Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Sunday defended the soldiers shown firing on a group of people near Baghdad in a classified military video released last week, saying the troops were caught in a "split-second" situation and the video doesn't show the "broader picture."
Gates acknowledged that the grainy, black-and-white video showing men on the streets running from gunfire while U.S. troops appear to make playful remarks, is a "hard thing to see," but said he doesn't anticipate the footage will hurt the U.S. image abroad.
"It's unfortunate. It's clearly not helpful, but by the same token I think it should not have any lasting consequences," Gates told ABC's "This Week."
WikiLeaks, the investigative Web site that released the footage Monday, accused U.S. soldiers of killing 25 civilians, including two Reuters journalists, during the July 2007 attack in New Baghdad. WikiLeaks representatives said the video shows the "indiscriminate slaying" of innocent Iraqis and that U.S. personnel have tried to cover up what amounts to murder.
But the military consistently has maintained the attacks were justified, saying investigations conducted after the incident showed 11 people were killed during a "continuation of hostile activity."
Gates stood by the soldiers Sunday.
"They're in a combat situation. The video doesn't show the broader picture of the firing that was going on at American troops," he said. "You talk about the fog of war -- these people were operating in split-second situations."
He said the military has investigated the incident "very thoroughly."
The military has admitted to misidentifying the Reuters cameramen as insurgents.
While the WikiLeaks video emphasizes the presence of the journalists, and the fact that they were carrying harmless camera equipment, some have complained that the video omits key details about the other individuals in the area.
For instance, WikiLeaks did not slow down the video to show that at least one man in that group was carrying a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, a clearly visible weapon that runs nearly two-thirds the length of his body.
WikiLeaks also did not point out that at least one man was carrying an AK-47 assault rifle. He is seen swinging the weapon below his waist while standing next to the man holding the RPG.
"It gives you a limited perspective," said Capt. Jack Hanzlik, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command. "The video only tells you a portion of the activity that was happening that day. Just from watching that video, people cannot understand the complex battles that occurred. You are seeing only a very narrow picture of the events."
Julian Assange, a WikiLeaks editor, acknowledged in an interview Tuesday that it's "likely" some of the people in the video were "carrying weapons." But Assange said that doesn't let the soldiers off the hook and insisted that nothing was taken out of context in the footage.
"Nearly every Iraqi household has a rifle or an AK. Those guys could have just been protecting their area," he said.