Al Jazeera Blogs


Americas

WikiLeaks vs the Pentagon

The website regularly publishes anonymously sourced, often classified documents putting it in conflict with the US government.

Last modified: 5 Apr 2010 12:23
Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder. Photo by Esther Dyson, via Flickr

WikiLeaks, a whistle blowing website run by The Sunshine Press, is due to release today what it says is previously unseen footage of a "Pentagon murder-coverup".

Last month the group said it had decrypted the US military video, which shows many civilians and journalists being killed.

The announcement has generated a lot of buzz for the group, and consequently, a lot of concerns for them too. WikiLeaks says it has been spied on aggressively since the announcement, both by US and Icelandic authorities.

Iceland, at least, has denied that claim though.

But it is far from the first time the group has been at the centre of controversy. WikiLeaks regularly publishes anonymously sourced, often classified documents from governments, corporations, and other private or powerful organisations.

Illustrating the consequences of this in a March editorial, Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, wrote:

Over the last few years, WikiLeaks has been the subject of hostile acts by security organisations. In the developing world, these range from the appalling assassination of two related human rights lawyers in Nairobi last March [an armed attack on my compound there in 2007 is still unattributed] to an unsuccessful mass attack by Chinese computers on our servers in Stockholm, after we published photos of murders in Tibet. In the West this has ranged from the overt, the head of Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND, threatening to prosecute us unless we removed a report on CIA activity in Kosovo, to the covert, to an ambush by a “James Bond” character in a Luxembourg car park, an event that ended with a mere “we think it would be in your interest to…”. 

Al Jazeera's The Listening Post profiled the site a few weeks ago:

This time around, though, the group says it is being followed, photographed, and one of its members was even detained overnight and questioned. All this despite the fact that their website has barely been functioning since December, due to a lack of funding.

It likely has to do with the things group says it is currently working on:

* A classified film revealing civilian casualties occurring under the command of US General David Petraeus.


* A classified 32 page US intelligence report on how to fatally marginalise WikiLeaks (expose its sources, destroy its reputation, hack the site).


* A classified cable from the US embassy in Reykjavik reporting on contact between the US and the UK over billions of euros in claimed loan guarantees.


* Releases related to the collapse of the Icelandic banks and Icelandic “oligarchs”.

Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald has called the US government's activities a war on WikiLeaks, saying:

That WikiLeaks is being targeted by the US government for surveillance and disruption is beyond doubt.  And it underscores how vital their work is and why it's such a threat.

Three weeks ago, WikiLeaks revealed a 2008 US intelligence report that documented the ways it planned to undermine the website's efforts due to the risks the organisation posed to American foreign policy.

With the unveiling today of what many expect to be footage from a bombing incident in 2009 that killed up to 100 Afghans, I guess we'll see how much damage they can do. 

---------------------------

UPDATE | 16:04 GMT: The video is not from Afghanistan.

Sunshine Press / WikiLeaks has published a classified video they say was taken from a US Apache helicopter on July 2, 2007, in Baghdad, which shows the killing of civilians and Reuters news staff.

They have also launched a new website - CollateralMuder.com - to go with it.

UPDATE 18:15 GMT: Read a full news wrap-up of the unveiling here.

WikiLeaks has also put out still photos from the video, a timeline and a full transcript.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Julian Assange said:

In this video, I think you see the corruption of pilots in the military by war itself, in particular by the modern nature of aerial warfare.  So you see these young pilots actings as if they’re playing video games, only the high scores they’re getting are with real human lives.”

UPDATE 18:52 GMT: Here's the full live interview Imran Garda did with Julian Assange.

Update | April 6: Reports in both the New York Times and the Washington Post have cited anonymous defence and military officials confirming the authenticity of the leaked video.

Nabil Nour El Deen, the brother of the killed Reuters photographer Namir Nour El Deen, spoke to Al Jazeera about the incident, and called on the international community to take action:

WikiLeaks, meanwhile, has posted additional resources on CollateralMurder.com, including US rules of engagement, related background articles, and photos of victims and their hospital records.

Al Jazeera's Patty Culhane has packaged it all together here.

Update | April 6: Al Jazeera spoke to the families of the victims US air raid in Baghdad three years ago.

The two children, shown in the video being wounded, and who's father was killed in the van, said they had only stopped to help a stranger.

Their family, as well as that of Saeed Chamgh, the other Reuters employee killed, told Al Jazeera they were angry and want justice for the killings.

Read more about the family's reaction here.

Al Jazeera's Omar al-Saleh has the report in video:

Update | April 7: Al Jazeera has obtained and published the full, unedited version of the video that WikiLeaks released.

What follows is a 38-minute helicopter cockpit video that begins with the shooting of Namir Nour El Deen, Saeed Chamgh and others (sans the WikiLeaks identifiers), as well as the firing on would-be rescuers, and the arrival of ground troops.

In another segment (jump to 30:45), the helicopter identifies an armed man, four or five streets away, we're told, from the first scene. The armed man enters a nearby building. The helicopter is cleared to engage.

Two men are seen either entering or leaving the building. A few moments later, the helicopter fires a Hellfire missile at the building, just as an apparently unarmed man walks past.

Three or four people are seen gathering at the scene to investigate. A minute later, the helicopter fires another missile.

Update | April 8: Popular blog Gawker is reporting that the editor in chief of Reuters, David Schlesinger, spiked a damning story about the WikiLeaks video and the killing of two company employees.

Citing an anonymous tipster, Gawker says the story, which quoted three human rights experts calling the shootings war crimes, was killed because it needed more reaction from the Pentagon.

Reuters has denied the claims, saying the story was simply "overtaken by a more updated one".

Meanwhile, WikiLeaks have announced a surge in donations since the video was released earlier this week.

A tweet on Thursday from the group said:

Raised >$150K in donations since Mon. New funding model for journalism: try doing it for a change.

Exploring what may have led to the 2007 incident in the first place, Al Jazeera's Inside Story discussed the US rules of engagement in Iraq with Glen Greenwald, a liberal writer, Bill Roggio, a former soldier who fought in Iraq, and Steven Livingston, a professor of international relations and media at George Washington University: