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 WikiLeaks vs. Pentagon

By Nozomi Hayase  

Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, August 30, 2010

Recently, the whistleblower website WikiLeaks was thrust onto the world stage with two separate releases of US government classified documents.  The first was a cockpit video from a 2007 Apache gunship attack in Baghdad and the second was the largest ever military document leak in history relating to the US-Afghanistan war. WikiLeaks called the sensational 2007 video Collateral Murder. It opened with a quote from Orwell's 1984 and depicted from the point of view of the Americans in an Apache helicopter the gunning down of Iraqi civilians and Reuters reporters in a Baghdad street. As the controversy over the video boiled over, questions were raised about government secrecy, the importance of transparency, as well as legal and moral accountability for death of innocents. When the more controversial Afghan War Diaries were released, the US security establishment came out with rhetorical guns blazing trying to shoot the messenger and avert attention from the message itself. The important question that was raised through WikiLeaks CM video was swept under the rug. The question arises; how do we perceive war? 
Those who have criticized WikiLeaks have said their releases of war documents are putting lives in danger in war zones and have accused them of political slant in the editing of the Collateral Murder video. Founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange laid out in an interview with Steven Colbert how WikiLeaks actually intentionally editorialized the title, Collateral Murder and released this edited version along with the full, unedited footage (Comedy Partners, 2010). Some felt this slant was manipulation. Assange indicated that the purpose of the release was to show the world what modern warfare actually looks like and that "his mission is to expose injustice, not to provide an even-handed record of events." He said that this slant was to bring maximum political impact (as cited in Khatchadourian, 2010).
When one carefully examines people's reactions not only to the video but also to the way it was edited, it can reveal a lot about their position and perspective in the matter. In the article Manning & WikiLeaks Are True Patriots by Definition Dallas GoldBug examined a controversial question related to the ethics of whistle-blowers, namely whether they should be prosecuted for their actions or not. He said, "the answer to this would perceivably be different depending on what side of the pond you call home" (2010). This home is one's foundational framework through which one perceives the world and is something that people are often not aware of. The title Collateral Murder was given to a video that showed disturbing images of soldiers gunning down civilians and this had a strong affect on people. The shock triggered by this video is an indication of westerner's numbness or even ignorance of certain realities of war occupation.
The term collateral damage is a commonly accepted euphemism coined by the military that refers to innocent civilians being killed. This term reveals a certain perspective. The USAF Intelligence Targeting Guide (1998) defines the term as "[the] unintentional or incidental damage affecting facilities, equipment or personnel, occurring as a result of military actions directed against targeted enemy forces or facilities. Such damage can occur to friendly, neutral, and even enemy forces." (p. 180). Yet its most common usage is to refer to deaths of civilians that were not intentionally targeted or actually involved in war.
For most people, were they to come across innocent people being killed, they would likely see the obvious human misery as somehow unacceptable. On the other hand, for those embedded with the home perspective of the military, the death of civilians simply becomes unavoidable "damage". The question arises, if the situation was reversed and an invading foreign army comes to the US, killing an American's own loved ones or family members, would they still use the euphemism Collateral Damage to their own family? Back in the 60's during the Viet Nam war, the photographs of the war dead were still shown in Magazines and television. These real images placed American people closer to the unmediated experience of event. Now, the media blocks or filters access to images. Perception is overcome by the intermediation of words and controlled access. Words brought to a level of abstraction cover actual human reality and distance people from the feelings that connect them with others. These words often distort reality, or hinder the capacity for empathy, for putting oneself in the shoes of those who are made out to be enemies.
This leads back to the question about WikiLeaks's alleged political slant by titling the video Collateral Murder.  Perhaps the emotionally charged criticism of WikiLeaks is a kind of defense, an attempt to maintain a worldview that is experienced as being under attack by this new opening of knowledge and perspective. Assange describes how WikiLeaks wanted "to knock out this 'collateral damage' euphemism, so when anyone uses it they will think 'collateral murder.'" (as cited in Khatchadourian, 2010). WikiLeaks shook up the illusion of manipulated perception that has prevailed in the mainstream monopolized flow of communication. Assange said that WikiLeaks consciously intended to bring maximum political impact with the title. To a degree, it did accomplish this goal. For some, it awakened a new way of looking at things and for others it stirred an emotional shock of seeing the war in a new way. It provided an opportunity to reveal one's home and question unexamined preconceived assumptions that too often cloud the lens of perception.
WikiLeaks exposed the world to a new perspective. In terms of how we look at war, we are now faced with two realities, collateral murder or collateral damage. It is through open dialogue that humanity can choose to perceive and actively participate in creating a more just and humane world.

Air Force Pamphlet 14-210 Intelligence. (1998, Feb 1). USAF intelligence targeting guide. 
Retrieved August 19, 2010 from
Comedy Partners. (2010, April 20). Julian Assange. The Colbert Report. Retrieved August 19, 2010, from
GoldBug, D. (2010, June 21). Dallas GoldBug Manning & Wikileaks Are True Patriots by Definition. Before it's news. Retrieved August 19, 2010 from
Khatchadourian, R. (2010, June 7). No Secrets: Julian Assange’s Mission for Total Transparency. The New Yorker. Retrieved June 8, 2010 from




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