Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Video of a Baghdad Attack

This is a rare event: two blog posts in a single day. Since posting my comments earlier, I found some discussions about the now-infamous Wikileaks video of an aerial attack in Baghdad in 2007 that killed a number of Iraqi men, among them a photographer and driver for Reuters. The video, entitled Collateral Murder, is on virtually every news site and probably has been shown on most TV news shows as well by now. I'm not going to post it as everybody else already has.

I watched the video yesterday. It's very disturbing, in and of itself. You see and hear aircrews discussing the men on the ground, getting cleared to fire, shooting at the group, and then discussing the results afterward. You see living men get killed. And the discussion sounds cold and heartless.

But there is much more to the story than the Wikileaks video provides. It seems to me that Wikileaks is pursuing a sensationalist approach, or at least has an agenda to pursue. Just the title, Collateral Murder, shows that they are not a neutral arbiter of facts. As the video unfolds, Wikileaks edits, zooms in, and repeats sections to make their points. However, they do not mention, do not show, or ignore other aspects that undermine their "murder" allegation.

When I first watched the video, I could see how the Apache pilots could have thought that the photographer was carrying a weapon rather than a camera. And when he stuck his head around the corner to shoot a picture, it certainly looked like he was aiming something. Remember that there was a firefight going on in that area at that very moment, that had been going on for some time, and American troops were receiving fire. In a situation like that, if somebody aimed something towards our own troops, my presumption would have been "weapon", not "camera".

I thought the attack on the van was wrong. I saw no indication that they were doing anything other than removing the wounded for treatment. Wikileaks made a big deal of the children being in the van, but I never saw them until Wiki zoomed in late in the video (at about 16 minutes), and even then all I could see was an unidentified "something" moving around in the front passenger seat. Slow-motion replay was not an option to the Apache pilots, who had to make a decision in real-time, in the heat of a battle.

I've found two very informative postings about this video. One is by Anthony Martinez, a former Army sergeant whose job during the surge entailed watching this type of video feed from UAVs and giving (or witholding) clearance to fire. As he points out, this wasn't just a group of photographers and observers standing around innocently: early in the video, at 3:45-4:00, two men are clearly seen carrying an RPG and a rifle of some sort. Wikileaks ignored their presence, but it shows that the Reuters photographer and driver joined a group of men, at least two of whom were armed, and chose to stay with them. Anthony's viewpoint is that the initial attack on the group was understandable. The second attack, the one on the van that arrived to remove the wounded, was not.

The second posting is an online Q&A led by David Finkel. David was a Washington Post reporter who was embedded with the Army unit that was on the ground that day. Soldiers from his unit were the ones who arrived on the ground towards the end of the video. David also notes that one of the men killed had an RPG and another was armed. David brings a very well-considered viewpoint to the discussion that needs to be heard.

Although the news reports focused on deaths of the Reuters photographer and driver, I note that David Schlesinger, the Editor-in-Chief for Reuters, has not called the incident "murder", as Wikileaks did. David noted that this is an example of the dangers faced by reporters in wartime.

Wikileaks and many others have cited the language of the pilots and ground controllers as examples of their inhumanity. Well, this is WAR. One of the things you do in war is dehumanize your opponent. (You don't think so? Listen to Republicans talk about Democrats, and Democrats talk about Republicans, and they're not even shooting at each other. Not yet, at any rate.) British sailors were "Limeys". Germans were "Krauts". Japanese were "Japs" or "Nips". Viet Cong were "gooks". Arabs were "rag-heads". One of the ways you deal with the fact that you're killing people is to strip them of their humanity first. Then when they're shooting at you or your compatriots, it's easy to call them "bastards" and shoot them back. But if Americans are such heartless goons, please explain to me the soldier seen running with the wounded child to get him/her to treatment. Wikileaks ignored that event.

Finally, I see that Wikileaks is trying to raise funds for more exposures of American malfeasance, particularly in Afghanistan. I wonder, though, why they don't run exposures of the other side? Where are their exposures of how the Taliban hides behind women and children, often deliberately putting them in harm's way for propaganda purposes? Where are their exposures of how Sunni and Shiite militias are, right now, bombing restaurants filled with innocent people, or murdering their opponents and their families in cold blood? Where are their exposures of Afghan or Iraqi government corruption that siphons off up to 70% of any budget? (Yes, you read that right, up to 70%).

Wikileaks call this event "murder". It was not. It was an unfortunate event in a stupidly-conceived war. If they want to claim murder, they'll find many more examples of it if they turn their lenses to the extremists. Not American soldiers.


  1. Thank you for your opinion in that is displays both common sense and practical analysis. It doesn't hurt that it coincides completely with my own. :)

    I just found your blog and am working my way backwards through your postings and learning and enjoying all the way through.

    WELCOME HOME and best wishes from...

    An old gray haired gal in Barnardsville.