Gates says video of U.S. helicopter attack in Iraq out of context
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Tuesday took a swipe at the website that released secret military video of a 2007 helicopter gunship incident in Iraq in which civilians, including two news agency employees, were killed.
Gates said the videos released by the group WikiLeaks were out of context and provided an incomplete picture of the battlefield, comparing it to war as seen “through a soda straw.”
“These people can put out whatever they want and are never held accountable for it,” said Gates, speaking to reporters aboard his plane en route to Lima, Peru, for a defense ministers conference this week. “There is no before and no after. It is only the present.”
The WikiLeaks website last week released classified video of a 2007 shooting in Iraq by an Apache helicopter that killed two Reuters news agency employees and 10 other civilians. Those wounded included children.
Helicopter crew members said they mistook the people on the ground for insurgents.
The video ignited international outrage for showing the helicopter crew praising one another’s shooting and seeking more “targets.” The incident had been investigated by the military, and crew members were not found guilty of any wrongdoing. Reuters had been turned down in its efforts to obtain the video.
Gates told reporters that millions who have viewed the video on YouTube and elsewhere could not have understood what was going on before or after the strike.
“That is the problem with these videos,” Gates said. “You are looking at the war through a soda straw, and you have no context or perspective.”
U.S. officials have said the journalists were walking with or near people who were armed and in the proximity of a battle.
A WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, said a website set up to host the video, CollateralMurder.com, provides ample context for the Apache attack and shows what was happening in the area before and after the shootings.
Assange said the military should reopen an investigation.
“We are extremely disappointed with this spinning coming out of the U.S. military representatives,” he said.
WikiLeaks said this week that it may soon release video of a 2009 U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan that killed nearly 100 civilians.
The Times and several other news organizations and public interest groups intervened in a 2008 court case in which a U.S. judge ordered the American version of the website shut down for publishing confidential business documents from Switzerland. The judge lifted that order two weeks later.
Despite his criticism for the leaks, Gates also emphasized that he takes the issue of civilian casualties seriously.
He said he supports restrictions on airstrikes and other tactics that Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal has put in place in Afghanistan to reduce civilian casualties there.