It would be easy to pass judgment on the video that has just surfaced from a 2007 incident that involved the deaths of a reporter, his camera-man, and several bystanders on a street in Baghdad. The first thing that we need is a show of hands: How many of us have been involved in actual combat? The correct answer would be not many. It is easy to Monday morning quarterback the situation and conclude that the street scene was nothing short of slaughter, but that would not take into account a hostile and violent world of warfare. The object of the game is to kill your enemy, by any means necessary, and even gun ships are not beyond the danger. The deaths of the men on the ground are a horrific tragedy, but the rules of engagement are clear- kill or be killed in a war zone.

The perception from the helicopter was that the men were a threat and that the camera equipment was a weapon. It would be fair to assume that the men in the Apache helicopter had been under fire (during their tour) prior to the incident. It would also be fair to assume that hesitation in a combat zone can lead directly to sudden death, and not the kind found in an overtime hockey game

The radio chatter seemed to indicate that the soldiers felt a threat from ground attack was imminent, and they acted accordingly. The secondary incident involved an attack on a civilian van that was actually on a rescue mission for a wounded survivor.

The optics are not good on the entire sequence of events, including the light banter from the men in the Apache during and after the attack. All of the events lead directly back to the same point: It took place in a war zone and people act slightly out of the norm when other people want to kill them. Dark humor is a part of any job where tragedy is part of the territory. It’s called a coping strategy.

Throw in an invisible enemy in an urban landscape without a clearly defined uniform and things get complicated. Friend or foe? You make the call and you better get it right. Because your life will depend upon it.

So it is easy to pass judgment upon the men in the gunship who mistakenly wiped out a dozen lives in a blood-soaked instant. We have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight in this horrible situation. But, before anybody grabs a perch on moral high ground, they should think about the actual mechanics of war. Sometimes it is difficult to second guess your first decision when you are dead because of your first decision. That is the reality of war.

18 Responses to Editorial: The U.S. Army Gunship Attack is Not What It Seems

  1. We also need to remember that 2007 was in the middle of the surge and combat was heavy. Americans were being killed every day and suicide bombs were killing hundreds of civilians every week. In a situation like that, someone who looks like a threat gets fired on. That's the way it is. It's happened in every war where stand-off weapons were employed, it's happening right now and it will happen in the future.

    As far as their black humor, I think they've earned the right to it.

  2. BTW, Jeff, I just checked out your boy Gordon's web site. Interesting. A hard-lefty and a 9-11 truther to boot.

    • He's also a veteran and a military defense expert. Interesting that you think he's a "lefty." Is that because you disagree with his analysis?

  3. I agree with Jeff on this one.

    We have a professional army. Killing should never be done lightly, or casually. It is a serious business, with enormous consequences for all involved, no matter how distant.

    When mistakes are made, as they always are in war, our troops and politicians should acknowledge them AND set them in their appropriate context. Our government and military's lack of transparency in this horrific mistake makes us look arrogant, craven, corrupt or all three.

    Spiritually, dissing your enemy brings dishonor to yourself. What was that about pride goething before the fall? Like that. You win the battle and lose the war.

    Lest we forget, America engaged in this war to defend the sanctity of human life. To liberate the people of Iraq from the capricious cruelty of their former masters. We should avoid both its recreation and the appearance of its recreation.

    The soldiers and the superiors involved in this murderous event should be reprimanded for their strategic blunder, but disciplined for their failure to respect human life.

    As Jeff says, we need to be better than the enemy, on every level. Otherwise, we're just as bad.

    • I would have to disagree whole-heartedly with you calling this event "murderous." That implies murder. Murder implies intent and illegality. Those guys were casualties of war, not murder victims. Yes, it's sad they were killed, but they were surrounded by heavily armed men in a combat zone, which is dangerous.

      In reviewing all the evidence and the full length video, I don't think this was a "blunder." A mistake, maybe, but only if the others killed were not insurgents. A reporter should not embed himself with the enemy in a combat zone.

      As for the respect for human life, these are 25 year olds dealing with stuff no non-veteran could ever wrap their head around. They're taught to distance themselves from the enemy. That is their job. To kill. If they allowed their emotions to take over, they wouldn't be good killers which, tragic in the global sense, is a bad thing for a soldier.

  4. How does a group of men standing on a corner present a threat to a military gunship?

    You don’t have to have served to be able to criticize what went down here. If we are not able to criticize the joking/snickering done by the spotter after a Humvee ran over the body of one of the bystanders, then we have lost our sense of humanity.

