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2013-04-08

"The Kissinger Cables": Three Years After "Collateral Murder," WikiLeaks Explores U.S. Diplomacy

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The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has just published "the Kissinger Cables," 1.7 million U.S. diplomatic and intelligence documents from 1973 to 1976 that include many once-secret memos written by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. While the documents have been available to the public at the National Archives, WikiLeaks has created a searchable online database to allow anyone in the world to quickly search them. WikiLeaks founder and editor Julian Assange reportedly did most of the work creating the database from his refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in London. WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson joins us to discuss the documents’ release. Hrafnsson also comments on the recent anniversary of the release of the "Collateral Murder" military video, which shows U.S. forces killing 12 people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad — including two Reuters employees, Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen. After WikiLeaks obtained the video, Hrafnsson met with family members of the victims in Iraq. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks is back in the news today. The website has just published 1.7 million U.S. diplomatic and intelligence documents from 1973 to 1976. The project is being dubbed the "Kissinger Cables."

While the documents have been available to the public at the National Archives, WikiLeaks has created a searchable online database to allow anyone in the world to quickly search through the trove of documents. The archive includes many once-secret memos written by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

The release has already made front-page news in India. One document posted online by WikiLeaks indicates former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi acted as a middleman in the ’70s for a Swedish company that was looking to sell fighter jets to the Indian air force.

WikiLeaks posted the documents in a new database called the Public Library of U.S. Diplomacy, or PLUSD. WikiLeaks founder and editor Julian Assange reportedly did most of the work creating the database from his refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he is holed up seeking to stop his extradition to Sweden because he’s concerned about then being extradited to the United States.

To talk about the significance of the latest trove of documents, we go to Washington, D.C., to talk to Kristinn Hrafnsson, a spokesperson for WikiLeaks. He’s a former investigative journalist who was named Icelandic journalist of the year three times.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Kristinn. You are about, as we go to broadcast, to hold a news conference at the National Press Club. Talk about what you are announcing and what this trove of documents is all about.

KRISTINN HRAFNSSON: Well, this is a very important trove of documents, the 1.7 million documents that you mentioned in your introduction, that we have merged together with the 250,000 embassy cables that we published previously under—in the Cablegate project. This is a—these new documents are from the period 1973 to 1976. You said these documents were already accessible, but they are actually quite difficult to get to for the general public. And anybody that can go online and try to find these documents will find out quickly that it’s very hard to access them. So, in our view, the inaccessibility and the difficulty of accessing them is a form of secrecy, in a way, so we found it important to get it to the general public in a good searchable database, and that’s what we have done in this project. It covers a very interesting and turbulent period in our contemporary history and is shedding a light on foreign relations in the Kissinger era.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Kristinn, if you could explain—as you said, these are not documents that haven’t been available to the public, so that’s different than the other troves of documents that WikiLeaks released—you know, the [Iraq] War Logs, as well as Afghanistan, as well as what is called the State Department cables—but most people don’t have a way of really going through them. You’re talking about 1.7 million documents. So explain what it is that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks did.

KRISTINN HRAFNSSON: Well, what we have is created a database which is easily searchable, and people can access them—the general public, as well as journalists and academics—without any problems. It has shown the credibility that we have in handling huge databases. This is what we’ve been working on for quite some time now. This is a part of our commitment to make accessible historical documents that are hard to find for the general public.

One element of all this is to keep in mind that there has been a trend in the last decade and a half to reverse previously declassified policy. A policy set out, for example, by Clinton in the mid-'90s was, a few years later under Bush, reversed. It was revealed in 2006, for example, that over 55,000 documents that were previously available had been reclassified by the demand of the CIA and other agencies. And it is known that this program continued at least until 2009. So, it is very worrying when the government actually starts taking back into behind the veil of secrecy what was previously available. It doesn't really increase the trust in government. So, now at least you have all these documents available, and they will be available in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, talk about—you’re an investigative journalist—what you found most significant about these documents, the content of the documents. You know, in the United States, when talking about either Bradley Manning or Julian Assange or WikiLeaks, it’s always about the process or what they did, but rarely, unlike other countries which have, you know, front-page news, like, for example, in India right now, Rajiv Gandhi, what the documents show about him acting as a middleman for a Swedish military company. Talk about these revelations in the documents, Kristinn.

