Roger Whittaker

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Wednesday 7th April 2010

The Wikileaks release of a video showing war crimes being committed in Iraq has received a lot of publicity.

The US government has been trying to close Wikileaks down, and information about that has itself been leaked to them: see the item "15. Mar. 2010: U.S. Intelligence planned to destroy WikiLeaks, 18 Mar 2008" on the main page, or the PDF document itself.

Wikileaks has also obtained a CIA document (PDF) on how the agency hopes / hoped to influence public opinion in Europe in favour of the war in Afghanistan.

Glenn Greenwald on Salon makes the important point that the atrocity in the recently released Iraq film is not an isolated incident or aberration: this kind of thing goes on all the time. What was special was simply the fact that repeated requests had been made for the release of information about this particular atrocity because two Reuters employees died.

But there's a serious danger when incidents like this Iraq slaughter are exposed in a piecemeal and unusual fashion: namely, the tendency to talk about it as though it is an aberration. It isn't. It's the opposite: it's par for the course, standard operating procedure, what we do in wars, invasions, and occupation. The only thing that's rare about the Apache helicopter killings is that we know about it and are seeing what happened on video. And we're seeing it on video not because it's rare, but because it just so happened (a) to result in the deaths of two Reuters employees, and thus received more attention than the thousands of other similar incidents where nameless Iraqi civilians are killed, and (b) to end up in the hands of WikiLeaks, which then published it. But what is shown is completely common. That includes not only the initial killing of a group of men, the vast majority of whom are clearly unarmed, but also the plainly unjustified killing of a group of unarmed men (with their children) carrying away an unarmed, seriously wounded man to safety -- as though there's something nefarious about human beings in an urban area trying to take an unarmed, wounded photographer to a hospital.

Gary Marshall on Techradar comments on how the use of copyright infringements alone as a justification for blocking access would mean that whistle-blowing leaks of this kind could be suppressed on copyright grounds alone.

The bill doesn't include anything about banning sites politicians and the military don't want you to see, but it doesn't need to. By including a clause that could enable the blocking of sites accused of copyright infringement, the bill could block Wikileaks, and, and any site that attempted to mirror the clip. The footage, like many things Wikileaks is given by whistleblowers, is copyrighted material.

Alarmist? We don't think so. Last year, Wikileaks ended up blocked for daring to talk about, er, online censorship. When Wikileaks posted details of the sites blocked by the Danish government's internet filters, the Australian government promptly added the relevant Wikileaks pages to its list of banned websites. It wasn't illegal to read it, but linking to it could lead to fines of up to AUS$11,000 per day.