Massacre Caught on Tape: Tip of the Iceberg

10 Apr 2010

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This clip is an excerpt of an interview that Amy Goodman of Democracy Now conducted with Julian Assange, Co-founder of Wikileaks and Glenn Greenwald of the American publication, Salon.com.

WikiLeaks is the whistle blowing website that releases sensitive information into the public domain.

This week WikiLeaks released what has been confirmed as a valid video of American soldiers massacring innocent Iraqi civilians. Amongst those killed were two Reuters employees, which to some degree helped bring the story to light.

But from comments made both by Greenwald and Assange, it is evident that this video is just the tip of the iceberg.

Read the transcript of this excerpt of the Democracy Now interview below. For the full transcript of the discussion and to watch the entire interview, please visit the Democracy Now website.

To watch the WikiLeaks video, which exposes the massacre, please click here.

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AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined, Julian Assange, by Glenn Greenwald, blogger for Salon.com. He’s a constitutional lawyer. Glenn, the significance of what this videotape is showing, from the helicopter gunship, of the helicopter gunship opening fire on Iraqi civilians? 

GLENN GREENWALD: I think, in one sense, that WikiLeaks has done an extraordinarily valuable service, because it has exposed what it is that war actually is, what we’re actually doing in Afghanistan and Iraq on a day-to-day basis. 

My concern with the discussions that have been triggered, though, is that there seems to be the suggestion, in many circles—not, of course, by Julian—that this is some sort of extreme event, or this is some sort of aberration, and that’s the reason why we’re all talking about it and are horrified about it. In fact, it’s anything but rare. The only thing that’s rare about this is that we happen to know about it and are seeing it take place on video. This is something that takes place on a virtually daily basis in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places where we invade and bomb and occupy. And the reason why there are hundreds of thousands of dead in Iraq and thousands of dead in Afghanistan is because this is what happens constantly when we are engaged in warfare in those countries. 

And you see that, as Julian said, in the fact that every step of the way they got formal approval for what they wanted to do. And if you read the Defense Department investigations, which cleared the individuals involved, in every sense, and said that they acted complete [no audio]— 

AMY GOODMAN: We may have just lost— 

GLENN GREENWALD: —operating procedure. 

AMY GOODMAN: There it is. Go ahead. 

GLENN GREENWALD: And you see that this is standard operating procedure. The military was not at all concerned about what took place. They didn’t even think there were remedial steps needed to prevent a future reoccurrence. They concluded definitively that the members of the military involved did exactly the right thing. 

This is what war is. This is what the United States does in these countries. And that, I think, is the crucial point to note, along with the fact that the military fought tooth and nail to prevent this video from surfacing, precisely because they knew that it would shed light on what their actual behavior is during war, and instead of the propaganda to which we’re typically subjected. 

AMY GOODMAN: And then the attacks on WikiLeaks, the surveillance of WikiLeaks, Glenn? 

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, the problem, of course, is that there are very few entities left that actually provide any meaningful checks or oversight on what the military and intelligence communities do. The media has fallen down almost completely. There’s occasional investigative reports and journalism that expose what they do, but media outlets, for a variety of reasons, including resource constraints, are hardly ever able to perform these kind of functions, even when they’re willing. Congress, of course, which has principal oversight responsibility to ensure things like this don’t happen, and that they see the light of day when they do, is almost completely impotent, by virtue of their own choices and desires and as well as by a whole variety of constraints, institutional and otherwise. 

And so, there are very few mechanisms left for figuring out and understanding as citizens what it is that our government and our military and our intelligence community do. And unauthorized leaks and whistleblowing is one of the very few outlets left, and WikiLeaks is providing a safe haven for people who want to expose serious corruption and wrongdoing. And so, of course the Pentagon and the CIA sees them as an enemy and something to be targeted and shut down, because it’s one of the few avenues that we have left for meaningful accountability and disclosure. 

AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange, you have video of Afghanistan that you have yet to release? 

JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes, that’s correct. We have a video of a May 2009 attack which killed ninety-seven in Afghanistan. We are still analyzing and assessing that information. We— 

AMY GOODMAN: Last comments, Julian? Go ahead. 

JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes. I must agree with Glenn, and I’d also like to speak a little bit about the media focus on this. We have seen some straw manning in relation to this event. So quite a few people have simply focused on the initial attack on Namir, the Reuters photographer, and Saeed, the other one, this initial crowd scene, and gone, “Well, you know, camera, RPG, it can look a bit similar. And there do appear to be two other—two people in that crowd having weapons. A heat-of-the-moment situation. Even if the descriptions were false previously, maybe there’s some excuse for this. I mean, it’s bad, but maybe there’s some excuse.” This is clearly a straw man. We can see, over these three events—the initial attack on the crowd; the attack on the people rescuing a completely unarmed man, themselves completely unarmed; to the Hellfire missile attack on an apartment complex, which killed families—all in the course of one hour, that something is wrong. 

And the tone of the pilots is another day at the office. This is not, as Glenn said, an extraordinary event. This outlines that this is an everyday event. It’s another day at the office. They get clearance for everything that they do from higher command before they do it. 

There was an investigative report in response to Reuters, so it’s not a minor incident. There was pressure from Reuters to produce an investigative report. There was an investigative report. It cleared everyone of wrongdoing. You can read that report that was released. It is clearly designed to come to a particular conclusion, the suppression of the FOI material, non-response to Reuters. And now we hear yesterday from the Pentagon an attempt to keep the same line, that everything was done correctly. 

I don’t think that can hold, but I think it gives important lessons as to what you can believe. Even the number—everyone was described initially as insurgents, except for the two wounded children. A blanket description. It was only from pressure from the press that changed that number to there being civilians amongst the crowd. But we also see that the total death count is wrong. There were people killed in the buildings next to this event who were just there living in their houses. There were additional bystanders killed in the Hellfire missile attack, and those people weren’t even counted, let alone counted as insurgents. So you cannot believe these statements from the military about number of people who were killed, whether people are insurgents, whether an investigation into rules of engagement was correct. They simply cannot be believed and cannot be trusted. 

AMY GOODMAN: Well, after the footage was released, Nabil Noor-Eldeen, the brother of the slain Reuters cameraman Namir Noor-Eldeen, spoke out in an interview with Al Jazeera. 

NABIL NOOR-ELDEEN: Is this the democracy and freedom that they claim have brought to Iraq? What Namir was doing was a patriotic work. He was trying to cover the violations of the Americans against the Iraqi people. He was only twenty-one years old. Other innocent colleagues and other innocent people, who were just standing out of curiosity when they see a journalist in a scene, and they were all killed. This is another crime that should be added to the record of American crimes in Iraq and the world. Is the pilot that stupid, he cannot distinguish between an RPG and a camera? They claim he was carrying an RPG. When was the RPG this small, small as a camera? He was carrying a small camera. An RPG is more than one meter long. Yes, it was an RPG because it shows the acts against Iraq and its people that still suffer from their crimes. We demand the international organizations to help us sue those people responsible for the killings of our sons and our people.

AMY GOODMAN: Nabil Noor-Eldeen is the brother of the photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen—and his driver Saeed Chmagh, they both worked for Reuters news agency. The overwhelmingly sad tributes to them online are very important.

You can find this page online at http://sacsis.org.za/site/article/223.19.

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