’s character – namely, that he had a “cavalier” attitude towards the lives of individuals named in the documents his organisation released, and his lack of journalistic professionalism in comparison to the mainstream reporters with whom he collaborated. In fact, he suggests the reality is quite the reverse.
“All the statements made by journalists he worked with in the books and articles they’ve written and TV shows they’ve appeared on about their integrity versus Julian’s lack thereof, I can say are complete lies. I’m witness to it. Nick Davies, Julian’s main contact at The Guardian, has repeatedly made the claim Julian had a cavalier attitude to human life - that's simply not true. If there was any cavalier attitude, it was among Guardian journalists. They had disdain for the impact of this material, a type of ‘gallows humour’ as to what would happen those named in the documents if they were released,” Davis said.
He explained that at no point in the bunker did he see Guardian journalists "express any concern whatsoever” about putting people’s lives at risk, although Assange did do so on several occasions. Moreover, the issue of exposing the identities of thousands of people – an inevitable and obvious consequence of publishing tens of thousands of sensitive documents – was "never taken seriously” by the reporters involved, he alleges.Chillingly though, Davis claimed he did once witness a discussion between Davies and fellow reporter David Leigh – when Assange wasn’t present - about whether the name of a particular person should be published. Davies was steadfastly opposed, albeit purely out of fear of governmental reprisal, rather than anxieties over the individual in question’s safety.
“But we’re not publishing it,” Leigh allegedly responded - proof, Davis suggested, Assange hadn't been chosen as The Guardian’s partner, not sacrificial.
“This was highly alarming to me, and I raised it with Julian. He’s a genius but he has a certain naivety about him - he thought highly of these guys, felt they were part of a collective effort and all in it together, rather than him being the source and them being the journalists. He didn’t quite believe they’d be pushing him out onto the plank, then saying ‘it’s not us, we’re just reporters’. It’s shameful,” Davis said.
Leigh – who allegedly “fawned all over” Assange in the bunker – would go on to co-author 2011’s WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy with the notorious Luke Harding. Underlining the journalist’s negligent approach to operational security, in that book the pair decided - contrary to Assange’s explicit warnings - to use the confidential encryption password for the entire, uncensored ‘Cablegate’ archive as a chapter heading, which resulted in the dumping of hundreds of thousands of State Department cables on the web without the selective redactions Assange and other WikiLeaks staffers had prepared for them over a period of eight months.
Walls Closing In
Davis went on to recall that as the War Logs’ mutually-agreed publication deadline loomed, both the Times and Guardian grew increasingly anxious about being associated with the material. His film, shot just prior to the release, documents this transformation in real-time – in one highly illuminating segment, Assange informs Gavin MacFayden, then-director of the University of London’s Centre for Investigative Journalism, the New York Times has requested WikiLeaks ‘scoop’ them by publishing analysis of the Afghan War Logs first.
The ‘naivety’ Davis referenced is palpably on display – “they want to report on our reporting, so they can claim they’re not involved!” Assange splutters bemusedly, in evident disbelief a newspaper would actively be resistant to publishing a seismic exclusive. As Davis said, the footage makes for thoroughly “chilling” viewing in the present day, given Assange is “now in jail as a result of that subterfuge”.
Simultaneously, Assange himself was also growing increasingly anxious, in his case about the identities of informants and other individuals featured in the logs being revealed – no effort had been made by Guardian journalists to remove a single one, and despite repeated requests he wasn’t provided with staff or technical support to redact them. As a result, the WikiLeaks chief took up the “moral responsibility” for the files – his requests for publication to be delayed in order to give him enough time to adequately “cleanse” the documents were ignored, so he was compelled to “literally work all night” to redact around 10,000 names, Davis said.
In a perverse irony, the documentarian also exposed how despite Assange ultimately acquiescing to publishing the Logs Sunday 25th July 2010 in order to allow The Guardian and Times to ‘report’ on the story the next day, the plan was disrupted by technical issues with the WikiLeaks website.As Assange struggled to get the content online, Davis said he was inundated with “panicked, hysterical calls” from The Times and Guardian, which grew more hysterical as the day wore on – the two outlets were literally on the verge of ‘stopping the presses’, as the front-page splashes on the Afghan War Logs were entirely predicated on the notion WikiLeaks had published the documents the day prior.
It would take several days for WikiLeaks to publish the War Logs - The Guardian and the Times nevertheless ran their scheduled stories on 26th July 2010, reporting on the release of the logs, despite the fact they hadn’t actually appeared on the WikiLeaks website.
“Julian was their fall guy. They printed a lie. These two high priests of journalistic integrity very happily colluded, reporting on something that hadn’t happened. The entire searchable Afghan War Logs interface was the sole creation of The Guardian, they promoted it on their website and in the paper, but then they turned round and said ‘we didn’t publish this, Julian did’. They set him up from the start. They should be in jail too,” Davis concluded.