American War Crimes: Video shows 'US attack' on Iraqis
- Video shows 'US attack' on Iraqis
TUESDAY, APRIL 06, 2010
One of the internet's biggest sources of classified government information has released video of what it says is a US helicopter firing at civilians in Iraq.
WikiLeaks, a website that publishes anonymously sourced documents,released what it called previously unseen footage on Monday.
It said the footage filmed from a helicopter cockpit shows a missile strike and shooting on a crowded square in a Baghdad neighbourhood in July 2007.
The website said 12 civilians were killed in the attack, including two journalists, Namir Nour El Deen and Saeed Chmagh, who worked for the Reuters news agency.
The two men appear to survive the first strike and attempt to get away, but the helicopter returns a second and third time.
Probes clear soldiers
The Pentagon has not officially commented on the video and Al Jazeera's Patty Culhane, reporting from Washington, said military officials seemed "completely surprised" when informed of the release of the tape, and appeared not to have heard about the footage beforehand.
But she said Pentagon officials indicated to Al Jazeera that there was no reason to doubt the authenticity of the tape.
She added that the results of two Pentagon investigations given to her cleared the air crew of any wrongdoing.
A statement from the two probes said the air crew had acted appropriately and followed the rules of engagement.
According to the probes, the air crew had reason to believe the people seen in the video were fighters before opening fire, she said.
They added that it was not until after the fact that the soldiers knew there were reporters at the scene and could have even guessed that the people were carrying cameras and not weapons.
Ivan Eland, a defence analyst who has advised US congressmen on military and national security policy, told Al Jazeera that anyone who appeared to be helping hostile targets in a war zone can technically be considered a fair target.
"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 ... and the real problem is in identifying the players and what they are doing in the war," he said.
Still, he said "there should have been some concern that this was not a hostile group because they saw this helicopter going around and around and didn't seem to be fearful of it".
"Insurgents would have either fled or used the rocket-propelled grenade launcher right off their backs," he said.
In the video, a voice can be heard saying there has been a shooting in the area. The unidentified person later receives permission to open fire.
Following the shooting, the footage shows troops carrying two injured children, as another unidentified person asks for permission to take the wounded out of the area.
A voice responds, saying, "Well, it's their fault for bringing their kids into a battle."
Our correspondent said the military had released a statement at the time of the attack saying they had positively identified weapons and fighters in the strike.
"It's important to point out that at the time of this incident, the military was very specific," she said.
"They said that the children were injured by shrapnel and the people who were killed were identified positively as militants who had put the security of Iraq at risk and that they had ... weapons.
"The commanders at the time said that they really regretted that children were wounded in this and said that they had taken every step possible to make sure that innocent lives were spared."
Nabil Nour El Deen, the brother of the Reuters photographer killed in the shooting, condemned the attack as a "crime" committed by the US military.
"Is this the democracy and freedom that they claim they have brought to Iraq?
"What Namir was doing was a patriotic work. He was trying to cover the violations of the Americans against the Iraqi people," he told Al Jazeera.
"We demand the international organisations to help us sue those people responsible for the killings of our sons and our people."
Julian Assange, the editor of WikiLeaks.org,said there was strong evidence to suggest the video was genuine.
"There was a Washington Post reporter who was with that US military unit on the ground on that day," Assange told Al Jazeera, referring to David Finkel, a journalist who was embedded with the US military in July 2007.
"He wrote a chapter in a book, which was published last year, called The Good Soldiers, which correlates directly to the material in that video.
"Also, Reuters conducted a number of investigations and interviewed two ground witnesses at the time.
"That story wasn't really taken seriously, [with] nothing to back up the witnesses, but now we have the video that shows that those witnesses were correct."
WikiLeaks set up a separate website with detailed information on the video,which it said it obtained from a number of "military whistleblowers".
"WikiLeaks goes to great lengths to verify the authenticity of the information it receives," the website read.
"We have analysed the information about this incident from a variety of source material. We have spoken to witnesses and journalists directly involved in the incident."
Grim truths of Wikileaks Iraq video
Collateral Murder forces us to confront the deplorable unreality of US aggression and the grim fate of those caught in its scope
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 7 April 2010 13.00 BST
On Monday Wikileaks, a Sweden based non-profit website that publishes leaked documents pertaining to government and corporate misconduct, released a classified US military video from 2007 that shows an Apache helicopter attacking and killing a group of Iraqi civilians. The incident rose to prominence because two of those who died were Reuters personnel – photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and his driver Saeed Chmagh. The video, entitled Collateral Murder, is already being heralded by some as the most important revelation since Abu Ghraib, and challenges not only the effectiveness of the US military's rules of engagement policy, but also the integrity of the mainstream media's coverage of similar incidents.
Like many of the millions who have viewed, re-viewed and analysed the video, it instantly reminded me of a videogame, specifically the game that currently sits inside my Wii – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. If you're unfamiliar, or prefer not to spend your spare time sniping imaginary terrorists, Modern Warfare offers a very simple and entertaining first-person narrative: as a member of the marines or the SAS, your job is to kill everything that moves. These types of first-person shoot 'em ups, which have long been utilised by the US military for training purposes, demand a simplistic rendition of warfare in order to achieve their rapid pace. There is little room for ambiguity or social realism, because if the player is required to discern the character of those who fall within their line of fire, it would interrupt the action, and make for a less thrilling gaming experience.
One of the most alarming aspects of Collateral Murder is that it demonstrates how similar the logic of the Apache pilots is to that of the average gamer. The video allows us to examine the entire process of how a rationale for attack is reached. We see exactly what the Apache pilots saw, the black-and-white gun-cam footage underscored by their darkly cynical colour-commentary of the ensuing carnage. As the helicopter approaches the men, we hear a pilot say: "See all those people standing down there?" The camera zooms in on the group and we see Saeed with a camera bag slung on his right shoulder. "That's a weapon," a pilot says. "Fucking prick," comes the reply.
And with that, a few unarmed, relaxed civilians hanging around a courtyard are transformed into a contingent of dangerous insurgents that must be destroyed. Within seconds the pilots have described the situation to their superiors, received approval to engage and are gunning down the crowd. After the smoke clears from the initial attack, we see a wounded Saeed attempting to crawl to safety, the pilots vocalising their desire that he pick up a weapon, even though there is clearly no weaponry anywhere near his person. A van then pulls up and some men arrive to help Saeed. The pilots request permission to re-engage, quickly becoming impatient as they wait for approval. "Come on let us shoot!" a pilot says. Permission is granted, and they fire on the van, killing Saeed along with the good samaritans. And it is soon revealed that rather than armed insurgents, there were actually two children sitting inside the mini-van, both of whom have sustained serious
Of course, our ability to deconstruct the footage down to the second allows for a level of hindsight not afforded to the pilots, and so the video doesn't necessarily condemn, in criminal terms, those directly responsible for the deaths, but rather US engagement protocol as a whole.
The video has already provoked a huge amount of praise and criticism within the American media. Many commentators are calling for an official investigation while others are defending the actions of the pilots and pleading for context. One of the most bizarre apologias has come from Gawker, a Manhattan media-gossip blog, who went out of their way to lament the civilian deaths in detail, only to go on defend the actions of the pilots under the premise that "innocent civilians get killed in wars".
Regardless of how many pundits attempt to frame this tragedy within the vagaries of a "war is hell" narrative, Collateral Murder will prove to be a landmark event in the reportage of the Iraq war, as it forces the viewer, in the most visceral way possible, to simultaneously confront both the deplorable unreality of American aggression and the grim fate of those caught within its scope.
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