WikiLeaks says Pentagon ready to discuss Afghan files
US denies report, wants papers back
STOCKHOLM — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said yesterday that the Pentagon has expressed willingness to discuss the online whistle-blower’s request for help in reviewing classified documents from the Afghan war and removing information that could harm civilians.
“This week, we received contact through our lawyers that the general counsel’’ of the Pentagon “says now that they want to discuss the issue,’’ Assange said in a phone interview.
The Pentagon denied it was willing to collaborate with the group but acknowledged that it had arranged for a phone call last Sunday between its general counsel and a person claiming to be a lawyer for WikiLeaks.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the lawyer, Timothy Matusheski, was a no show for the call.
The Pentagon followed up with a letter to Matusheski Monday, demanding that WikiLeaks return the war files.
“The Defense Department will not negotiate some ‘minimized’ or ‘sanitized’ version of the release by WikiLeaks of additional US government classified documents,’’ wrote Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s top lawyer.
Whitman had initially told reporters there had been no direct contact between the Defense Department and WikiLeaks.
He said he still stands by that assessment, because the phone call between Johnson and Matusheski never took place.
In a brief phone call, Matusheski said yesterday that he had received a fax from the Defense Department. He did not answer any other questions.
Assange said yesterday that “contact has been established’’ but said it was not clear whether and how the US military would assist WikiLeaks.
“It is always positive for parties to talk to each other,’’ Assange said. “We welcome their engagement.’’
He reiterated that WikiLeaks plans to release its second batch of secret Afghan war documents within two weeks to a month.
The first files in its “Afghan War Diary’’ laid bare classified military documents covering the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2010.
The release angered US officials, energized critics of the NATO-led campaign, and drew the attention of the Taliban, which has promised to use the material to track down people it considers traitors.
Nongovernmental organizations, including Reporters Without Borders, a media watchdog based in Paris, have criticized WikiLeaks as being irresponsible.
WikiLeaks describes itself as a public service organization for whistle-blowers, journalists, and activists.