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I of course had read about the U.S. military video decrypted and released by WikiLeaks documenting a helicopter attack that killed two Reuters journalists as well as a number of other people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad, but I hadn’t watched it until tonight. Titled “Collateral Murder,” it is available in a 17-minute edited and titled version and then the unedited 38-minute tape.

From the “Collateral Murder” page:

Reuters has been trying to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act, without success since the time of the attack. The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-site, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.

The military did not reveal how the Reuters staff were killed, and stated that they did not know how the children were injured.

After demands by Reuters, the incident was investigated and the U.S. military concluded that the actions of the soldiers were in accordance with the law of armed conflict and its own “Rules of Engagement”.

Consequently, WikiLeaks has released the classified Rules of Engagement for 2006, 2007 and 2008, revealing these rules before, during, and after the killings.

WikiLeaks has released both the original 38 minutes video and a shorter 17-minute version with an initial analysis. Subtitles have been added to both versions from the radio transmissions.

WikiLeaks obtained this video as well as supporting documents from a number of military whistleblowers. WikiLeaks goes to great lengths to verify the authenticity of the information it receives. We have analyzed the information about this incident from a variety of source material. We have spoken to witnesses and journalists directly involved in the incident.

James Ponsoldt forwarded me the link this morning, writing: “The 17 minute version is — I dare say — the most important, widely-available ‘film’ of 2010. I bet I feel the same way in December. I really think in 5, 10, 20 years that this film (the way it was released, and its intention) will be remembered as a turning point in the way news, documentaries, and found object art pieces came to be married and mainstreamed into our collective living room.”

Noam Cohen and Brian Stelter cover Wikileaks, who is doing a fundraising drive, in Wednesday’s New York Times. From their piece:

The release of the Iraq video is drawing attention to the once-fringe Web site, which aims to bring to light hidden information about governments and multinational corporations — putting secrets in plain sight and protecting the identity of those who help do so. Accordingly, the site has become a thorn in the side of authorities in the United States and abroad. With the Iraq attack video, the clearinghouse for sensitive documents is edging closer toward a form of investigative journalism and to advocacy.

“That’s arguably what spy agencies do — high-tech investigative journalism,” Julian Assange, one of the site’s founders, said in an interview on Tuesday. “It’s time that the media upgraded its capabilities along those lines.”

… By releasing such a graphic video, which a media organization had tried in vain to get through traditional channels, WikiLeaks has inserted itself in the national discussion about the role of journalism in the digital age. Where judges and plaintiffs could once stop or delay publication with a court order, WikiLeaks exists in a digital sphere in which information becomes instantly available.

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