Isha Sesay: It is my understanding that Reuters News Agency has been trying for about two-and-a-half years to get their hands on this Iraq video, and somehow Wikileaks managed to do that. What can you tell us about how you got it?
Julian Assange: We have set up a system of secure servers around the world precisely to do this; to help people get out material that has been suppressed by governments, including classified information. We don’t disclose precisely how we get any of our source material; it can come in through a number of different ways. However, it is clear that this material had passed through the hands of US military, which was why, when we originally received it, over three months ago, it was encrypted, and we had to pull together a network of volunteers to donate computer time to crack the encryption code.
IS: Did your website selectively edit this video? Because I am hearing that from various sources.
JA: Yes, that is an outrageous straw man. So, we released two videos. One was an eighteen-minute video, and one was a thirty-eight-minute video. The thirty-eight-minute video is everything we have; it is a continuous take, except for one twenty-minute gap which was in the original source material. The eighteen-minute video—we released the first eleven minutes, which is the most dramatic period—is one continuous uninterrupted take.
IS: So this issue of people carrying weapons, AK-47s, and all that, and that being removed from the video—that is not correct, is what you’re saying?
JA: That is absolutely not correct. That is a lie. And in fact, in the introduction to the video, in the text, we do say that it appears that there were two armed men, and you can see what appears to be two armed men in the material, in both the eighteen-minute version, our sort of analytical version with the dead time removed, and in the thirty-eight-minute version.
IS: What are you trying to achieve by putting this graphic material out there?
JA: We have a mission to promote political reforms by releasing suppressed information. In this particular case there are a number of reforms to be had. So those are of course an understanding of the depravity of war—both on its regular victims, the people who are shot, and also the debasing nature for soldiers and pilots. We can see in this video that the young pilots in the Apache helicopters have become debased in their character; that they are playing video games with real human lives, and are looking for excuses to kill people even when that is against even the US military mission in Iraq.
IS: It raises a question which military analysts and military officials always bring up, of the fog of war: that things go wrong; they see something, and they don’t have a split-second to decide. How do you counter that argument? Not necessarily in the case of this video, but broadly speaking.
JA: Well of course, there is a fog of war in all wars, and it’s a very good reason to try not to start them in the first place, or to remove the prospect of combat, because innocent lives are always taken. But this excuse cannot hold in this situation. So, in the initial confusion as to whether Namir, one of Reuters’ photojournalists’ camera is in fact an RPG or a camera, there are reasons why the excuse of confusion is not enough. This is a circumstance where the permission to engage was given before Namir turns around the corner and points a camera at any troops.
IS: Julian, so what are you? Are you a journalist, are you an advocate; how do you see yourself in all of this?
JA: This is a special circumstance for us, because this is not what we normally report. This is an attack on our own. This is an attack on journalists in a difficult situation trying to report the truth. And, we have a responsibility to our sources who give us this sort of material to get it out there. In fact, our promise to them is that if they give us this type of material which is of significance and has been suppressed, we will release it and try to get the maximum political impact from it.
IS: The Pentagon and SenCom are saying that their copy of this video is missing; can’t be found. It begs a question as to how you got your hands on your copy.
JA: Yes, we were very surprised by this, that we have a copy of this event and the Pentagon is unable to find one. I looked into this a little bit further and spoke to some people in the know, and they said that the copies of this video, at least in the area that they were working, had been deleted from several different servers some weeks ago. We’re not sure—maybe that was just a coincidence; maybe there was a suspicion about what we were going to release, because we had stated publically that we were going to release material of this type. Anyway, it certainly speaks ill of the record-keeping in the military, that an event this serious that was subject to investigation—a killed journalist, and at least a dozen other people—that was a subject of, very importantly, an ongoing Freedom of Information Act request.