Thursday, April 8, 2010

Leaked Video of Americans Killing Iraqis

On 5 April, Wikileaks, an organization that reveals once-confidental material, released a July 2007 video of American apache helicopters engaging Iraqis in Bahgdad, including two Reuters reporters and two children. None of the soldiers were prosecuted of wrong-doing.

The main plot of the video: the soldiers thought there were combatants with weapons among the group of people here, so they killed all of them, then proceeded to engage a van picking up dead the bodies -- the van had two children in the front seat.

(Warning: the video is below, but the combination of graphic footage and the soldiers' conduct will be unsettling to some, or perhaps most, who view it.)


What is troublesome here is not only that these helicopter units engaged people that seemed to have little more than cameras -- the journalists -- but also that the corresponding commentary by the soldiers can sometimes only be described as bloodthirsty. At one point, when a wounded journalist was dragging himself along the ground, the gunner could be heard saying (at 8:30) "All you gotta do is pick up a weapon" when there was clearly no weapon in sight that he could use.

Later (at 9:15), a van comes to pick up bodies. One of the soldiers reports that the van "looks like possibly uh picking up bodies and weapons." But with no evidence that weapons were on the scene, the soldier seems to be trying to build a case for engagement. Indeed, next, the shooter asks, "Can I shoot" before he begs, "Come on, let us shoot!" During none of this time is there any gunfire on the scene. Nonetheless, the soldiers receive permission to engage the the people who are picking up the wounded, leading to three more killings and the wounding of two children in the van's front seat.

Upon journalists' questioning, there were two basic answers from the military regarding an investigation. A lower-level investigation was made in 2007 and the soldiers were cleared of any wrong doing. But apparently Central Command has never seen the footage before and is now conducting their own investigation.

The Apache unit was in the area supporting a ground unit a few blocks away, and the ground unit had taken fire earlier. So one could make the case that the soldiers' suspicions were heightened and the "fog of war" led to an assumption that the cameras were weapons. Not being there, perhaps it is difficult for one to understand the nerves in such a situation. Yet some veteran combat troops have suggested that these were probably not newbie soldiers and should have been expected to have better judgment.

Beyond the initial shooting is the question of the unsettling conduct of the soldiers. They may be trained to kill effectively, but being an effective soldier and a discerning one are two different things. Is the US military training soldiers to kill without teaching them to discern between right and wrong? Moreover, that some soldiers are skewing the facts to fit their desire -- to shoot -- is a clear sign of misconduct.

In addition, officers who permitted the engagement should be held accountable for these deaths because there is scant evidence that any soldier on the scene was in danger from the Iraqis in the van.

Ivan Eland, a defense analyst who's close with the military, said the following to Al Jazeera:

I don't think anybody tried to purposely kill anybody here but I think in this type of warfare it's not like in a conventional battle, you're not really sure who is in the insurgency and who is not ...

Yet after watching the footage, any comments like these are hardly defensible.

Opinions aside, there is at least one certainty: Iraqis and others in the region will be watching any investigation -- Al Jeezera has been broadcasting the video throughout the region.

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