    “06:35:14 Ground unit reports: “I’ve got uh eleven Iraqi KIAs [Killed In Action]. One small child wounded. Over.” – “Roger. Ah damn. Oh well.”

    Oh well? Fuck anyone who attempts to rationalize this behavior.

    Update: Gordon Duff of Veterans Today has a far more in-depth examination of the spins being made in response to this video: http://www.veteranstoday.com/2010/04/07/gordon-duff-collateral-damage-spinning-away-murder-in-iraq/

  5. One of the by-products of a new era of blanket video coverage is this situation where a war gets vivisected into very small pieces. The actions of the chopper crew were wide open to interpretation after the fact. But, as gruesome as the video was to watch, it was also a handful of minutes in a tour of duty in a high risk war zone. It doesn't excuse the crew for the end result, or the banter, but only the crew members would know how it feels to patrol an urban area with every opportunity to get blown out of the sky through their entire tour.

  6. There are pictures from the ground out. Several men in that group were armed. The camera crew was mixed up in that. The US military on the ground reported taking fire. Those guys were in a likely spot.

    There is actually a photo from the photographer’s camera – it shows a US Humvee. So in the Gunner’s mind, this guy is pointing something down the street at a Humvee, leaning around the corner. They didn’t present a threat to the gunship, they presented a threat to a group of Humvees down that very same road.

    Also, a camera with a telephoto lens looks a lot like an M72 LAW, an anti-tank weapon that would destroy a Humvee no problem.

    As for their chatter – it is what it is. That’s how you cope. Do you want soldiers to break down and cry when something goes wrong? That gets everyone dead.

    • No one in the group was armed. The only thing that could “shoot” was a camera.

      “The military has released a number of unsupported claims, one being that a convoy was in the area. Imagine a maze of small streets, an almost infinite maze. Not only were there no troops anywhere near the site of the incident but, in fact, directing them to find the area took some time. The ‘convoy’ was, not only not going there, they didn’t even know how to find ‘there” even with the help of an Apache Longbow helicopter with advanced geo-navigation systems.’

      “The military suggested the Apache was defending a nearby convoy from attacks from RPG 29s (not M72s) that they spotted inside the camera bags of the Reuter’s reporters. This is a photograph of an RPG 29: http://tinyurl.com/yad9j3x ” (Veterans Today)

      As for your final comment, no, what I want is a soldier who has a little respect when he realizes that he gravely injured an innocent child. What I don’t want is a soldier so dead in emotion that the killing of “collaterals” elicits joking and laughing.

      • According to the sworn statements of those on the ground, weapons were found. They also have pictures of the aftermath. The DOD examined the video and positively identified an RPG-7, an additional RPG round, and at least one AK-series rifle. This was in the DoD's investigative report. The report also included a photo from the Reuter's camera that shows a US Humvee.

        Want proof? How about the actual redacted Investigative Report? It's entitled Investigation into Civilian Casualties Resulting from an Engagement on 12 July 2007 in The New Baghdad District of Baghdad, Iraq and you can find it here: http://mypetjawa.mu.nu/archives/201889.php

        The military supported the claims. With this document. It's been redacted, but there is clear evidence that members of the group were armed.

        If you take the time to look at the actual document (at the bottom of the link) you'll see scanned pages of sworn testimony, the Humvee photo, and evidence that supports what they've said.

        • Of course the DOD supported the claims! The fox is guarding the hen house! Not one shot was fired at our troops from the group of men in the whole time the video records them before they are obliterated.

          I'll concede that an AR and RPG were visible prior to engaging the group of men. But that doesn't mean they were insurgents. The Apache gunner had three minutes to assess the situation, but instantly upon seeing the cameramen declared they had weapons. The Iraqis had several minutes to fire on the Humvee but didn't, the Iraqis were circled by the Apache for at least two minutes but didn't engage, they were standing in an open courtyard and were not in offensive (or defensive) positions. Not all Iraqis are insurgents.

          It's unfortunate, but the troops committed war crimes when they fired on and killed the unarmed man who was crouching and running away, observing the wounded man crawling [Yeah, we got one guy crawling away down there . . . We're shooting some more . . . Come on, buddy. All you gotta do is pick up a weapon] and then firing on the men who were rescuing him when they engaged the van, and when they Hellfired the building (the video shows unarmed people entering it prior to bombardment).

          US CODE: TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 118 > § 2441 (d) (D): Murder.— The act of a person who intentionally kills, or conspires or attempts to kill, or kills whether intentionally or unintentionally in the course of committing any other offense under this subsection, one or more persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including those placed out of combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause."

