Whistleblower website Wikileaks.org has released ‘decrypted’ video from a US Apache helicopter that appeared to show US forces in Iraq firing upon and killing at least 11 unarmed civilians who stopped to inspect an injured insurgent in 2007. Two children, not visible in the video, were also injured.

Now uploaded to YouTube, the video’s audio includes: “Is that an RPG [Rocket Propelled Grenade]?”; “All right, we got a guy with an RPG”; “I’m gonna fire”; “Let me know when you’ve got them all”.

Then later: “Roger, I’ve got uh 11 Iraqi KIAs [Killed In Action]. One small child wounded. Over”; “Roger. Ah damn. Oh well”’; “Roger, we need, we need a uh to evac [evacuate] this child. Ah, she’s got a uh, she’s got a wound to the belly”; “Well it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.”

The US has not changed its rules of engagement since the attack. No Australian troops were involved.

Two Reuters employees, 22-year-old photojournalist Namir Noor-Eldeen and 40-year-old driver Saeed Chmagh, were among those killed. The video appears to show individuals carrying a camera and tripod. The video shows one of the media men injured and attempting to crawl away when a voice says: “All you gotta do is pick up a weapon.”

The Pentagon at first denied US forces were responsible for the deaths of the two Reuters employees, and repeatedly denied the media agency’s requests for access to the video.

Now, it seems, it will take action. Brandon Friedman, Director of New Media with the US Department of Veterans Affairs, tweeted: “Just to be clear about the #wikileaks video: The guy who decided to fire on the van should be facing a court martial.”

Crikey attended a press conference in DC early this morning Australian time, where Wikileaks spokesman Julian Assange explained the video was leaked by an individual within the US Armed Services and corroborated by several others over a period of several months.

“The behavior of the pilots is like they’re playing a video game. It’s like they want to get high-scores in that computer game,” Assange said. But the leak of the video “sends a message within the US military that do not like what is going on”. “There are good people there.”

Wikileaks created a website at collateralmurder.com with additional information about the events, including Reuters’ failed Freedom of Information requests.

The release today was not unanticipated. Wikileaks announced last month via its Twitter account that it decrypted US military video of civilians and journalists being killed. It also claimed its employees have been subject to surveillance and intimidation by US and Icelandic officials for months, including an ambush by a “James Bond character in a Luxemburg car park”. The Icelandic government denied involvement, but the US has said nothing. A 32-page US counter-intelligence report from 2008 later appeared on Wikileaks describing risks the site poses to US security and describing ways to uncover its sources. Nonetheless, last week Wikileaks asked the CIA to stop spying on it.

In response to today’s Wikileaks press conference, the Pentagon released a statement that it was aware of the footage and that it appeared to relate to a previously investigated incident in 2007, but did not confirm its authenticity. Reuters appeared to need no further confirmation, releasing a statement in the name of editor-in-chief David Schlesinger:

“The deaths of Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh three years ago were tragic and emblematic of the extreme dangers that exist in covering war zones. We continue to work for journalist safety and call on all involved parties to recognise the important work that journalists do and the extreme danger that photographers and video journalists face in particular. The video released today via Wikileaks is graphic evidence of the dangers involved in war journalism and the tragedies that can result.”

The US media did not respond at all in the hours after the announcement this morning. More than a dozen journalists from US media outlets attended the press conference, but it was Al Jazeera who first aired the footage, followed by the Huffington Post, The Guardian and then the BBC.

High interest on social media websites, including Twitter and reddit.com, and it’s accessibility via embeddable YouTube meant the story continued to spread on new media even without involvement of mainstream US media. The main story of the day was live coverage of Tiger Woods’ press conference at Augusta.

Seven hours after the release, MSNBC was the first US network to air ‘breaking news’ of the footage, a segment that quickly returned to coverage of domestic political matters.

More than half of Americans still use television as their only source of news according to the Pew Research Center.

At time of writing, many US news websites have picked up wire accounts of the video, but no other news network has aired the footage or mentioned its existence on air.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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