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With Iraq Attack Footage, Wikileaks Puts Up a Challenge to U.S. Military

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, April 6 2010

Credit: CollateralMurder.com

Wikileaks.com, the online information clearinghouse that we recently reported has been targeted by governments around the world for publishing sensitive materials, is playing host to video footage that calls into serious question a U.S. military explanation of a spring 2007 attack in the neighborhood of New Baghdad that left up to a dozen people dead, including two Iraqi employees of the news agency Reuters, Namir Noor-Eldeen, a 22 year old photographer, and Saeed Chmagh, a 40 year old driver and assistant.

Much like the "friendly-fire" incident that claimed the life of NFL star Pat Tillman in Afghanistan in 2004, the 2007 New Baghdad attack has been caught in a swirl of differing explanations. Since the attack three years ago, Reuters has been attempting to track down information on what went down that day through official channels, including Freedom of Information Act requests. But the organization ran smack into a U.S. military explanation that framed the engagement as an incident where U.S. military personnel in Apache helicopters directed fire on insurgents. "There is no question that Coalition Forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force," said a spokesperson at the time. Reuters rejected the conclusivity of that conclusion, particulary when it came to the activities of two of its employees working in a war zone. "Our preliminary investigation raises real questions about whether there was fighting at the time the two men were killed," said David Schlesinger, Reuters' editor in chief.

Try as they might, Reuters hadn't gotten far with their official proddings -- until Wikileaks posted the video footage on a dedicate site called CollateralMurder.com.

The site features both a 40-minute video of the incident and an abbreviated 10-minute segment. Wikileaks also posted a transcript of the the military helicopters' transmissions, where military personnel can be heard identifying -- mistakenly -- it seems, the Reuters photographer's camera as a threatening weapon. Wikileaks reported that the Apache footage came from government sources, and they pledge in a note on the footage that they're willing to stand up to protect the identity of those people: "Wikileaks exists to help you safely reveal important material to the world. We have an unbroken record in protecting confidential sources. Contact us." Wikileaks founder Julian Assange went on Al Jazeera to testify to the authenticity of the video.

Wikileaks reach, amorphousness, and willingness to protect its sources come what may has raised the ire of some governments; it was recently revealed -- on Wikileaks, naturally -- that the government of Australia had included the clearinghouse on a blacklist of websites that it was considering banning in the country.