Leaked video shows US military killing of civilians, Reuters staff
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A video of a 2007 US military helicopter strike that killed around a dozen Iraqi civilians and two Reuters staff in Baghdad has been posted by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks and confirmed by army officials as authentic.
A video of a 2007 US military Apache helicopter airstrike that killed around a dozen Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters staff, has been posted by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks and confirmed by army officials as authentic.
The video, which reveals startling images and audio of US military firing ammunition at a group of men and their rescuers from the vantage point of a helicopter hovering over Baghdad, was also made public at a press conference WikiLeaks held at National Press Club in Washington on Monday.
The group said it had acquired encrypted video of the July 12, 2007 attack and had been able to view and investigate it after breaking the encryption code.
“The military encrypted [the video] so they could exchange this between themselves on classified networks,” Julian Assange, a WikiLeaks spokesperson told the press conference.
“We have analysed the information about this incident from a variety of source material. We have spoken to witnesses and journalists directly involved in the incident,” the group added on its website.
A U.S. defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the video and audio were authentic, Reuters reported.
The news agency has been trying to attain the video through the Freedom of Information Act, a process that can take years to complete and can end with a negative response if the information requested is deemed too sensitive or a threat to US national security.
“Come on, let us shoot”
The black and white video shows how the helicopter circles a group of men, and is accompanied by the audio recordings of the fliers and ground control.
The fliers identify the men on the ground as insurgents, mistaking the cameras and equipment carried by Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and his assistant Saeed Chmagh, 40, for guns and grenade launchers.
The helicopter opens fire, immediately killing several people and wounding others.
Minutes later, when a van arrives to assist the wounded, the fliers become concerned that the vehicle contains more militants trying to collect weapons and help survivors escape.
The Apache helicopters request permission to attack the van and wait impatiently.
“Come on, let us shoot,” one voice is heard to say.
The fliers get permission to shoot at the van and begin a new wave of gunfire, apparently killing several people in and around the vehicle.
Two children wounded in the van are later seen being evacuated by US ground forces as the Apache helicopters continued to circle overhead.
“Well it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle,” one of the fliers says.
Major Shawn Turner, a spokesman for US Central Command, said that the soldiers were not aware of the presence of the news staffers and thought they were targeting armed insurgents in accordance with the rules of engagement.
“We regret the loss of innocent life, but this incident was promptly investigated and there was never any attempt to cover up any aspect of this engagement,” Turner said.
Since its creation in December 2006, the website wikileaks.org has shot to prominence for publishing confidential documents revealing corporate corruption and government secrets.
The success of Wikileaks is based on its use of modern encryption technologies to preserve the anonymity of its contributors, as well as the site's reputation for thoroughly checking the authenticity of leaked documents.
The website relies on private donations to avoid corporate or government influence. Despite breaking several key stories, Wikileaks continues to suffer from a chronic lack of funding.
But WikiLeaks, which has gained notoriety for promoting leaking of classified information to fight government and corporate corruption, reported that the impending release of the controversial video had earned its members harassment from the CIA.
“[T]he increase in surveillance activities this last month, at a time when we are barely publishing due to fundraising, is excessive,” the website’s spokesman Assange wrote in a March 26 editorial. “The spying includes attempted covert following, photographing, filming and the overt detention & questioning of a WikiLeaks volunteer...”
In one of its latest Twitter entries, WikiLeaks appeared to verge on paranoia: “If anything happens to us, you know why: it is our Apr. 5 film. And you know who is responsible.”
On Monday, the group went beyond simply revealing the top-secret information, calling attention to the murder of journalists “that were simply doing their job”, but also disagreeing with the US military assessment that the attack was justified.
“I believe that if these killings were lawful and under the rules of engagement, then the rules of engagement are wrong. Deeply wrong,” Assange said.