Assange’s mental health

January 6, 2011

Does anybody actually like the person that Julian Assange has become of late? He seems to infuriate everybody he comes into contact with: his former spokesman, for instance, is writing a book about him which accuses him of “high-handedness, dishonesty and grave mistakes”. And then there’s this, from Guardian journalist Nick Davies, who worked very closely with Assange:

At the beginning of August, I cut off contact with him in order to protest at several things he had done — the first time I have cut off a source in 34 years as a reporter. This was nothing to do with the sex allegations in Sweden.

Intriguing! And even more so, now that Sarah Ellison has told the story of just what Assange did to cause the split:

On Saturday, July 24, the day before release, Davies received a call from someone he knew at the television network Channel 4. “You’ll never guess who I’m with,” said the voice on the other end of the phone. “I’m with Julian Assange. He’s just given me the entire Afghan database.” Davies was livid. Assange got on the phone and explained, falsely, according to Davies, that “it was always part of the agreement that I would introduce television at this stage.” Davies and Assange have not spoken since that afternoon.

This just feels incredibly unsatisfactory. The Afghan logs were already appearing in three different newspapers — the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel — so it’s not like Davies had some kind of exclusive he was trying to protect. In 34 years, I’m sure that Davies had been treated much worse than that by sources.

Instead, there seems to be something about Assange personally which sets people on edge and makes them dislike him intensely: his biggest fans are often those who have never met him or who have known him only for a very short amount of time.

That’s unfortunate, to say the least: it takes an issue which is messy to begin with and makes it a great deal messier. But at the same time, Assange has clearly been under an enormous deal of stress — and this is a man who once checked himself into hospital with depression after being charged with computer hacking in Australia. It’s easy to see how he wouldn’t have considered that to be an option in recent months.

My suspicion is that there’s something quite unstable and destructive about Assange’s current mental state and that there has been since before he was in Sweden. I hope his publishers have a lot of patience: getting his very expensive book into a publishable state could be a very arduous process indeed.


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