Wikileaks has just released video it has obtained showing the killing of fifteen unarmed civilians without provocation by two U.S. Apache helicopters in Iraq in 2007. Wikileaks further claims this exposes a military cover-up that painted the incident as a battle with armed insurgents in which civilians were killed.
The film was taken by the crew of an Apache helicopter on July 12, 2007 over New Baghdad. Two Reuters News Agency employees, Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen, were out in the area, and as the film starts you can see Eldeen carrying his camera. Both were amongst the fifteen or so civilians killed, and, it seems, were the unwitting cause of the attack. More info and the film after the jump. Facebook readers, click here to see the article and the video.
The air crew misinterpret the camera as an AK47 and then further misinterpret something else carried by a different civilian – it is not clear what – as an RPG. Despite the fact that no fire was received by either of the attack helicopters – as no one was actually carrying a weapon – permission to engage was asked for and received. The two craft then proceed to deal with the perceived threat with 30mm fire.
Saeed survives and as he tries to crawl away the air crews are heard urging him to pick up a weapon so that they can open fire on him again. As they wait, a civilian minivan arrives to pick him up – again, with no evidence of arms or threat to the aircraft – and the crew curse impatiently as they ask for permission to open fire on the van. They eventually receive the permission.
There were two children in the van.
As ground troops arrive and take the wounded children away, the air crew are heard to remark that is “it’s their fault for bringing kids into a battle”. This was not a battle. At no time were any shots fired at the two aircraft, nor were any weapons in play. Throughout the film, the crews are heard to be casual and almost pissed off that permission to fire is taking so long. One is heard to laugh when an armored vehicle drives over one of the dead civilians.
There is a certain amount of leeway to be granted by the “fog of war”. You can understand the perceived threat of a crowd of people in a street where two seem to carry something that, from a helicopter, could look like a weapon. But aren’t you supposed to have absolute certainty, or actually be fired upon before firing back?
The U.S. military initially stated that the victims died during a battle between military and enemy insurgents, and that there was “no question that coalition forces were engaged in a battle against a hostile force”. Reuters spent three years demanding the release of the film to try and verify these claims, but the U.S. military refused its release. Only now, with a leak, is it in the public domain. The U.S. Military did eventually carry out an investigation and ruled that all was in accordance with the rules of engagement.
It takes you to a place where a very disturbing thought becomes apparent: had there not been two internationally respected journalists involved, and had Reuters not pushed for the truth, and had these just been Iraqi civilians, the “no question” statement – clearly a lie – would have never been exposed (or rather, would never even have been required). It is very easy for the troops on the ground to make mistakes and errors of judgement, and for this there is a certain amount of forgiveness. What is egregious here is how far the miltary then go to keep that quiet, and maybe just how often it happens.
Think carefully before viewing these films: you are watching a moment when, for many innocent people and the families they left behind, life simply stopped.
UPDATE 6/4/2010: it is now reported that an official response to the Wikileaks release and article is being planned, in light of this story being picked up by just about everybody and the mainstream media.
Vodpod videos no longer available.