        • I would disagree that it was a war crime, as did the DOD. In what you posted it says "who intentionally kills" someone taking no active part in hostilities. For it to be murder, it has to be knowing a act. They mistakingly identified them all as insurgents.

          The DOD maintains (and I know you don't trust them) that those that were armed were taking part in hostile actions.

          Not all Iraqis are insurgents, but in 2007 in the middle of a war zone you shouldn't be carrying around an RPG if you're innocent. It's legal to carry an AK-47 in Iraq, but not to carry an RPG.

          The pilot saw an RPG. Then he saw someone holding something lean around a corner and aim down the street. He made a judgement call. Unfortunately a few innocent men were killed – though some of them still may have been insurgents. There is no way of knowing.

          Based on all the evidence, it's an unfortunate situation for the two Reuters employees, but I can't fault the crew. As for shooting the van – they didn't just shoot the wounded guy. You have to realize they're acting under the assumption (possibly correct) that the van was more insurgents. You are then allowed to engage that target. They had reason to believe it was bad dudes.

          I don't think there is any way to positively identify that the guy had a camera and not a weapon in the middle of a combat engagement. In war, you don't wait for the other guy to shoot. You've got to shoot first or someone dies.

  7. admin:

    He’s also a veteran and a military defense expert. Interesting that you think he’s a “lefty.” Is that because you disagree with his analysis?

    No, I think he's a lefty because he is one. Five minutes on his site will show it is anything but objective from a political viewpoint.

    Nothing wrong with having a bias, but I thought it should be noted. Put more simply, Duff is not a dispassionate analyst, he has an axe to grind and a point to make and he's going to spin the facts in a way that supports that point.

    As for the fact that the guy is a veteran, so what? I'm a veteran, too.

  8. So in the Gunner’s mind, this guy is pointing something down the street at a Humvee, leaning around the corner.

    No, he did more than that. Someone on the radio chatter claimed that the "RPG" (that was actually a camera) was being fired. It obviously wasn't being fired, given that it wasn't an RPG, and there is nothing on the video footage that makes it appear that it was fired (not surprising, given that it couldn't have), so he either made an error or else he lied.

    The radio dialogue makes it clear that these guys were itching to find stuff to snuff out, which lowers their credibility. Adding to that, they made statements about the situation on the ground that appear to overstate what was actually occurring, given what is visible in the video.

    The lies further escalate when the van arrives on the scene — despite the radio chatter, no weapons being retrieved, and it appears to a dispassionate viewer to be some good Samaritans attempting to help a badly wounded man (who in this case also happened to be a Reuters reporter.)

    All of that suggests that they were intentionally exaggerating what they saw, presumably for the purposes of getting permission to engage. The video is damning precisely because what can be seen on the video is out of sync with how it is being described.

    Our government and military’s lack of transparency in this horrific mistake makes us look arrogant, craven, corrupt or all three.

    +1. What is just as bad as that it reinforces the perception that the US is a lousy occupier, with little credibility in the art of nation building. If we can't manage occupations properly, then we really have no business engaging in preemptive wars or claiming the mantle of leadership in the first place.

  9. I've yet to see a case – any case – where there's not two sides to the story. I think we can all agree that killing civilians is bad. But that civilians get killed in a war-torn country is a fact of life. It's bad…but it sometimes happens. People make mistakes…another fact of life. The scariest thing about being a gun owner for me is not "how will I feel if I have to shoot someone," but "how will I feel if I shoot the WRONG someone." Nobody "wins" in a situation like this. Despite the black humor comments, I'm sure the Marines or soldiers involved will carry the scars of this on their souls for the rest of their lives. But I cannot fault them for using black humor to get through what can only be described as a terrible situation.

    Calling these guys "war criminals" is criminal in and of itself. It frankly turns my stomach when I hear those on the Left say "we support the troops…but don't support the war." Look. My stepson is a United States Marine. He volunteered. He went to Iraq. He got shot at. A Humvee ahead of his 7-ton got blown up by an I.E.D. Don't sit there, from the comfort of your rec room and tell me that he and others like him are war criminals. They are doing a job that I doubt you'd have the guts to do.

    Here's an idea…let's put you in a situation where you're in, say, a dark alley in a bad part of town. You're a cop, rying to get to your car. You have family with you. There's a gun on your belt. You know for a fact that there have been rapes, murders, and muggings in the same area. You see some people approach you in a threatening manner. You can't see their faces, but in silhouette, you can see they have something that look like guns in their hands. You've been trained to tell the difference between agressive behavior and non-threatening actions. A call comes over your 2-way radio, that there are bad guys in the neighborhood. Then one of them brings what looks like a gun up to threaten someone. What do you do?

