Edinburgh, Scotland, publisher Canongate Books said it decided to publish an “unauthorized first draft” of the autobiography, noting that Assange has not repaid his advance, which is tied up in legal fees.
Assange has hit back at Canongate in a lengthy statement, accusing the publisher of “profiteering from an unfinished and erroneous draft.” The 244-page memoir traces Assange’s life from his early years in Queensland, Australia, through to the founding of the whistleblowing Web site that has embarrassed the U.S. government with its release of thousands of diplomatic cables.
Assange devotes an entire chapter to allegations of sexual misconduct with two Swedish women, which he staunchly denies. Perhaps the women were motivated by revenge, he says, or perhaps he was set up. He claims a Western intelligence agency warned him that the U.S. government was discussing ways to deal with him “illegally,” which could include an elaborate trap. Speaking at length about his version of events with women he calls “A” and “W,” Assange writes: “I may be a chauvinist pig of some sort but I am no rapist.”
According to extracts published Thursday in the Independent, he also writes: “The international situation had me in its grip, and although I had spent time with these women, I wasn’t paying enough attention to them, or ringing them back, or able to step out of the zone that came down with all these threats and statements against me in America. One of my mistakes was to expect them to understand this . . . I wasn’t a reliable boyfriend, or even a very courteous sleeping partner, and this began to figure. Unless, of course, the agenda had been rigged from the start.”
Assange didn’t respond to requests for an interview. But in his statement, he disputed the publisher’s version of events — saying that when he tried to cancel the contract, he was seeking a new one with an extended deadline in light of his legal battles. He said: “This book was meant to be about my life’s struggle for justice through access to knowledge. It has turned into something else. The events surrounding its unauthorized publication by Canongate are not about freedom of information — they are about old-fashioned opportunism and duplicity.”
On Twitter, WikiLeaks wrote that “Life is stranger than fiction,” and offered a helpful link to Amazon for anyone seeking to buy the book. When Canongate signed up Assange last December, it was seen as a fantastic coup for the relatively small publisher, who went on to sell the book rights to 38 publishing houses around the globe, including Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. Canongate said in a statement that Assange sat for 50-plus hours of interviews with a ghost writer at the Georgian manor home northeast of London where Assange currently lives under partial house arrest as he fights an extradition warrant to Sweden. Canongate said that “Julian became increasingly troubled by the thought of publishing an autobiography.” While every word in the book is Assange’s, Canongate said, Assange came to feel it was too personal. Despite pulling the ghostwriter off the project and offering Assange more control, the publisher said, Assange didn’t offer a single edit or additional material while the book was being completed.
Knopf said in a statement that it had cancelled plans to publish the memoir in the United States. “The author did not complete his work on the manuscript or deliver a book to us in accordance with our agreement,” Knopf said. Assange told the Sunday Times last December that he was reluctant to write a memoir, but that he needed the money.
“I don’t want to write this book, but I have to,” he said. “I have already spent £200,000 for legal costs and I need to defend myself and to keep WikiLeaks afloat.”
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