KRISTINN HRAFNSSON: Well, the revelations are coming out as we speak and will come out in the next few days. We did cooperate with 18 media organizations around the world in analyzing these documents, and they found terrific stories. I hesitate to steal their headlines before they publish it. It will come out in the next hours and days. There are documents there that shed light on the U.S. relation regarding—with regard to dictatorships in Latin America. I just talked yesterday with a Brazilian journalist who had been diving into this, and it is extremely important what is revealed there. Keep in mind that just recently the Brazilians decided to come to terms with their period of dictatorship after President Dilma set up a truth commission. So, there’s a lot of things from this period that has not been reconciled with and come to terms with, and these documents are really helping this effort in these countries.

AMY GOODMAN: During Bradley Manning’s pretrial hearing earlier this year, he spoke about the so-called collateral video—"Collateral Murder" video of an Apache helicopter attack in Iraq that occurred on July 12th, 2007. He admitted for the first time being the source of the leaked tape. Bradley Manning described the video as "war porn" and said the crew’s lack of concern for human life and concern for injured children at the scene greatly bothered him. This is the video shot in July 2007 that Manning referenced. It shows U.S. forces killing 12 people, including two Reuters employees, Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen. This is video that was taken, not by peace activists on the ground, but by the Apache helicopter itself, the video on board the helicopter.

U.S. SOLDIER 1: I have individuals with weapons.

U.S. SOLDIER 2: You’re clear.

U.S. SOLDIER 1: Alright, firing.

U.S. SOLDIER 3: Let me know when you’ve got them.

U.S. SOLDIER 2: Let’s shoot. Light ’em all up.

U.S. SOLDIER 1: Come on, fire!

U.S. SOLDIER 2: Keep shootin’. Keep shootin’. Keep shootin’. Keep shootin’.

U.S. SOLDIER 4: Hotel, Bushmaster two-six, Bushmaster two-six, we need to move, time now!

U.S. SOLDIER 2: Alright, we just engaged all eight individuals.

AMY GOODMAN: Reuters driver Saeed Chmagh, who was 40 years old and has four children, survived that initial attack. He’s seen in the video trying to crawl away as the helicopter flies overhead after the first attack. U.S. forces again open fire when they notice a van pulling up to evacuate the wounded Saeed Chmagh.

U.S. SOLDIER 2: The bodies.

U.S. SOLDIER 1: Where’s that van at?

U.S. SOLDIER 2: Right down there by the bodies.

U.S. SOLDIER 1: OK, yeah.

U.S. SOLDIER 2: Bushmaster, Crazy Horse. We have individuals going to the scene, looks like possibly picking up bodies and weapons.

U.S. SOLDIER 1: Let me engage. Can I shoot?

U.S. SOLDIER 2: Roger. Break. Crazy Horse one-eight, request permission to engage.

U.S. SOLDIER 3: Picking up the wounded?

U.S. SOLDIER 1: Yeah, we’re trying to get permission to engage. Come on, let us shoot!

U.S. SOLDIER 2: Bushmaster, Crazy Horse one-eight.

U.S. SOLDIER 1: They’re taking him.

U.S. SOLDIER 2: Bushmaster, Crazy Horse one-eight.

U.S. SOLDIER 4: This is Bushmaster seven, go ahead.

U.S. SOLDIER 2: Roger. We have a black SUV—or Bongo truck picking up the bodies. Request permission to engage.

U.S. SOLDIER 4: Bushmaster seven, roger. This is Bushmaster seven, roger. Engage.

U.S. SOLDIER 2: One-eight, engage. Clear.

U.S. SOLDIER 1: Come on!

U.S. SOLDIER 2: Clear. Clear.

U.S. SOLDIER 1: We’re engaging.

U.S. SOLDIER 2: Coming around. Clear.

U.S. SOLDIER 1: Roger. Trying to—

U.S. SOLDIER 2: Clear.

U.S. SOLDIER 1: I hear ’em—I lost ’em in the dust.

U.S. SOLDIER 3: I got ’em.

U.S. SOLDIER 2: Should have a van in the middle of the road with about 12 to 15 bodies.

U.S. SOLDIER 1: Oh yeah, look at that. Right through the windshield! Ha ha!

AMY GOODMAN: That, again, the video that was taken that was on board the Apache helicopter. It was July 12th, 2007, released three years ago, on April 5th, 2010, released by WikiLeaks and dubbed the "Collateral Murder" video. Kristinn Hrafnsson, you went to Iraq afterwards. Can you talk about what you did there?

