Iraq: Revelations of "Collateral Murder" calcify anger in civilian hearts awaiting justice Print E-mail

 London ~ Saturday 10 April 2010

'As I watch the footage, anger calcifies in my heart'

A novelist and former prisoner of Saddam Hussein's regime gives her reaction to the Wikileaks Iraq video

By  Haifa Zangana
Scroll down to read related items, the original Wikileaks text, and iinks to the "Collateral Murder" footage from Wikileaks

I know the area where this massacre was committed. It is a crowded working-class area, a place where it is safe for children to play outdoors. It is near where my two aunts and their extended families lived, where I played as a child with my cousins Ali, Khalid, Ferial and Mohammed. Their offspring still live there.

The Reuters photographer we see being killed so casually in the film, Namir Noor-Eldeen, did not live there, but went to cover a story, risking his life at a time when most western journalists were imbedded with the military. Noor-Eldeen was 22 (he must have felt extremely proud to be working for Reuters) and single. His driver Saeed Chmagh, who is also seen being killed, was 40 and married. He left behind a widow and four children, adding to the millions of Iraqi widows and orphans.

Witnesses to the slaughter reported the harrowing details in 2007, but they had to wait for a western whistleblower to hand over a video before anyone listened. Watching the video, my first impression was, I have no impression. But the total numbness gradually grows into a now familiar anger. I listen to the excited voices of death coming from the sky, enjoying the chase and killing. I whisper: do they think they are God?

"Light 'em all up!" one shooter says.

"Ah, yeah, look at those dead bastards. Nice," says another.

"Well, it's their fault bringing their kids into the battle," one says when ground troops discover two children among the wounded.

In their Apache helicopter, with their sophisticated killing machinery, US soldiers seem superhuman. The Iraqis, on the ground, appear only as nameless bastards, Hajjis, sandniggers. They seem subhuman – and stripping them of their humanity makes killing them easy.

As I watch, I feel the anger calcify in my heart alongside the rage I still feel over other Anglo-American massacres: Haditha (which has been compared to the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam war); Ishaqi (where 11 Iraqi civilians were killed in June 2006); Falluja; the rape and killing of A'beer al-Janaby and her family; the British Camp Breadbasket scandal.

We often hear of the traumas US soldiers suffer when they lose one of their ranks, and their eagerness to even the score. We seldom hear from people like the Iraqi widow whose husband was shot, who looked me in the eye last summer, and said: "But we didn't invade their country." Unlike this video, the injustice she feels will not fade with time. It is engraved in the collective memory of people, and will be until justice is done.

 London ~ Wednesday 7 April 2010

Grim truths of Wikileaks Iraq video

By Douglas Haddow [Vancouver-based writer and creative consultant]

Collateral Murder forces us to confront the deplorable unreality of US aggression and the grim fate of those caught in its scope

On Monday Wikileaks, a Sweden based non-profit website that publishes leaked documents pertaining to government and corporate misconduct, released a classified US military video from 2007 that shows an Apache helicopter attacking and killing a group of Iraqi civilians. The incident rose to prominence because two of those who died were Reuters personnel – photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and his driver Saeed Chmagh. The video, entitled Collateral Murder, is already being heralded by some as the most important revelation since Abu Ghraib, and challenges not only the effectiveness of the US military's rules of engagement policy, but also the integrity of the mainstream media's coverage of similar incidents.

Like many of the millions who have viewed, re-viewed and analysed the video, it instantly reminded me of a videogame, specifically the game that currently sits inside my Wii – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. If you're unfamiliar, or prefer not to spend your spare time sniping imaginary terrorists, Modern Warfare offers a very simple and entertaining first-person narrative: as a member of the marines or the SAS, your job is to kill everything that moves. These types of first-person shoot 'em ups, which have long been utilised by the US military for training purposes, demand a simplistic rendition of warfare in order to achieve their rapid pace. There is little room for ambiguity or social realism, because if the player is required to discern the character of those who fall within their line of fire, it would interrupt the action, and make for a less thrilling gaming experience.

One of the most alarming aspects of Collateral Murder is that it demonstrates how similar the logic of the Apache pilots is to that of the average gamer. The video allows us to examine the entire process of how a rationale for attack is reached. We see exactly what the Apache pilots saw, the black-and-white gun-cam footage underscored by their darkly cynical colour-commentary of the ensuing carnage. As the helicopter approaches the men, we hear a pilot say: "See all those people standing down there?" The camera zooms in on the group and we see Saeed with a camera bag slung on his right shoulder. "That's a weapon," a pilot says. "Fucking prick," comes the reply.

And with that, a few unarmed, relaxed civilians hanging around a courtyard are transformed into a contingent of dangerous insurgents that must be destroyed. Within seconds the pilots have described the situation to their superiors, received approval to engage and are gunning down the crowd. After the smoke clears from the initial attack, we see a wounded Saeed attempting to crawl to safety, the pilots vocalising their desire that he pick up a weapon, even though there is clearly no weaponry anywhere near his person. A van then pulls up and some men arrive to help Saeed. The pilots request permission to re-engage, quickly becoming impatient as they wait for approval. "Come on let us shoot!" a pilot says. Permission is granted, and they fire on the van, killing Saeed along with the good samaritans. And it is soon revealed that rather than armed insurgents, there were actually two children sitting inside the mini-van, both of whom have sustained serious injuries.

Of course, our ability to deconstruct the footage down to the second allows for a level of hindsight not afforded to the pilots, and so the video doesn't necessarily condemn, in criminal terms, those directly responsible for the deaths, but rather US engagement protocol as a whole.

