Friday night on "Real Time with Bill Maher," Maher's first guest was Julian Assange, founder of the website Wikileaks and the author of the book Cypherpunks. Assange was appearing by video from the Ecuadoran embassy in London, where he is living as a virtual prisoner for fear of extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted on charges of sexual assault.
Assange, said Maher, is afraid that if he gets extradited to Sweden, he will then get turned over to the U.S., where officials are angry with the Wikileaks founder for leaking thousands of secret documents and diplomatic communiques to the world.
Maher asked Assange why the Swedish government is so eager to cooperate with the U.S. government.
Assange replied that the Swedish government has changed, that once it was quite liberal under the leadership of Prime Minister Olaf Palme, who was assassinated in 1986. Sweden has made a dramatic turn to the right since then.
Maher asked how Assange and the Wikileaks team get their information, whether theft or hacking is involved. Assange explained that the technology at Wikileaks is set up so that informants can leave information or documents without ever leaving their name or any means by which they could be traced.
"If you really want to keep sources safe," he said, "You want to make sure that no one, even inside your organization, can say what's going on. So even if you were penetrated by intelligence agencies, you can't 'out' your own sources."
He spoke about an incident in which 8 FBI agents flew to Iceland to illegally interrogate a suspected Wikileaks associate. The Icelandic government found out that the U.S. agency was operating illegally in Iceland and ordered the FBI to leave. This is part, he said, of a massive investigation of Wikileaks by 12 different agencies of the U.S. government, including the FBI, the Department of Justice, a grand jury empaneled in Virginia and more.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) tried to bring legislation to the Senate floor declaring all Wikileaks staff members "enemy combatants," which would strip them of their right to trial like the detainees at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo.
Maher asked Assange why, in the face of such overwhelming condemnation from even so-called liberals like Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), we should be on Wikileaks' side.
"Well, look, we've risen to a situation, or collapsed to a situation in the United States, now," Assange answered, "where you can be killed by someone in the White House, from the president on down for some completely arbitrary reasons. You won't know you're on the 'kill list' until you're dead."
Lawyers, he said, are not allowed to represent people on the list, so if you have a suspicion that you're on that list, you have no recourse.
"I can't see a greater collapse than when the Executive can kill its own citizens," said Assange,"arbitrarily, at will, in secret, without any of the decision making becoming public, without even the rules of procedure, without even the law behind it being public."
That is why, he said, Wikileaks does what it does and will continue to do so.
Watch the video, embedded via HBO, below: