Wall Street Journal
June 24, 2010

Reports are circulating that is poised to publish a classified U.S. military video of a May 2009 U.S. air strike on the Afghan village of Granai in which as many as 140 civilians, including many women and children, may have perished. In April, the website—an online repository of leaked information—posted a U.S. military video of a 2007 Baghdad firefight in which two Reuters cameramen and as many as 10 others were killed. It has already been watched by several million viewers.

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Both videos were evidently leaked by a 22-year-old disaffected Army intelligence analyst, Bradley Manning, who was detained by the military in May after having admitted in a private online conversation to providing them, along with a massive trove of 260,000 diplomatic cables, to Wikileaks.

The benefits of maximum openness are indisputable. Our democracy rests on informed consent, with emphasis on the word informed. The electorate relies upon the free flow of information to make considered choices about policies and the men and women who conduct them. In decisions about war and peace, the public’s interest in information is at its zenith. The video of the Iraq firefight brings horrifically before our eyes the reality of war in ways that make us confront the basic questions of why and how we fight.

But there is another side to the coin. The display of videotapes in which our forces make mistakes, or do even worse, has costs that should not be denied. For one thing, the leaked Iraq video, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has remarked, provides the public a view of warfare “as seen through a soda straw.” Wikileaks, itself a highly secretive operation run by Australian journalist/activist Julian Assange, actually posted two videos: a full-length version of the firefight, and a shorter version edited into nothing less than a propaganda film with the caption “collateral murder.”


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