U.S. Army charges soldier in WikiLeaks case

Michael Calderone
July 6, 2010

The Pentagon isn’t dealing only with the fallout from a four-star general speaking out of turn to Rolling Stone.

There’s also the matter of the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, which recently posted classified footage of a July 2007 Apache helicopter strike in Baghdad.

On Tuesday, the U.S. army charged Bradley Manning, an army intelligence analyst, with leaking the video to WikiLeaks and with transferring more than 150,000 classified State Department cables and a PowerPoint presentation to his personal computer. Manning, according to the charge sheet, allegedly chose to "willfully communicate, deliver and transmit the video, or cause the video to be communicated, delivered and transmitted to a person not entitled to receive it.”

The Army argues that Manning's alleged actions are criminal and potentially damaging to national security. WikiLeaks and other supporters place Manning in the long line of whistleblowers who came forward when they believed their own government was in the wrong.

The military got its first viewing of the Apache footage well before WikiLeaks posted it online. Reuters editors watched it during an off-the-record briefing in Baghdad shortly after the incident occurred, since two of the news service's photographers were killed in the strike. Military officials instructed the news organization that it could obtain a copy by filing a Freedom of Information Act request. Reuters did so, but never was able to obtain footage.

The military claimed in 2007 that nine insurgents were killed along with Reuters photographers Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh, but insisted that the  pilots “clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force.” The video, however, offers a murkier picture. It's not clear exactly who is armed, as the pilots speak callously of shooting people on the ground.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, in a lengthy New Yorker profile last month, described why he believes the public must see the classified video — and explains how it refutes the official government statement about what happened that day in Baghdad.

“This video shows what modern warfare has become, and, I think, after seeing it, whenever people hear about a certain number of casualties that resulted during fighting with close air support, they will understand what is going on,” Assange said. “The video also makes clear that civilians are listed as insurgents automatically, unless they are children, and that bystanders who are killed are not even mentioned.”

Manning was detained in May through the assistance of former hacker Adrian Lamo. Last month, Lamo spoke to Yahoo! News about how Manning approached him online as a potential ally and the reasons for turning him in.