After several days underground, the founder of the secretive website WikiLeaks has gone public to disclose that he is preparing to release a classified Pentagon video of a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan last year that left as many as 140 civilians dead, most of them children and teenagers.
In an email obtained by The Daily Beast that was sent to WikiLeaks supporters in the United States Tuesday, Julian Assange, the website’s Australian-born founder, also defends a 22-year-old Army intelligence specialist who is now under arrest in Kuwait on charges that he leaked classified Pentagon combat videos, as well as 260,000 State Department cables, to WikiLeaks.
“Mr. Manning allegedly also sent us 260,000 classified US Department cables, reporting on the actions of US Embassy’s [sic] engaging in abusive actions all over the world,” Assange said in an email. “We have denied the allegation, but the US government is acting as if the allegation is true.”
American officials have said they are eager to determine the whereabouts of Assange, who canceled an appearance last Friday in Las Vegas, to discourage him from releasing any more classified information on his website, which is nominally based in Sweden and promotes itself as a global resource for whistleblowers. As recently as two weeks ago, Assange, who first gained global notoriety as a computer hacker, was in his native Australia.
In April, his website posted a copy of a classified Pentagon video of a 2007 American helicopter attack in Baghdad in which a dozen people were killed; that video is also believed to have been leaked by the Army intelligence analyst, Specialist Bradley Manning of Potomac, Maryland.
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• Sam Bungey: The Man Behind WikiLeaks While denying again that WikiLeaks has the State Department cables, Assange acknowledges in the email today that he is in custody of the May 2009 video that shows the airstrike on the Afghan village of Garani, believed to be the most lethal combat strike in Afghanistan—in terms of civilian deaths—since the United States invaded the country in 2001. Assange writes that “we are still working on” preparations for release of the video of “the Garani massacre.”
The State Department and Pentagon did not immediately comment on Assange’s email message.
American officials have acknowledged in the past that they are concerned about the release of the Garani video, fearing that it could undermine public support for the American military campaign in Afghanistan both in that country and in the United States. Pentagon officials were outraged by WikiLeaks’ release of the Baghdad video this spring.
State Department officials are especially alarmed by the potential that Assange might post the huge library of classified department memos that Manning is reported to have bragged of providing to WikiLeaks earlier this year. The department has confirmed that it is conducting a forensic examination of Manning’s computer equipment for evidence of what he may have downloaded.
In the email, Assange does not confirm any relationship between the website and Manning, describing him as “one of our alleged sources.”
But he suggests that Manning is being treated unfairly—“detained and shipped to a US military prison in Kuwait, where he is being held” without trial.