Assange describes Wikileaks as pioneering a revolutionary model for bringing previously hidden material to light. "The mainstream press is, per capita, not competitive with Wikileaks in terms of sourcing," he says.
The diffuse, international nature of the organization has protected Wikileaks from the fate of other organizations that seek to expose wrongdoing by powerful interests. It prints no paper, but instead stores its articles online in Sweden, where journalists are required by law not to reveal sources. Its domain name, wikileaks.org, is registered in California, where the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation intervened when an aggrieved Swiss bank tried shut the site down.
Still, some are skeptical of using Wikileaks as a blueprint for a new, hard-hitting form of journalism. "What happened is obviously not right," says Martinez, who estimates that he watched real-time video from about 50 Apache engagements during his two tours in Iraq. However, he takes issue with Wikileaks' presentation of the events, claiming that the footage definitely shows at least one man loitering with an RPG and another with an AK-47 -- though he notes that carrying an AK-47 in the street was hardly unusual in Baghdad during the summer of 2007.
Neither weapon is highlighted in the Wikileaks video. "These two guys, they look pretty armed to me," he says. "That's completely ignored."
Yet, we wouldn't be seeing the guns at all if not for a sustained campaign by Wikileaks. At its best, the rise of Wikileaks represents the type of accountability journalism made famous in the 1970s by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of Watergate fame, and practiced today by Jane Mayer of the New Yorker and Eric Lichtblau and James Risen of the New York Times -- and Seymour Hersh in both eras.
Wikileaks, however, makes no bones about its desire to advance a political message, promising sources that their material will be used for "maximal political impact." Assange says that he hopes Wikileaks' work on this case will lead to "world-wide attention to the issue, and hopefully a renewed investigation into those events, and a change in government policy."
Assange writes initial analyses and stories from leaked material himself, and there's often a Noam Chomsky-esque critique of America in his work. It's clear he distrusts big corporations and governments. He has more reason to do so than most, having lived and worked in Kenya, where he has helped to expose hundreds of government-sponsored extrajudicial assassinations. Two of his colleagues were killed in March 2009, in an attack some have linked to the Kenyan police.
Wikileaks' editors are definitely outspoken, but they can't quite be accused of partisanship. They released the evidence of toxic waste dumping, which The Guardian had been barred from running, but also posted the so-called "climategate" emails from the University of East Anglia in November 2009, mere weeks before the Copenhagen talks. They've also leaked the confidential creditor list of collapsed Icelandic Bank Kaupthing, Australia's secret blacklist of censored URLs, and more than 500,000 pager messages from New York City on the morning of September 11, 2001.
Despite these public-interest successes, Wikileaks' disregard for gag orders and their unabashed advocacy makes full-throated praise for the organization rare. Yet no journalist I've spoken to will speak ill of Wikileaks in private: Every reporter understands that Wikileaks is the thin end of the wedge. If they can't run a dangerous story, no one can.