KRISTINN HRAFNSSON: Well, I went to Iraq before we released this video. I thought it was very important that we would be able to analyze the situation on the ground, locate the victims and identify them. And so, after working by remote for a little, short period, I did fly to Baghdad with my producer and cameraman, and we arrived about three days before the release of the video, on April 5th, 2010. We were able to establish that the driver of the minivan, Matasher Salah Tomal, a 42-year-old father of four, was simply passing by the scene, driving his two children to a special tutoring. We interviewed his widow. We met with the children, Sayad and Doaha, who were eight and 12 at the time, who were still bearing the scars from this attack and, of course, the trauma of losing their father in the incident. In my mind, this attack on the minivan is a clear war crime. But it has never been investigated as such. And it should be, because the people on the ground there, those killed and the families of the victims, still have not seen any justice because of this incident.

AMY GOODMAN: Of course, right now Julian Assange is holed up in the London embassy of Ecuador. Kristinn Hrafnsson, you’re an investigative journalist. Can you talk about the significance of what is happening to him now? Clearly, he is very productive there. If he steps foot outside, he’ll be arrested by British authorities and sent to Sweden. But can you talk very briefly—and we’re going to talk about this with our next guest, as well—but as you got off to the National Press Club to hold your news conference, talk about both Julian Assange and Bradley Manning.

KRISTINN HRAFNSSON: Well, Julian Assange has been in the embassy since June 19th, so it’s been quite a time. We are still hoping that there will be some progress very soon. And there is some indication that he will be freed, and I hope that happens very soon. Meanwhile, he is in a fairly good spirit and is still, of course, working as a leader of our team, and working on a new project, as the one that we are releasing today.

With reference to Bradley Manning, of course it’s appalling that he has been held in pretrial confinement for 1,048 days. No soldier in our contemporary history has been held in such a long period of time without trial, and it’s unheard of. Of course, you mentioned that he recently plead that he was the source of this information, which, of course, I cannot confirm, because it’s our policy that the best way to guard our sources is not knowing them. But it is interesting that even though he has—has this plea, the prosecution is still going ahead with very serious charges of treason, basically aiding the enemy, which carries the maximum of the death penalty, which, in my mind, is an indication that this is a persecution, rather than a prosecution, against Bradley Manning.

AMY GOODMAN: I know that you have to leave to go to the news conference to speak to the press. Are you concerned, Kristinn, coming to this country, that you, too, could be arrested? And have you been questioned by the grand jury that we understand is impaneled in Virginia to investigate WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, that others have been called before?

KRISTINN HRAFNSSON: I have not been questioned, and I have not been harassed in any way, but I assume that information has been gathered about me. This investigation is unheard of in scope. More than 40,000 documents have been gathered in the investigation. A lot of our people have been harassed at the borders here, and they have been spied upon. We know that. We have confirmation on that. So, this is a very serious, ongoing investigation.

AMY GOODMAN: Kristinn, the Kissinger Cables that you have now—that you’re announcing the release of, at least a documented database form of them, one of the reports in the Indian paper that have already been published, so you can discuss it, is about Rajiv Gandhi, the former prime minister of India, being a middleman for a Swedish military company. Talk about the significance of this. What exactly did he do?

KRISTINN HRAFNSSON: I have to admit that I’m not familiar with the details of that story, so I don’t want to go into that in much details.

AMY GOODMAN: OK.

KRISTINN HRAFNSSON: And I should be actually going to the National Press Club to host the conference.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, the last question, the last question. The quote of Henry Kissinger: "The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer."

KRISTINN HRAFNSSON: That is a quote from a meeting, minutes from a meeting in Turkey, where he was talking to his Turkish counterpart. And it is a quite interesting quote and shows maybe the spirit of how he was conducting the foreign policy of this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Why don’t we end on that quote one more time? It was a quote of the former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, March 10th, 1975: "The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer." Kristinn Hrafnsson, I want to thank you for being with us. We will cover your news conference in the National Press Club and hope to speak to you again soon.

KRISTINN HRAFNSSON: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Spokesperson for WikiLeaks. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. But we’re staying on this subject. When we come back, we’ll be joined by Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a member of the Icelandic Parliament who played a critical role in WikiLeaks. She has now come to this country to speak about both WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning. Stay with us.

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