The video has already provoked a huge amount of praise and criticism within the American media. Many commentators are calling for an official investigation while others are defending the actions of the pilots and pleading for context. One of the most bizarre apologias has come from Gawker, a Manhattan media-gossip blog, who went out of their way to lament the civilian deaths in detail, only to go on defend the actions of the pilots under the premise that " innocent civilians get killed in wars".

Regardless of how many pundits attempt to frame this tragedy within the vagaries of a "war is hell" narrative, Collateral Murder will prove to be a landmark event in the reportage of the Iraq war, as it forces the viewer, in the most visceral way possible, to simultaneously confront both the deplorable unreality of American aggression and the grim fate of those caught within its scope.

 London ~ Thursday, 8 April 2010

Now we see what war does to those who wage it

By  Joan Smith

Some combatants find war exciting. Adrenaline rushes become addictive

For the crew of an Apache helicopter gunship hovering over Baghdad in 2007, the whole thing sounds like a game. "Nice... good shooting," exclaims a voice from the cockpit as a group of men in civilian clothes lies on the ground in a cloud of dust. "Yeah, look at those dead bastards," calls out another. The co-pilot claims he can see rocket-propelled grenade launchers and AK47s near the dead and wounded. The truth is the gunner has just opened fire on two Reuters journalists, Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen.

One of them is still alive and tries to crawl to safety, prompting the co-pilot to urge him to reach for a weapon: "Come on, buddy. All you gotta do is pick up a weapon." But the journalist is unarmed and dies on the street. In all, the footage from the cockpit camera lasts 17 minutes and also shows the Apache crew opening fire on civilians who arrive in a van to help the wounded, seriously injuring two children inside the vehicle.

The cockpit video has just been released by the campaigning organisation, which says it has also obtained a secret US military video showing civilian deaths in Afghanistan. Although the Apache crew has been exonerated, it is hard to believe they were following rules of engagement when they resorted to immediate and lethal force. Nor is it hard to see why so many ordinary Iraqis hate the US military as much as they loathe insurgents who kill civilians with car bombs.

But the callous exchanges inside the cockpit point to a larger problem for the US military, confirming suspicions that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are inflicting huge psychological damage on combatants. The Apache had been called in to support ground troops in Sadr City but was not directly at risk when the gunner asked permission to open fire. Even when someone on board realised that children had been wounded, the response was inhuman: "Well", says a voice, "it's their fault for bringing kids into a battle." Men who react like this may not have physical wounds but they suffer from terrible emotional damage, and the US military fails everyone – its own personnel and the victims of their indiscriminate violence – when it refuses to recognise what is going on.

Some combatants find war exciting. The adrenaline rush becomes addictive, which is what happens to the bomb disposal expert at the centre of Kathryn Bigelow's brilliant, harrowing film The Hurt Locker. The movie is clear-sighted about this process, unlike the Pentagon, which is struggling to keep a lid on things. There have been shootings, suicides; even incidents like that at Fort Hood last November which resulted in an army psychiatrist – Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who had treated returning soldiers with dreadful injuries – facing 13 charges of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder.

My generation grew up in the shadow of the Second World War, living with parents who had seen terrible things as young adults; I was grown up myself by the time I realised that my father suffered from undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of his experience on Atlantic convoys. Since 1945, the nature of warfare has changed radically; in recent years, British and US soldiers have been deployed for protracted periods in parts of the world where it's not always easy to tell civilians from insurgents. The scope for psychological damage is immense, with organisations supporting British veterans highlighting problems including alcohol abuse, homelessness and divorce.

In the US, there are nearly two million veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. An independent report published last week confirms they have high levels of mental health problems. These veterans differ markedly from survivors of earlier wars: they're older, more likely to have wives and children, and some of them have returned with devastating physical injuries. The report cites at least 40,000 cases of PTSD, along with depression, suicide, substance abuse, domestic violence, marital problems and mistreatment of children. "The mental health providers in many places are really overwhelmed with huge case loads," said Dr Albert Wu, a member of the committee which compiled the report for the Institute of Medicine. He added that some social workers are struggling to cope with case loads of up to 800 veterans.

Instead of rushing to defend military personnel accused of killing unarmed civilians, the Pentagon needs to review training and command structures which fail to identify combatants with serious psychological problems. In any conflict, soldiers have to be able to overcome the taboo against killing other humans. But this cockpit video is disturbing evidence that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are normalising violence.

Collateral Murder

WikiLeaks has released a classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad -- including two Reuters news staff. Reuters has been trying to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act, without success since the time of the attack. The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-site, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded. For further information please visit the special project website HERE or Read On ......

Collateral Murder

5th April 2010: Overview

WikiLeaks has released a classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad -- including two Reuters news staff.

Reuters has been trying to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act, without success since the time of the attack. The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.

Short version HERE

Full version HERE

The military did not reveal how the Reuters staff were killed, and stated that they did not know how the children were injured.

After demands by Reuters, the incident was investigated and the U.S. military concluded that the actions of the soldiers were in accordance with the law of armed conflict and its own "Rules of Engagement".

Consequently, WikiLeaks has released the classified Rules of Engagement for 2006, 2007 and 2008, revealing these rules before, during, and after the killings.

WikiLeaks has released both the original 38 minutes video and a shorter version with an initial analysis. Subtitles have been added to both versions from the radio transmissions.

WikiLeaks obtained this video as well as supporting documents from a number of military whistleblowers. WikiLeaks goes to great lengths to verify the authenticity of the information it receives. We have analyzed the information about this incident from a variety of source material. We have spoken to witnesses and journalists directly involved in the incident.

WikiLeaks wants to ensure that all the leaked information it receives gets the attention it deserves. In this particular case, some of the people killed were journalists that were simply doing their jobs: putting their lives at risk in order to report on war. Iraq is a very dangerous place for journalists: from 2003- 2009, 139 journalists were killed while doing their work.