    In your world, if you shot your gun – or even unholstered it, you'd be branded a thug. I contend that situations are not so black and white over there, and if you haven't walked the walk, then SHUT THE HELL UP. You're entitled to your opinion. This is, after all, America. But I'm entitled to tell you that you're wrong. What you're NOT entitled to do is to tar our military with the broad brush of Liberal extremism. It betrays a shocking disrespect for our troops and your own ignorance.

    Could these guys have gone overboard? Sure. It happens. War is a bitch. Mistakes happen. People die. Our side does the best it can. We're the good guys. If you'll note, it's the OTHER side that likes to use women and children as human shields, blow up their own people (they could care less about 'collateral damage') and are just fine with using mosques, hospitals, and schools as armories and bases of operation. They kill innocents on practically a daily basis. We have one incident where some innocent people die, and you're ready to condemn our troops as baby killers and mass murderers. That's not only ridiculous, it's disgusting.

    In every incident so far in the war, when Liberals like John Murtha and John Kerry have popped off about how our guys are criminals, they've had to eat their words. Impartial investigations have revealed that they were not at fault, and the situations were spun by Liberals, for Liberals. If you wanna be fair about things, listen to the reports of the investigators – they are as beloved by the troops as Internal Affairs cops are by the rest of the police force. It's their job to get at the truth. They wanna bring down the bad guys – even when they are on our side. To say something like "Of course the DOD supported the claims! The fox is guarding the hen house!" betrays your ignorance.

    Ever been in a shooting situation? I haven't – but my kid has. Typically, you don't want to wait to see if the bad guy pointing the gun at you is going to pull the trigger. As Gen. Paton said, "You don't want to die for your country…you want to make the OTHER bastard die for HIS country." When you say "Not one shot was fired at our troops from the group of men in the whole time the video records them before they are obliterated," you apparently believe that they should wait to let the other guys get a shot or two off first, just to be "fair." Give me a break.

    Look, if these guys were cowboys, shooting at anything that moved, I'd be first in line to want to see them punished. The facts in the case point to a tragic mistake – but an understandable one. When your Liberal bias blinds you to that, you insult our troops and dishonor your country. I'll argue facts all day long. But when you argue from bias instead, it's really difficult to take you seriously.

  10. I agree with Brad on this one. War is a dirty, nasty business, as those of us who've been to war can testify. It's not fought by gentlemen sipping Earl Grey as they discuss the finer points of the literature of Chaucer or Proust.

    There is a quote floating around on the intenret, usually attributed to George Orwell, that goes "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." Though there's no evidence that the quote is actually from Orwell, the sentiment behind it is true: Our safety and security, are, indeed, guarded by those that many of the cultured elite would dismiss as "rough men" (and women.) If their language is a little raw or the sense of humor is a little dark, maybe you could cut them some slack, seeing as how they're the ones putting their asses on the line every day while most of us just sit behind our computers and criticize.

    I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that those of you who are most critical of this incident did not support the decision to go to war in Iraq. Fair enough – everyone's entitled to their opinion, and God knows there were enough questions about the provenance of this war. But I can't help but think you're letting your opposition to the war color your view of this incident. Put more simply, the war was wrong and this video, somehow, reinforces that belief.

    But in fact, shit like this has happened in every war since the invention of gunpowder. It certainly happened – many, many times – during WWII, when we were the "good guys." It's happening right now in Afghanistan and it will happen in the future. Does that mean it's OK? No, it's war. It's what happens. You don't win a street fight using Marquess of Queensberry rules and you don't win a war by getting weepy and emotional everytime a bad guy bites the dust.

  11. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that those of you who are most critical of this incident did not support the decision to go to war in Iraq.

    You'd be wrong about that. (Although at least I'm trying to be honest about the motives; we needed the oil, and still do.)

  12. The problem with video evidence is that people assume that it's the whole picture and the absolute, objective truth. Radio chatter (at the time) from the ground and the (subsequent) after action report were pretty clear that weapons were around. The sop for insurgents at the time was to keep weapons hidden/concealed and to blend with civilians. Engagement seemed like a judgment call.

    Bottom line is that the Reuters guys were reporting in a war zone near US troops. I feel for the van guys – but they should have touched base with US troops before driving into an (obvious) fire zone. And yes, that may have taken some time, white T-shirts, and creative thinking avoid being shot.

    All told, this is tragic yet understandable, given the circumstances.

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