April 12, 2010
The WikiLeaks video
(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)
I want to interrupt the series of posts on disbelieving priests to switch to politics, to comment on a shocking video that surfaced last week that some of you might have seen. To give you some background, on July 12, 2007 about a dozen Iraqis, including two journalists who worked for the Reuters news agency, were killed by the US military in a Baghdad suburb. The New York Times dutifully reported the military's version of the events.
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.
This event passed unnoticed since it seemed like just another routine battle taking place in a war zone. The only noteworthy item was that two journalists were among the dead, though since they were not American or western journalists, very few people in the US cared.
Two weeks after the attack, the US military privately showed Reuters officials some portions of a video taken from one of the attack helicopters but they refused to release the entire video of the incident despite repeated requests under the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act). The organization WikiLeaks, that is dedicated to the public releasing of information, obtained the video, decrypted it, and released it to the public. If you have not seen this video, you should, although it is very disturbing.
(The above is an edited 17-minute version. You can see the full unedited 37 minute video here. The White House has acknowledged that the video is genuine. The US military says, incredibly, that it can't find its own copy of the video.)
For those who cannot watch videos or cannot stomach people being gunned down, the video shows a group of men wandering around in an open courtyard, talking to each other and on their cell phones. They seemed unconcerned about a US military attack helicopter circling overhead. The gunner in the helicopter then unleashed a sudden deadly barrage of fire, killing and wounding almost everyone as they scurried for cover. When later a van comes along and tries to pick up the wounded, fire is unleashed again, killing yet more people and wounding two children who were in the van.
During it all, the people in the helicopter seem gleeful, chuckling over the deaths and congratulating each other, even audibly hoping that a crawling wounded man would make what could be interpreted as a hostile action so that they could shoot him again, laughing when a US military vehicle later went over a dead body, and even being dismissive when they discover that children had been among those shot in the van. A camera and telephoto lens carried by the photographer is mistaken by the gunner for a grenade launcher, a surprising error for trained soldiers to make.
As Dan Froomkin writes:
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.
"Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards," says one crewman after multiple rounds of 30mm cannon fire left nearly a dozen bodies littering the street.
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.
This video has been seen widely worldwide and as expected has caused outrage. But the US media, ever mindful of its role to hide the truth of war from Americans, has either ignored the story or has downplayed it or has blacked out the more disturbing images. Even when it has covered the story, it is as usual accompanied by the usual apologias, statements of regret, the world weary clichés of the 'fog of war', 'war is hell', etc. rolling smoothly over the tongue, by now repeated so often as to be almost unconscious. And of course portraying as naïve idealists those who think that even a legal war does not justify the murdering of people as they go about their lives.
Is it any wonder that Americans are always surprised when anti-American violence erupts around the world and are so easily persuaded that it must have irrational causes exemplified by fatuous statements such as that 'they hate us for our freedoms'?
POST SCRIPT: Julian Assange is interviewed on Al Jazeera
The Wikileaks editor talks about the video and other killings and why we can believe that the video is genuine.