In theory, Wikileaks is exactly the sort of organization I'd like to support. What makes modern civilization work is that government is transparent and accountable to the people, and a site posting leaks will make government even more accountable.
That video is exactly the sort of thing I'd like to see leaked. It showed two things. The first was an embarrassment to the military. The second was proof that they improperly denied a FOIA request – there was no “national security” grounds for denying access to that video, which we can all plainly see.
Despite this, I won't be donating money to Wikileaks. The reason is that they have no integrity, no honor.
The ideal “leaks” site would be one that doesn't take a sides. A good example of this is similarly named Wikipedia: their rules forbid taking sides, and when bias creeps in, they point it out. A lot of articles have a warning above them declaring "The neutrality of this article is disputed".
Neutrality is important because there are always two sides to an argument. No matter how evil or corrupt, the other side has their point of view. Hitler had a point view. Stalin had a point of view. Saddam Hussien had a point of view. When I was a kid, I read "To Kill a Mockingbird", whose theme was the importance of understanding another person's point of view, to "walk a mile in their shoes". This important concept applies not only to the downtrodden in life, but to everyone, including soldiers and CEOs.
THE OPPOSING POINT OF VIEW
The Army investigated this incident, and has produced a report (“6--2nd Brigade Combat Team 15-6 Investigation.pdf")
These helicopters were not joy riding looking for people to kill. Instead, they were part of a battle that had already been going on for 4 hours (by the time this video was taken). All non-combatants had either fled the area or hid in their basements – anybody walking around in the area was likely a combatant.
Except for the two reporters, these were insurgents. They were carrying machine guns and RPGs. You can see this in the Wikileaks video. Near the start of the video is the shot where the camera zooms in on the reporters, believing their camera bags were actually weapons slung over their shoulders:
A few seconds later, however, the camera moves up a bit showing the guys following the cameramen. Those guys are clearly holding weapons in their hands, one holding a short weapon that looks like a machine gun, and another holding what looks like an RPG. You can't really see it in the still picture I show below, but when you watch the video, it's obvious that gun-shaped objects are swinging from their right hands (download the video from Wikileaks and see for yourself!).
According to the Army investigation, when foot soldiers arrived at the scene, they indeed found RPGs and machine guns on the dead insurgents (and cameras on the dead cameramen).
Reuters tells cameramen that they should wear something identifying them as press. These cameramen didn't follow that recommendation. If they had, there is a good chance that the pilots a hundred yards away would've realized that they had cameras, and it was cameras slung over their shoulders, and not weapons.
When our soldiers decided to fire, it was because those guys with the RPGs walked behind a building out of sight, then somebody appears to be furtively aiming something around a corner. Most people agree that this was a cameraman with a huge telescopic lens, but even know that, it still looks to me more like somebody aiming an RPG at the helicopter.
Why were the children injured? Nobody is necessarily to blame, but it as much the consequence of their parents decision to drive into a combat zone as it is the soldier's decision to prevent a suspected insurgent from escaping.
I don't like the occupation of Iraq, and I'm not standing up for the soldiers. Their joy in killing is hard to stomach. However, I have watched the video multiple times. Our soldiers neither targeted the journalists or the children. Instead, they fired upon a group insurgents clearly carrying weapons during a larger battle. The journalists died, and the children got injured, because they were mixed up with insurgents.
Whether firing on the van helping (what is believed to be) an insurgent escape is still a salient question here.
Our Army was clearly wrong in withholding this video. It's exactly the sort of thing that should be revealed by FOIA requests. Reuters rightly tried to make the Army accountable for the killing of it's journalists. There is a clear question about whether firing on the van was justified. It's certainly embarrassing, but that's exactly the point of transparency. I'm glad that a “leaks” site exists to reveal such things.
But this post isn't about the incident, but about Wikileaks.Wikileaks is partisan, with no integrity. In their edited video, they highlight the cameramen, but they don't similarly highlight the guys carrying RPGs/machine-guns. They describe this as “indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people” in an Iraqi suburb, when I can see clearly that they were firing on insurgents holding weapons during a 4 hour battle. In a Twitter post, they describe the Army investigation report as “bunk”, when it clearly is a good description of what went on. This partisan approach to “leaks” is not the sort of thing I want to see.
It's not simply partisan, but greedy. Their front page also encourages donations. The more they can distort the contents of leaks like this, the more money they stand to make.
UPDATE: I've just started reading "mainstream" media coverage of this video. Apparently, others have the same sort of criticisms that I have. For example, in this NYTimes article are the following bits:
The site is not shy about its intent to shape media coverage, and Mr. Assange said he considered himself both a journalist and an advocate; should he be forced to choose one, he would choose advocate. WikiLeaks did not merely post the 38-minute video, it used the label “Collateral Murder” and said it depicted “indiscriminate” and “unprovoked” killing. (The Pentagon defended the killings and said no disciplinary action was taken at the time of the incident.)
Critics contend that the shorter video was misleading because it did not make clear that the attacks took place amid clashes in the neighborhood and that one of the men was carrying a rocket-propelled grenade.
Mr. Assange has to choose between "journalism" (which I would eagerly donate money to) and "activism" (a poison people like me would never support).
UPDATE: Wikipedia now has a page dedicated to the July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike. Whereas Wikileaks uses the word "murder", Wikepdia uses only the word "kill". Wikipedia describes the situation without passion or prejudice.