2012-03-14 Transcript: Julian Assange in War on Drugs debate

Transcript of Julian Assange speaking during the Versus War on Drugs Debate, 13 March 2012.
Full video of the debate is available on Versus Debates' official Youtube channel.

[Beginning at 1:37:12]

Geoffrey Robertson: Well, what we need obviously and what politicians need is more information. Ask for information, go to WikiLeaks. Are you there, Julian Assange?

Julian Assange: I am, Geoffrey.

Geoffrey Robertson: How are you hanging out?

Julian Assange: Well, I'm here in some secret hotel room, not far from where I'm under house arrest.

Geoffrey Robertson: Right. And not for drugs. Let me ask you, what can you tell us from WikiLeaks cables about how the War on Drugs puts pressure on countries not to decriminalize, not to end imprisonment.

Julian Assange: Look Geoffrey, any situation which has clearly come to an impasse where there's a clear failure needs experimentation in trials and limited models around the world. And there have been steps to do that. But we see that the United States, though its diplomatic core, has been exercising its force to prevent those sort of trials. We see that sort of situation with Libya, with the interaction with the DA in 63 countries.

Geoffrey Robertson: The drugs enforcement authority part of the US surveillance, I think it's got offices in 63 countries, hasn't it?

Julian Assange: Yes, in 63 countries and we even see cables from Paraguay showing how the DA agreed to allow the Paraguayan Government to use DA surveillance facilities to surveil some of its political opponents in Paraguay.

Geoffrey Robertson: And, as far as you're concerned, how does it come down for you? Is there a question of individual rights here, of the right to change your own mind, to decide what you put in your own body? The right to decide how you'll think and imagine?

Julian Assange: Well I think we must start at basic principles and basic principles say that we, as individuals, have a right to our own self-determination. We have the right to freedom of thought. We have the right to freedom of speech. And provided that we do not engage in some sort of violence to others, then our rights to do what we will with our own thoughts and our own body are sacrosanct. And the state should not be interfering with those rights. In order to keep our freedom of thought we should have the right to control our own mental states. And that gives some people extra creativity and that is something that we need all across the world.

Geoffrey Robertson: And so the 166 million people who take cannabis, according to Mr. Costa's report, they have a certain basic liberty to decide how they're going to think and imagine, and what drugs they're going to use for relaxation, for pleasure, perhaps to reduce pain.

Julian Assange: Well Geoffrey, we should look at marijuana as a good example. I mean, this is a drug that is about as addictive as potatoes, and yet it is being swept up into this so-called war on drugs. We have to remember, we really do have a war on drugs, and like all wars it is a racket. It is a racket which has bought up huge industries that fight and lobby to keep the money flowing.

Geoffrey Robertson: Richard Branson, last words from you. Is civil liberty part of the demand to end the war on drugs? Part of the reason?

Richard Branson: Absolutely.


Eliot Spitzer: I want to go to Peter Hitchens because Peter was so effective at winning over the audience earlier this evening. So Peter... But I want you to make and close tonight, and Lord Blair, I'm sorry we're just running out of time, but Peter make the moral argument. This is not just a matter of mechanistic policy, there is a moral imperative from your view, what is it?

Peter Hitchens: Well, the main point is that taking drugs is itself wrong and that is why they are illegal. And one of the reasons we don't address this is because of the extreme selfishness of our society in which so many people imagine that their own pleasure trumps everything else. Julian Assange said that he was sovereign over his own body. Well maybe he doesn't have anybody who cares about him. But if your family has to put up with you after you've destroyed your mental health or in some other way deeply damaged yourself by taking drugs, then you and they will discover that you are not an island and you have responsibilities to other people. And if there is no other force apart from the law which will deter you from taking that semi-suicidal step, then the law needs to be there. That's the main and fundamental point. The other things I hear Sir Richard Branson talking about the taking of drugs, and particularly of that especially dangerous drug cannabis, sordidly promoted as safe and soft, as a freedom comparable apparently to the freedoms of thought, speech, and assembly, which make this and others a free country. How can that be? The purpose of drugs is to befuddle us, to cloud our brains, to make us passive. If we are discontented with the society in which we live, surely it is utterly wrong and immoral to turn away from that, to dope ourselves into passivity, to make ourselves perfect fodder for dictators, despots, and propagandists, rather than to criticize, change, and reform the society which we find repulsive. And I turn to people on the other side and I mean to be polite to them, and I say the politest thing that I say about them, is that they are defeatists, dupes, and profoundly irresponsible. And I very much hope that their message fails and fails and fails again.

Eliot Spitzer: Thank you all.

Emily Maitlis: Thank you very much. We are going to bring you the result now, I think. Is that right? We're not going to bring you the result yet, we're going to have a little bit more free-flowing conversation, and I think the best place to pick up is... Julian Assange. What do you make of Peter Hitchens' statement that taking drugs is wrong and that is why they're illegal, if you're still there.

Julian Assange: Well, I was just about to say, I couldn't believe that you gave that twat the last word. But apparently, it's not so. Look, there's a certain form of Calvinism about the different types of drugs that we see. For example, nicotine which makes one work harder and work faster and burn out faster, that's perfectly legal. So is coffee, it is perfectly legal and makes one work faster and harder. But those drugs which make one relax or make one more imaginative, those drugs are made illegal. And that's some Western, European Calvinism. Of course, we can all see the problems with severe heroin addiction, but we can all see the solutions so far have not worked. So we need a time of sensible, scientific, regulatory experimentation to see what works and what doesn't work, and if it works in one place perhaps it can be cloned in another. At the moment we have an enormous drug war lobby, that is the fact, billions of dollars spent every year by that lobby pushing its desires to keep the drug war going. As a result, corrupting bureaucracy and producing restrictions apply which causes cartels which themselves corrupt other countries near drug suppliers.

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