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The Narrative of the Leakers: Collateral Murder and the Assange Indictment

When the superseding indictment was returned by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia against Julian Assange on May 23, 2019, there was one glaring omission. It was an achievement, it might even be said the achievement, that gave the WikiLeaks publisher and the organisation justified notoriety. Collateral Murder, as the leaked video came to be called, featured the murderous exploits by the crew of Crazy Horse 1-8, an Apache helicopter that slew 11 people on July 12, 2007, in east Baghdad. Among the dead were Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and a driver and fixer, Saeed Chmagh.

As WikiLeaks announced at the time, “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-sight, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.”

It is worth remembering at the time that the current stable of media outlets, including the New York Times, preferred to see something rather different: that the video was purposely edited by WikiLeaks to convey maximum public impact while giving the impression of US venality in battle. Patriotism, and the blinding of the record, comes first.

This conveniently sidestepped the vacillations taking place in the Pentagon over the incident and its recording. Dean Yates, who was Reuters Baghdad chief at the time, recalls in horrid vividness the unfolding events, including the seizure of Namir’s cameras and the US military statement: “Firefight in New Baghdad. US, Iraqi forces kill 9 insurgents, detain 13.”

As Yates, who has been painfully silent over this episode, told the Guardian, “The US assertions that Namir and Saeed were killed during a firefight was all lies. But I didn’t know that at the time, so I updated my story to take in the US military’s statement.”

On the return of the tampered cameras, no evidence of insurgent activity, or clashes with US forces, were evident. Yates and a Reuters colleague subsequently met two US generals responsible for overseeing the investigation, all off record, of course. They were told of the request by Crazy Horse 1-8 to engage “military-aged males” supposedly armed and acting “suspiciously”. Photographs of AK-47s and an RPG [Rocket-propelled grenade] launcher, where produced. Yates was left wondering “how much of that meeting was carefully choreographed so we could go away with a certain impression of what happened.” For a time, he conceded, “it worked” with poisonous effect.

What niggled was the revealing of some footage from the camera of Crazy Horse 1-8, a miserly three minutes. Cue the permission sought by the Apache to engage on seeing Namir crouching with his long-lens camera, supposedly mistaken for an RPG. The appearance of the van later in the scene, ostensibly to assist, was airily dismissed by the generals as an act of aid for insurgents. Yates, disturbed, was left with the mistaken impression that Namir had somehow been responsible for his own demise and those of his companions.

In the meantime, Reuters persisted in their vain attempts to secure the full video, even as they continued good faith off-the-record meetings with the US military for reasons of safety. Yates wished to break the arrangement on the video; his superiors thought otherwise. The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder began to show. Sleeplessness crept it. When the video was released on April 5, 2010, Yates was with his family walking in Cradle Mountain national park, Tasmania.

The video casts a shadow over the indictment, despite being a screaming omission. It is crude, expressive, and unequivocal in disclosing a war crime and its cold-blooded execution. It codifies a form of deliberate, incautious violence. It reveals breathe taking cruelty at play: “Look at those dead bastards; “Nice”; “Good shoot’n”. As Christian Christensen remarked, “These particular images were, in many ways, the crystallization of the horrors of war.”

Barrister Greg Barns, a tireless advisor to the Australian Assange Campaign claimed it to be “very much part of the broader prosecution case [because of what it illustrates about the US rules of engagement] and it is one of the many reasons to oppose what is happening to Assange”.

Australian politicians otherwise unaccustomed to distract themselves from the teat of the US imperium have also noted the potency of the video, and the act of evading it in the indictment. “The omission of the leaked Collateral Murder footage from the indictment surprised me,” suggested Australian Greens Senator Peter Whish Wilson of the Parliamentary Friends of the Bring Julian Assange Home Group, “but on reflection, of course, it’s not in the US government’s interests to highlight their own injustices, deceit and crimes.” The effort to indict Assange for espionage charges is fatuous but dangerously calculating: to bury a narrative; to make history, at least as it is told by the leakers, disappear.

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7 comments

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  1. Jack Cade

    Pompeo’s rant about the Russians trying a US marine for spying when he’s actually been caught at it just highlights the utter arrogance, duplicity and hypocrisy of the USA in it’s pursuit of Assange for merely passing on the already published reports of US atrocities all over the world.
    Pompeo resembles one of the vicious, thicko thugs from the Godfather Trilogy.

  2. Michael Taylor

    Jack, don’t forget Roger Stone’s role too. Trump’s band of criminals had their fingers all over this.

  3. New England Cocky

    I think history shows that the USA (United States of Apartheid) only ever acts in their own interests which makes the interests of any so-called “allies” collateral advantage or collateral damage depending on a particular outcome.

    Relying upon the US to come to the aid of Australia in any event of invasion is about as silly as trying to dropkick the Sydney Harbour Bridge to Melbourne. Australia can only rely upon Australians to defend country in any future invasion event.

    But then, why should any sovereign state go to the expense of a military invasion when the same amount of investment in Australian infrastructure will give the required control and a handsome on-going profit.

  4. Michael Taylor

    NEC, I refer to them as the VSA. The Violent States of America.

  5. Michael Taylor

    Or the way they’re going with COVID-19, perhaps the Virus States of America.

  6. Andrew Smith

    Seems very easy for Morrison, Australian govt. et al. to disown Assange in fear of their own place in the pecking order?

    Moral of the story is beware of the aggressive US exceptionalism that has been turbocharged by the Trump administration, and a warning for Australia if it goes further, from Inside Story regarding planned G7:

    ‘The third target is the international rules-based order more generally. Trump has a strong preference for unpredictable bilateral deals over predictable multilateral rules. He may well try to use the G7 as an opportunity to secure bilateral deals, including acting on recent suggestions that intelligence-sharing countries — the “Five Eyes” of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Britain and the United States — could become the new epicentre for economic cooperation, a grouping that excludes Asia.’

    Scott Morrison’s G7 tightrope

    Classic old Anglo nativist ideology and exceptionalism…… everyone except US elites become road kill….

  7. Gangey1959

    Imagine our scotty on a tightrope.
    Would it glide, or plummet ?
    “Jump, you fooker, jump. Jump into this blanket wot we are holding, and you will be orlright”
    Yeah, yeah. I know. I am just a miserable sinner, but I would still laugh.

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