Wikileaks' most compelling aspect is its ability to dig up the raw data behind the scandals it exposes. You can't argue with documents produced by the culprits themselves! That's why 30 minutes of missing footage in their helicopter video matters.
You've all seen the edited, 17 minute video of U.S. Apache helicopters killing two Reuters journalists in Iraq. Some of you may have sat through the 39 minute 'Full Version.". But even this video has a full half-hour of footage cut out from the middle. At 31:08, the video fades to black and—according to the time-stamp on the footage—resumes about 30 minutes later to show an additional missile attack.
The gap was pointed out by The Jawa Report, which clearly has an axe to grind. (They call the video a "perverse and evil slight of hand.") But the fact remains that Wikileaks has passed off this video as the "full version," while the 17 minute clip is the "edited"—even though both are clearly edited mid-footage.
What happened during that missing half-hour? The Jawa Report cites the sworn statements of the pilots involved in the attack. One pilot said in his statement that between the attack on the journalists and the second attack, two events occurred which may have softened the picture of the pilots provided by the video: 1) The pilots went to assist soldiers under attack, but saw a child and other "noncombatants" and held their fire. 2) The pilots saw a red SUV that may have contained insurgents, but held their fire because they couldn't get a positive identification. Here is the relevant part of the statement. (Click to enlarge.)
Neither of these events were shown in the video, which cuts off after the first attack and picks just before the second. The helicopter fires three hellfire missiles into an abandoned building where insurgents are believed to be hiding. Here is how the pilot described this attack in his statement:
The full version appears to leave out two instances of the pilots holding their fire, while including footage of them destroying a building (and hitting a passerby on the sidewalk.)
This might seem like nitpicking. After all, the full attack on the journalists was in the video, uncut from start to finish. What evidence it provides for or against improper behavior by the pilots still stands. But Wikileaks released this 'full version' to fight against exactly the kinds of claims of selective editing it appears to have done. Salon's Glenn Greenwald called out both the New York Times and The Weekly Standard for suggesting the video had been selectively edited. He wrote:
From the very beginning, WikiLeaks released the full, 38-minute, unedited version of that incident — and did so right on the site they created for release of the edited video.
And today, Clint Hendler of the Columbia Journalism Review Told NPR:
On the point of the versions of the video, they actually put out both versions simultaneously, the 39-minute version and the 17-minute version. They're both disturbing to watch, you know, no matter the guilt or innocence or combatant status or noncombatant status of the people in it. So it is accurate to say they put out an edited version, but only if you also mention they put an unedited version at the same time.
In fact this full version was edited—apparently to make the pilots look worse than they already did. (As if that was necessary.)
In the end, releasing this 'full version' along with an edited one is in line with Wikileaks' strategy of "transparency at all costs." For years, its greatest strength has been in appearing simply a spotlight, revealing wrong-doing by exposing the unaltered data and documents produced by the culprits themselves. (Think of the Climategate emails or the Guantanamo Bay standard operating procedures; Wikileaks' parent "company" is called Sunshine Press.) But with this latest video, Wikileaks wants it both ways: They've clearly slanted their coverage of the video toward the implication of a Pentagon "murder cover-up." Then they released the "full version" to fall back on as the raw data. Look, here's the whole thing—judge for yourselves! (The description on the YouTube video says "This is a full uncut version of the video.") And, largely, it's insulated them against claims of selective editing.
To have edited this "full version" as they did, then, seems hypocritical at best. If they could release 39 minutes, why not include the extra half hour as well? Let's see some transparency, Wikileaks.
Update: Wikileaks editor Jullian Assange told CNN yesterday that the 39 minute video is "everything we have. It is a continuous take except for one 20 minute interval." So, Wikileaks did not edit the video themselves—their source did. But the point still stands: both the "edited" and the "full" version appear to have been selectively edited. Why leave in the second attack after the cut? And how can this be called an "uncut" or "unedited" version—the implication being that this video depicts what "really happened"—when 20 minutes of less-incriminating footage was removed? It also deepens the mystery of Wikileak's military source: Who is so disgruntled as to not only leak the video, but also edit out the slightest bit of redeeming footage?