Shame on WikiLeaks: Framing Lawful Engagement as Anti-American Propaganda (Part Two)

WikiLeaks has declared that American forces engaged with armed elements of the Mahdi Army during the 2007 surge are guilty of "collateral murder."

Part of that claim is based upon the fact that two Reuters employees, embedded with a band of armed militants, were destroyed by 30mm cannon fire from Apache helicopters. The Apaches were providing support for ground forces that had been under sporadic rifle and RPG fire throughout the morning. Wikileaks would have us hold the pilots responsible for not discerning the armed militiamen from the identically dressed Reuters employees that so comfortably moved with them.

WikiLeaks would also have us believe that the presence of camera equipment should have stayed the guns of the American aircraft. Dishonestly, WikiLeaks does not mention the well-known fact that cameras are an integral part of the war for both sides, and that video and still cameras are commonly carried by militants. A few seconds of searching on the Internet would reveal militants filming attacks, from IED strikes to the alleged sniping of American and Iraqi soldiers and police.

We aren't attempting to establish that these Reuters employees were terrorists -- despite their "relaxed" behavior with the armed militants, which even WikiLeaks is forced to recognize. It is enough to note that even if the presence of cameras had been detected earlier, it in no way suggested that the armed men were anything other than terrorists.

After the initial bursts of cannon fire, Crazy Horse 18 and 19 continue to circle the scene, where we now know Reuters cameraman Namir Noor-Eldeen and his driver Saeed Chamagh lie among the dead and wounded terrorists with whom they traveled.

Moments later, as the pilots continue to circle, a black van and two men on foot emerge to evacuate the wounded survivor of the attack. Curiously, the van that arrives in the short version of the video to move the wounded man appears as if it could be the same van spotted at the 41-second mark of the long version -- sighted pulling up to a mosque. Vehicles such as these were commonly used to ferry militants and munitions, and the van shown in the longer video was captured pulling up to the front of a mosque -- a favored location to hide weapons and militants because of policies that forbid U.S. troops from raiding them except under extraordinary circumstances.

The pilots make a logical assumption when the van and the extra men (who are curiously never mentioned by the WikiLeakers) pull up and infer that anyone pulling into a hot combat zone with the dust of explosions still hanging in the air may have nefarious purposes ... such as helping wounded terrorists avoid capture, and recovering weapons before American ground forces can arrive. After requesting permission to fire -- which is granted after a still of the gun camera footage is instantly transmitted to superiors -- the van and the men around it are engaged and cut down.

The helicopters continue to circle, talking to ground forces closing in on the scene to keep abreast of their exact position to avoid fratricide. Tho bodies scattered over the length of a city block do not move. The twisted receiver of a shattered AK-47 stands out as the Apaches circle, a mute indictment of the intentions of the dead.

Only after American ground units roll up on the scene and approach the van do they learn two children are among the wounded.

Here in the video, WikiLeaks does something bizarre and contemptuous. They call attention to radio chatter where soldiers request to transfer the children to an American base for treatment -- but a decision is made to instead hand the children over to Iraqi police so that the children can be brought to a nearby Iraqi hospital. WikiLeaks opines: "This could mean poorer standards of medical treatment and additional delay."

The unambiguous statements of the U.S. reports on the incident confirm that the children were indeed carried to an American base for treatment after the incident. The boy and girl were evacuated to Forward Operating Base Loyalty, and then to the 28th Combat Hospital for treatment. They were only transferred to an Iraqi hospital after being treated by the same American medical teams that work to save the lives of our forces.

WikiLeaks, which prides itself on obtaining classified information, ignored a publicly available unclassified report that clearly refutes a dark assertion they went out of their way to make.

We've already established that the critics at WikiLeaks would have us question whether or not pilots in a combat zone should fire upon identified enemy forces based upon their body language and posture. WIkiLeaks also seems not at all concerned about the verified presence of weapons among those killed, and they also ignore the fact that militants use camera equipment as part of their propaganda war. Even more troubling, they go out of their way to erroneously suggest that American forces treated children wounded in the engagement with callousness. This suggests that the WikiLeaks release, "Collateral Murder," was not intended to shed light upon the incident, but instead was carefully constructed to elicit outrage and fury.

The organization happens to be attempting to raise funds now. Claiming the need for an operating budget of $600,000, the group states they have only been able to raise $370,000. The implication seems both sad and obvious. Desperate for both attention and funding, WikiLeaks carefully constructed a propaganda video designed to raise their profile and increase donations.

They carefully framed the video footage with nearly three minutes of exposition, instead of merely allowing the video to stand on its own, relaying the actual context of this incident as it occurred during a larger battle to diminish the power of militants and restore order during the surge. (Which effectively ended militia control and greatly reduced sectarian violence in this area.) For reasons known only to WikiLeaks, they refuse in the shorter video to show or even mention the third engagement of the helicopter crew that morning, just blocks away, where a larger group of insurgents was destroyed with missiles.

WikiLeaks whitewashed the presence of weapons clearly shown by gun camera footage and ignored the confirmation in military investigations of the incident that the militant's weapons displayed in the footage were recovered at the scene. WikiLeaks attempted to create obtuse new standards and rules of engagement, implying that "relaxed" terrorists should not be fired upon. They carefully omit the rules of engagement and refuse to note that evacuating combatants are still enemy targets and recognized as such by almost every military in the world.

The WikiLeaks video and "Collateral Murder" website seem calibrated for the express purpose of accusing soldiers of murder for the purposes of fundraising.

If they would like to continue to be though of as a non-partisan whistleblower organization, WikiLeaks must retract the inflammatory "Collateral Murder" short video, shut down the identically titled website, and provide critical and historical context -- not partisan framing -- around the events depicted.

The WikiLeaks fundraising effort "Collateral Murder" is not an accurate reflection of what occurred that morning in 2007 and manages only to slaughter the truth.