WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange overshadowed his whistleblower website once again this week, storming out of an interview when the questioning turned personal.
The controversial Australian ignited another worldwide controversy by posting a massive and unprecedented leak of 391,832 military files from the Iraq war on his website Friday, revealing previously unknown figures on civilian casualties and atrocities committed by the Iraqi military.
But he quickly became a headline himself when he turned combative and petulant in an interview with CNN’s Atika Shubert -- walking out when asked about rape allegations that still loom against him in Sweden.
Assange, 39, is the subject of an ongoing investigation into molestation and rape charges involving two Swedish women. He is reportedly accused of refusing to wear a condom during sex and being tested for STDs.
Prosecutors re-opened the case in September, shortly after WikiLeaks posted a cache of 76,000 secret documents from the war in Afghanistan.
At the time, Assange called the charges "a smear campaign" and maintained his innocence.
Shubert confronted the WikiLeaks chief about criticism that his personal scandals as well as reports of internal disputes within the organization harmed the website’s mission, and asked how he feels when people say "the story around you is eclipsing the work of WikiLeaks."
"It is my role to be the lightning rod to attract the attacks against the organization for our work," he said. "Anyone involved in our sort of activity can expect to be attacked across the full spectrum...we have to move on and do the work that we are committed to do."
Yet Assange repeatedly dodged the issue of the charges against him during the televised interview, threatening to walk out "if you're going to contaminate this extremely serious interview with questions about my personal life."
"But it does affect WikiLeaks," Shubert countered.
Assange then abruptly cut short the interview, removing his microphone and storming out of the room.
A stunned Shubert said simply, "I have to ask that question."
WikiLeaks has positioned itself as a modern-day version of the Pentagon Papers, leaking military documents to expose the truths of the Iraq and Afghan wars.
The site’s work seems to have taken a toll on its founder, who reportedly now goes to paranoid lengths to avoid being followed, such as checking into hotels under assumed names, dying his hair, and only using cash so his movements can not be traced through credit cards.
"When it comes to the point where you occasionally look forward to being in prison on the basis that you might be able to spend a day reading a book,” Assange told the New York Times, "the realization dawns that perhaps the situation has become a little more stressful than you would like."
BY Meena Hartenstein