Rusbridger was at the helm of the British newspaper between 1995 and 2015, and it was during his watch that The Guardian published some of the most consequential stories about US dirty secrets based on leaked material. He collaborated with Julian Assange when the paper was writing about Afghanistan, the Iraq war logs and diplomatic cables. Edward Snowden’s leaks exposing mass electronic surveillance by the US went through the newsroom under Rusbridger as well.
Assange is now in a maximum-security prison in the UK as the US seeks to extradite him to stand trial under the Espionage Act. The request was denied by Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who said the prisoner was a suicide risk if transferred to US custody, but an appeal to the ruling is still in the pipeline. The judge notably sided with the Americans on virtually every part of their legal justification for why Assange should be handed over, which means only the abysmal state of the US penitentiary system saved Assange from facing an effective life sentence.
People concerned with the precedent set by the ruling say Rusbridger and others who collaborated with WikiLeaks are obvious targets for similar extradition requests, should the US Department of Justice want to prosecute them. Rusbridger however believes he is unlikely to share Assange’s fate.
“Well, technically that might be true. But I think that the exercise that I was involved in with those papers involved a high degree of redaction and selection and care about not causing harm,” he told RT’s Going Underground program.
“But the redactions were not part of the case, is it,” program host Afshin Rattansi retorted. Assange is wanted by the US for allegedly being an accomplice in the illegal acquisition of classified materials. His supporters, meanwhile, believe that he was actually targeted by Washington for publishing embarrassing secrets of the US government.
Rusbridger believes that what The Guardian and other legacy outlets did “was very different from just putting everything on the internet”.
The Guardian under Rusbridger condemned WikiLeaks for allegedly publishing a full unredacted version of the US diplomatic cables. The infamous incident was reviewed during the Assange extradition trial, where his defense team reiterated the chain of events. An encrypted version of the archive, which was used by journalists to cover the diplomatic cables, was available online as a precaution against possible wiping of WikiLeaks servers through a cyberattack.
The public gained access to the contents of the archive only after Guardian writers, David Leigh and Luke Harding, published the password phrase needed to decrypt it in their book. When confronted about that by Rattansi, Rusbridger said he “was not aware of” details of the extradition trial because “it wasn’t a very well-reported court case”. Which one may take as a tacit acknowledgement that the British press didn’t do their job correctly.
In the interview Rusbridger also spoke about why he believes the role of WikiLeaks in publishing Democratic emails during the 2016 election campaign in the US was “problematic”, explained his conflicted attitude towards the ban of Donald Trump by US social media giants and spoke about the crisis of public trust in the mainstream media.
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