By David Froomkin for Huffington Post
(check site for additional video)
Calling it a case of “collateral murder,” the WikiLeaks Web site today released harrowing until-now secret video of a U.S. Army Apache helicopter in Baghdad in 2007 repeatedly opening fire on a group of men that included a Reuters photographer and his driver — and then on a van that stopped to rescue one of the wounded men. None of the members of the group were taking hostile action, contrary to the Pentagon’s initial cover story; they were milling about on a street corner. One man was evidently carrying a gun, though that was and is hardly an uncommon occurrence in Baghdad.
Reporters working for WikiLeaks determined that the driver of the van was a good Samaritan on his way to take his small children to a tutoring session. He was killed and his two children were badly injured.
In the video, which Reuters has been asking to see since 2007, crew members can be heard celebrating their kills.
A crewman begs for permission to open fire on the van and its occupants, even though it has done nothing but stop to help the wounded: “Come on, let us shoot!”
Two crewmen share a laugh when a Bradley fighting vehicle runs over one of the corpses.
And after soldiers on the ground find two small children shot and bleeding in the van, one crewman can be heard saying: “Well, it’s their fault bringing their kids to a battle.”
The helicopter crew, which was patrolling an area that had been the scene of fierce fighting that morning, said they spotted weapons on members of the first group — although the video shows one gun, at most. The crew also mistook a telephoto lens for a rocket-propelled grenade.
The shooting, which killed Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and driver Saeed Chmagh, 40, took place on July 12, 2007, in a southeastern neighborhood of Baghdad.
The next day, the New York Times reported the military’s official cover story:
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.
The video shows otherwise.
Washington Post reporter David Finkel described the incident — and the video — in great detail in his September 2009 book, “The Good Soldiers”. A summary can be found here.
Finkel also described a review session after Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, commander of the Army’s 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment and his soldiers returned to base, which “concluded that everyone had acted appropriately.” (Kauzlarich was also involved in the Army’s Pat Tillman cover-up, and later told ESPN that the reluctance of Tillman’s parents to accept the military’s story that he was killed by enemy action, rather than friendly fire, was the unfortunate result of their lack of Christian faith.)
WikiLeaks, a small, independent Web site that invites people to post information and documents that powerful interests would prefer to keep secret, says it received the video and supporting documents from military whistleblowers.
Julian Assange, the editor of the site, said the killings either violated the the army’s rules of engagement, or those rules of engagement “are very, deeply wrong.”
Watch the WikiLeaks video below, or the key portions of the video as pieced together by MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan:
Unveiling the video at the National Press Club on Monday morning, Assange said the helicopter crew approached its job as if it were a video game, not something involving human lives. Their desire was simply to kill,” he said. “Their desire was to get high scores on that computer game.”
Reuters released this statement from David Schlesinger, editor-in-chief of Reuters news: “The deaths of Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh three years ago were tragic and emblematic of the extreme dangers that exist in covering war zones. We continue to work for journalist safety and call on all involved parties to recognise the important work that journalists do and the extreme danger that photographers and video journalists face in particular. The video released today via WikiLeaks is graphic evidence of the dangers involved in war journalism and the tragedies that can result.”
An Army spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
Just this morning, the New York Times confirmed a gruesome cover-up by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Officials who had repeatedly denied reports by Jerome Starkey in the Times of London have now confirmed that American Special Operations soldiers slaughtered three women in a nighttime raid in February — and actually dug bullets out of the bodies of the women as part of a cover-up. Starkey says U.S. and NATO forces are rarely held to account for the atrocities they commit.
WATCH: WikiLeaks editor Assange being interviewed by Al Jazeera English
Just last month, WikiLeaks posted the results of a U.S. counterintelligence investigation into none other than WikiLeaks itself. The report determined that WikiLeaks “represents a potential force protection, counterintelligence, operational security (OPSEC), and information security (INFOSEC) threat to the US Army.”
The report also concludes, highly suggestively: “Wikileaks.org uses trust as a center of gravity by assuring insiders, leakers, and whistleblowers who pass information to Wikileaks.org personnel or who post information to the Web site that they will remain anonymous. The identification, exposure, or termination of employment of or legal actions against current or former insiders, leakers, or whistleblowers could damage or destroy this center of gravity and deter others from using Wikileaks.org to make such information public.”
Meanwhile, Assange says another video is forthcoming: This one of a bombing in Afghanistan with civilian casualties.
Dan Froomkin is senior Washington correspondent for the Huffington Post. You can send him an e-mail, bookmark his page; subscribe to RSS feed, follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and/or become a fan and get e-mail alerts when he writes