New Baghdad, Iraq – 2007
An Apache helicopter hovers above a group of men on the ground. Soldiers in the chopper are watching the men through a gun-sight camera. Two of the men on the ground are journalists, a cameraman for Reuters and his driver, but they look just like others in the group milling around in the street. One appears to be carrying a camera on a sling. The other is carrying something as well. The soldiers in the Apache, who are apparently trying to clear the area for approaching coalition troops, have no idea who the men on the ground are. The soldiers in the Apache appear to mistake the camera for a weapon.
Other men nearby appear to be armed. The soldiers in the Apache see AK47 rifles and an “RPG,” a rocket propelled grenade launcher.
After establishing that men in the group are armed, the Apache asks for and receives, permission to open fire.
From that point on it’s like fish in a barrel.
When the shooting stops, one of the men is alive and trying to crawl away for cover. The men in the Apache see that he appears to be unarmed. They hold their fire.
Then, a van pulls up to evacuate the wounded. The Apache again opens fire, this time on the van which has two children inside. The soldiers in the Apache appear to know nothing about the children, who are wounded as the helicopter opens fire on the van. Later, coalition troops move in to take the children to a hospital.
That’s what I saw as I watched the highly publicized so-called “collateral murder” video recently released by “wikileaks.org.”
I’m not surprised some of the media is avoiding it. It’s really nasty stuff. Just like war. Like the wars/police actions in Afghanistan and Iraq the American public has been partially shielded from by a media that appears to be increasingly influenced by the Pentagon.
Americans became incensed with what was happening in Vietnam, because the media was bringing it into their living rooms every night. The wars/police actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, have been presented more like video games than reality. An acceptable product for a world desensitized by hi-tech electronics.
Death by remote control. Forget about it. It’s only a game.
The wikileaks video has that effect to a degree, but this time its not just a gray screen with crosshairs targeting an inanimate object. This time it’s not just a missile going in to blow up a truck or building. This time you can see the unsanitized version. The bodies being hit by gunfire. You can see them as they fall, with one wounded man pathetically trying to crawl away to safety.
A mistake was made. A journalist and his driver were killed. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Two guys hanging out with a group of armed men, one of whom appeared to be carrying a rifle and another carrying what could have been an RPG. That’s they way it looks to me, and the two armed men I see are not the journalist or his driver.
To the soldiers in the helicopter they were all members of a group of armed insurgents. So they opened fire and people died. No one should be surprised. That’s what happens during a war.
In this war, as with Vietnam, it’s difficult to identify the enemy. They aren’t wearing uniforms. They aren’t out in a field somewhere hiding in foxholes. They’re just people who look like everyone else.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is supporting the troops-
‘”It’s obviously a hard thing to see. It’s painful to see, especially when you learn after the fact what was going on. But you — you talked about the fog of war. These people were operating in split-second situations,” Gates said.
The U.S. military said an investigation shortly after the incident found that U.S. forces were unaware of the presence of news staff and thought they were engaging armed insurgents, mistaking a camera for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
The Reuters staff killed in the attack were photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and his assistant and driver Saeed Chamagh, 40.
“We’ve investigated it very thoroughly,” Gates said on ABC. The military’s Central Command said last week it had no plans to open a new investigation.”‘ –Reuters
Those who want to use this video as anti-American propaganda will undoubtedly find an audience eager to condemn the military and the United States.
If there is any condemnation to be made, it shouldn’t be directed at the soldiers in the Apache, but at those government leaders who for so long kept reality from the eyes and ears of America.
The Bush Administration cleverly banned all media coverage as the coffins bearing the bodies of fallen troops were carried off the planes. The government has also done pretty well in containing coverage of Iraqi and Afghan civilians being wounded or killed.
TV coverage? Compared to Vietnam, there is none. And much of America has stopped reading the papers.
Being embedded with the military can provide the media with increased access. It can also limit one’s ability to show things as they really are.
As I watched both the American media and Al Jazerra during the invasion of Iraq, I was struck by the difference in coverage. Al Jazerra actually showed the dead and dying, up close and personal. The American media presented a more sanitized version of the same events. It was a troubling comparison.
The wikileaks video can be seen by clicking here. It’s no fun to watch, but it’s reality. Some would argue that’s more than enough reason for everybody to see it.