Wikileaks has just released this footage from a US Apache helicopter killing a group of civilians in Baghdad in 2007. The clip shows the crew strafing the men from the air and then returning to kill the occupants of a van attempting to collect the wounded.
The dead included two journalists from Reuters. In the aftermath of the incident, the New York Times reported:
The American military said in a statement late Thursday that 11 people had been killed: nine insurgents and two civilians. According to the statement, American troops were conducting a raid when they were hit by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The American troops called in reinforcements and attack helicopters. In the ensuing fight, the statement said, the two Reuters employees and nine insurgents were killed.
“There is no question that coalition forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force,” said Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, a spokesman for the multinational forces in Baghdad.
As the video shows, that’s entirely untrue. The helicopter crew rely exclusively on their own visual identification that the men have weapons, evidently mistaking camera equipment for a RPG. On that basis, they open fire, even though the group is walking down a city street.
Indeed, the cavalier basis on which the crew decides to kill ten or more Iraqis helps explain why the death toll from the conflict is so high – Mohamed ElBaradei, former chief of International Atomic Energy Agency, recently explained that those who launched the war in Iraq were responsible for killing a million innocent people.
Furthermore, the video highlights the utter lack of accountability for atrocities, both in that war and in Afghanistan. That is, in the wake of the killings, the first response of the military was simply to lie. Look at Bleichwehl’s statement again. The clip makes clear that the crew engaged solely because they thought the civilians were carrying weapons. There’s no suggestion – none at all – of a fight involving small-arms and RPGs. After the killings, Reuters pressed for the video footage to be shown. The military refused. The footage has only come out now because of Wikileaks, a tiny whistleblowing website.
The obvious comparison is with this latest episode in Afghanistan, reported by the Age as follows:
US-LED troops in Afghanistan have been accused of digging bullets out of the dead bodies of three Afghan women in an attempted cover-up of a bungled raid they conducted in a village earlier this year.
After initially denying responsibility for the deaths, NATO commanders have now confirmed that their troops killed two pregnant women and another female villager in the botched raid on February 12.
NATO at first suggested that the women – one of them a pregnant mother of 10 and another a pregnant mother of six – had died by some other means hours before the raid.
In a statement released yesterday Melbourne time, the US-led military command in Kabul said investigators had concluded the women were ”accidentally killed” as a result of joint forces firing at two armed men, who also died. ”We deeply regret the outcome of this operation,” said NATO spokesman Brigadier General Eric Tremblay.
In a potentially scandalous turn, The Times in London has reported findings by Afghan investigators that US forces not only killed the women but ”dug bullets out of their victims’ bodies in the bloody aftermath” and then ”washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened”.
The helicopter footage is shocking. But what really matters is what happens now. It’s rare for atrocities to be documented so clearly. We have real time footage of the attack taking place; we have the military blatantly caught out lying. Will the press take up the story? Will there be accountability, reparations? Most of all, will there be any lessons drawn whatsoever?
After all, the clip is grotesque. But it documents what happens during a military occupation. These wars are atrocities – and that video is what they look like.