The US military is desperately trying to close-in on the sources behind the biggest leak in its history: the latest major Wikileaks exposé that includes evidence of the killing of innocent citizens.
Pentagon chiefs admit it will take weeks to assess the damage to US-led operations in Afghanistan after the latest revelations on something that any military would try to keep under wraps – civilians killed during an operation.
This April, the Pentagon saw one of its skeletons walk out of the closet: a secret video of American soldiers opening what looks like indiscriminate fire in a Baghdad suburb three years ago.
Back then, more than a dozen people were reported dead, including two Reuters news staff. Two children were wounded.
The incident was investigated and the US military concluded that the actions of the soldiers were in accordance with the law of armed conflict and its own "Rules of Engagement". So while the US military is OK with causing some “collateral damage”, (as civilians deaths in the course of action are known), a number of soldiers who were involved in those killings are now speaking out, saying this should not be a norm of warfare.
Ethan McCord, a solider with the unit that is shown in the video, says it was not a one-off experience. He went as far as to say soldiers in his unit were ordered to kill civilians in certain circumstances.
McCord said the message they got from their commander was: “If someone in your line gets hit with an Improved Explosive Device – 360 rotational fire. You kill every motherfucker on the street.”
Josh Steiber served in the same unit as Ethan McCord. He refused to talk about the order because of, he claims, the threats and warnings he has received from his former army fellows.
But the secret video of helicopter killings seemed nothing unusual to him.
“From my experiences, what was shown in that video is not uncommon. Things like that happen on a fairy regular basis,” confessed former soldier Josh Stieber.
Josh says the training they went through did not ingrain much sensitivity either
Josh and a group of other former soldiers are now touring the US, telling people of their experiences and their regret.
“To me, it was when I was finally able to put myself in the shoes of other people and really start to imagine how I would feel if people were doing to me what I was doing to the people on regular basis – storming into people’s homes, sometimes in the middle of the night, and see children’s faces.”
He also warned against short-sightedness when interpreting the leaked information.
”I think it can be easier to only pinpoint things on soldiers and say ‘Hey, look how they acted in the situation’,” he said. “I definitely think that everybody, including soldiers, have a responsibility to act morally, but if we only focus on that and do not look at this broader system which this report details, we are being very shortsighted.”
”My hope is that when people see all these instances of what it looks like on the ground, all formed into a larger picture, which is what this report shows, then people will not only realize a lot of things about the war that have not been talked about, but realize the largely-unfair situation that soldiers are put into where what they are asked to do is putting them at odds with that goal of winning the hearts and minds of the local population.”
“It was a very disorienting and destabilizing condition of warfare for most American soldiers to try to separate the benign populace from the insurgency that wanted to kill him that were indistinguishable from regular civilians,” claimed New York writer Jim Frederick.
Ethan McCord and Josh Stieber signed a letter of apology to the mother of the children hurt during the operation, and pledged to change from the inside out.
America's military chiefs are bracing themselves for more to come. The WikiLeaks website is promising that further revelations are on the way.
The online whistleblower is now checking into reports dealing with American conduct in Iraq. It is thought they could expose similar findings to the thousands of documents already posted online.
They include details of civilian casualties at the hands of US and allied troops, as well as concerns that Pakistani intelligence helped the Taliban insurgency.
The White House described the release as a breach of federal law and a threat to American military personnel.
The founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, has rejected the criticism and, in turn, accused the Pentagon of trying to distract attention from the thousands of lives already lost in the war.
RT's military analyst Evgeny Khruschev said he thought the leak could do no harm, since much of what was revealed had been known for years.
“American collaborators in Afghanistan had been known for a long time without Wikileaks,” Khruschev said. “The first is the Afghan president, who effectively works for the US, and this has been well known for almost nine years,” Khruschev said. “The second most notorious US collaborator is Karzai’s brother in Kandahar who, according to the main US media, has been one of the CIA’s most cherished assets.”
Meanwhile, the Pentagon's investigation of the previous wikileak, exposing American soldiers killing civilians in Iraq, concluded that their actions were lawful. Skeptics would say these latest revelations aren't going to change anything either, but Vice President of the Washington Center for National Policy, Scott Bates, says that it will cause “more debate amongst the public”, support of which – in terms of democracy – is needed “to continue the course of war.”
”I think there is a very good chance that the latest impact will come in the form of the response of civilians, not only in the United States but around the world in countries in Europe, in Canada, in Australia, in Turkey – the countries where troops are being sent to Afghanistan to fight in the US war,” she said.
”I think that there is going be a far greater outrage that we have had so far as a result of these new available documents,” Bennis added. “I think that it is going to lead to new and increased pressure on all those governments to pull their troops out much faster. That is the effect I think we will see first.”