While I think it’s unfortunate that my friend Matt Armstrong doesn’t really deal with the first-order thing-itself* when discussing the Wikileaks video — surely the “true fiasco” is what the video displays — his analysis of the Pentagon’s days’ worth of silence and pretend-it’ll-go-away-ness is really worth reading. I hope it won’t be violative of any ground rules to say that after I wrote a Washington Independent post that noted the video’s existence on Monday, a military contact emailed me to alert me to Central Command’s page displaying the investigations. (Maybe it’s me, but the formatting for the actual investigations did not play well with my Mac; and I asked a poor unfortunate colleague to help me out with displaying and we just failed.) But that was it. Matt is astonished:
The Wikileaks release apparently caught the Defense Department flatfooted. Even today, three days after its release, there is largely silence from DOD, save a brief public comment and a link to documents and photos at www.Centcom.mil (sensibly available when clicking “Link to FOIA documents on July 2007 New Baghdad Combat Action”). Don’t bother going to www.Defense.milas that site, and hence the Pentagon, has nothing readily available either. The April 6 briefing pack did not include the explanatory imagery and there is no news release explanation the Department’s position. It’s as if nothing happened. When asked about the situation, senior official at DOD pointed me to the “great piece” in The New York Times explaining how trained soldiers see the events is different than civilians. This, however, misses the point.
Despite the vigorous discussion online and over the air whether there was a violation of the laws of war, the old belief that if you ignore a problem it will go away continues to dominate.
As a journalist, I don’t know how far I want to wade in here, lest I give off an air of asking, “Hey! Why haven’t you tried to manipulate me?” and that’s not my intent. Matt is a public-diplomacy/strategic communication specialist and so his analysis of the second-order question of DOD’s response is right up his alley.
*Actually, that’s not really fair to Matt, since he points to Central Command’s annotated photographs to contextualize the Reuters reporters’ proximity to (embed within?) Iraqi insurgents, and attempts to embed a no-longer-available YouTube’d rebuttal. While that is valuable context for the first shooting incident — the van incident is something else entirely — I fail to see how a reporter “crouched with a camera” is “demonstrating hostile action toward coalition forces.” If Matt wanted to avoid weighing in on the subject, I fully sympathize, because I’m personally conflicted about everything on display; don’t feel I have remotely sufficient information to reach any judgments; and have deleted three-and-change posts out of a subsequent discomfort engaging on this. Yet I’ll be on al-Jazeera’s ‘Listening Post’ this Sunday to talk about the meta-point concerning DOD’s response and I intend to crib liberally from Matt’s post.