A reader writes:
I'm of two minds about the Wikileaks video. As a soldier, I think if they ever find the person who released it, he or she needs to serve jail time. It's not about a witch hunt, or punishing the whistleblower for lifting the veil. It's about servicemembers fulfilling their obligations and doing their duty. But as a citizen, I'm glad the American people saw it. We are operating in the name of the American people and they should know what we're doing and they ought to care.
First, leaking classified information is a violation of an officer's duty and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. There was no way the anyone was going to just let this go, whatever the officer's reasons for releasing it. When he or she did so, they broke the law and endangered US soldiers. Just because something isn't an operational secret does not mean its release can not harm US soldiers. When you gather intelligence you take small pieces and build a larger picture. It's like making a jigsaw puzzle from pieces you find under the sofa. Someone looking at this video could learn several things about he way we operate and adjust his tactics accordingly, leading to more effective operations.
So just because this isn't a secret doesn't mean it's not something you want people to know. Any Army manual available on the interwebs can tell you what an Apache gunship (or a tank, squad, individual soldier) is armed with. It's another thing entirely to actually see the effects these weapons bring and know exactly what your enemy is capable of. That's what makes combat experience the most important aspect in evaluating soldiers. This is also why the military wants as little operational information getting out as possible, and why such things are classified.
Which brings me to the reason I totally agree with the release of the video. Like you said, "It helped me understand the kind of things that war entails, the random events, and sudden decisions that can lead to legitimate self-defense or, in a second, a war crime." To me, the elements of accountability and an awareness of what war actually entails are two things that have been lacking from the American people in this war.
As a soldier, I was genuinely surprised by the shock my civilian friends expressed about how brutal the incident was. Even to people who did not see this a war crime, the stark reality of war shown in the footage hit them hard. I heard a lot of bewilderment and confusion. I heard people say how sad it was and how they didn't realize what was going on. I was left wondering, "What did they think was going on?" When you watch the news and they say "X number of insurgents were killed today," this is what it looks like. War is bloody and cruel no matter how much technology you have or how much you limit collateral damage.
I ended up being glad the footage was leaked because I could say to them, "This is what you voted for, this your tax dollars at work." I have always felt that one of the primary reasons that people have been so indifferent about both wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) is because they detached themselves from the reality of it. Whether it was because they had little stake in it becuase their kids won't be fighting, or because it's so far away and the cultural so alien, I don't know. I thought that the video brought a little reality back. Whether they're an enemy or not, watching people die is not a pleasant thing.
Additionally, I don't think the military by itself is capable of making changes to its doctrine or ending the war. People need to hold it accountable for its actions, and if the only way this is going to happen is through the release of videos like these, then so be it.