By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 22, 2010; A02
Wikileaks.org plans to release as soon as this week documents related to a U.S. airstrike that killed Afghan civilians last year and plans to release combat footage of the incident this summer, the founder of the whistleblower site said in an interview Monday.
Julian Assange said the documents pertain to an attack near the Afghan village of Garani, which killed scores of civilians in May 2009
In April, Wikileaks released video footage of a U.S. Apache helicopter attack in Iraq that killed several civilians, including two employees of the Reuters news service. The release catapulted Wikileaks into global headlines and sparked debate over a site that aims to uncover government and corporate secrets.
Assange said Wikileaks does not try to identify sources. He also said he did not know whether Pfc. Bradley Manning, an Army intelligence analyst, was the source. Manning reportedly claimed to have given the Garani and the Iraq videos to Wikileaks.
"We don't verify sources," Assange said. "We verify documents."
Wikileaks has nonetheless secured three American lawyers, pro bono, to help Manning, 22, who is being held in Kuwait for allegedly leaking classified videos and documents to the whistleblower site. Daniel Schmitt, a spokesman for the group, said those lawyers have not had access to Manning.
"We seem to be stuck at a very early stage, which is that only lawyers representing Mr. Manning are allowed to contact him, but only Mr. Manning could tell what lawyers do represent him," Schmitt said, calling the situation "a bit like a catch-22."
Manning has been assigned a lawyer with the Judge Advocate General Corps, Capt. Paul Bouchard. An Army spokesman said he was unaware whether Manning had retained civilian counsel.
Under law, a service member's detention must be upheld by a military magistrate. The service member may be held as long as an investigation is pending but must be charged within a "reasonable" time, depending on the complexity of the investigation, according to Lt. Col. Chris Carrier, an attorney for the Army Judge Advocate General Corps in Washington
Assange, in his first public appearance since Manning's arrest, voiced concern about Manning's detention without charge and without access to a private lawyer. At a European Parliament panel in Brussels, the Wikileaks founder also took questions about his own security.
His whereabouts had been the subject of much speculation in recent weeks -- he canceled two appearances in the United States -- amid reports suggesting that U.S. authorities were seeking his arrest. Assange said that there had been "uncertainty for a period" but that intermediaries have indicated he is not the target of any manhunt.
The Army has said it is investigating Manning but has not detailed the files that might have been leaked. A former hacker who struck up an online correspondence with Manning has said he turned Manning in to authorities after the 22-year-old confided in him that he had shared sensitive videos and hundreds of thousands of State Department cables with Wikileaks.
Assange said that "as far as we can determine," Wikileaks does not have those cables. "We have tried hard to understand whether we have that material," he said.
According to U.S. officials, the cables Manning purportedly leaked would amount to about half a year's worth. The cables would include political reporting, much of which would probably be fairly innocuous. But State Department officials have expressed concerned about the disclosure of sources, which could be embarrassing or could chill normal diplomatic relations.
Manning's case is but the latest instance in which the government has investigated alleged leakers or whistleblowers. Still, prosecutions in leaking cases are rare.
Schmitt, the Wikileaks spokesman, referred to a challenge for leakers: the difficulty of remaining anonymous. Manning, for instance, was said to have been detained after detailing his actions to a relative stranger, Adrian Lamo, whom he met online.
Said Schmitt: "From a human perspective, it is very difficult for any of our potential sources, if you're contributing to exposing something that is unjust or corrupt . . . you're the only one who is taking any risk in the whole story and you're not paid by anyone, not getting covered, not getting famous for breaking the scoop."
Staff writer Glenn Kessler contributed to this report.