Let’s get this out in the open

Politics

Yesterday, I read an Alternet article about how Wikileaks planned to release a video today (April 5th) that shows innocent civilians being killed by our military in Baghdad. They even held a press conference with the National Press Club this morning about the releasing of this video. Through a Twitter search, I finally found the full version of this video this morning on YouTube.

This video, on its own, may or may not be as damning as the hype that has surrounded it. I say may or may not because there is much room to dispute just what’s happening on the ground. Nevertheless, at least one analysis I’ve come across has identified two of the men that are fired upon by the gunner as Reuters journalists Namir Noor-Eldeen and his driver Saeed Chmagh, whose deaths Reuters has been trying to investigate since 2007. Reuters has also written about the release of this video.

But again, this video doesn’t show an indiscriminate slaying as the site Collateral Murder claims, a site Wikileaks made for the releasing of this video. After viewing this full video at least twice, it really does look like the gunner and pilot of the Apache helicopter had legitimate reasons for fearing that they or their accompanying units were in danger.

Before I go further, I should admit that I’m no military expert. Studying this video has helped me to learn more about combat/military jargon and operations, and I admit to being quite the novice on these subjects. I will explain what I gather from this footage as clearly as I can and base my descriptions on the descriptions of events given by the personnel in the video. So if this sounds like my first analysis of combat footage, that’s because it is.

Essentially, this video begins with two Apache helicopter operators, a pilot and a gunman, identified by the call sign Crazyhorse One Eight circling around a group of men on the ground who they spot carrying weapons. From 1:43 to 2:03, you can certainly tell that some of them are carrying weapons. However, some of the men carry what look like weapons at first glance, but are clearly bags. In fact, one of them is carrying something that looks a lot like a camera. The men carrying those bags have been identified by numerous media outlets as the Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and his assistant Saeed Chmagh.

At 2:06, Crazyhorse One Eight requests permission to engage their targets and it is granted by their commander with the call sign Hotel Two Six. Where things get quite confusing is at 2:32, where the Apache gunner spots a man crouching behind a wall carrying what very convincingly looks like an RPG, who truly appears to be part of the group of men on the ground. It is this suspicious looking activity that eventually prompt Crazyhorse One Eight to shoot all the men in that group. Before they shoot, Crazyhorse One Eight’s pilot (it sounds like) says Yeah, we had a guy shooting— and now he’s behind the building. It is not clear from the video if there was any firing in that area, but later, when a commander asks who called in the strike, Hotel Two Six responds I believe that was me. They had AK-47s and were to our east, where we were taking small arms fire again suggesting that there was a firefight of some kind during the strike on the group of men. A little before that at 11:33, Hotel Two Six mentions how there were men with AK-47s near a dirt pile break and how men with RPGs were recently killed. It is not totally clear whether or not he is referring to the men killed by Crazyhorse One Eight or a previous incident.

To make matters more confusing, Crazy Horse One Eight spots a van with men who are picking up the bodies. According to Michael Collins of the Daily Censored, Recent investigation in Baghdad by WikiLeaks and their Icelandic media partners confirmed that the van was driven by the father of two taking his children to tutoring. Unfortunately, at 8:21, Crazyhorse One Eight requests permission to engage the van, and shortly after it’s granted, they engage it and all of the people in and around it.

At 17:09, Bravo 7 (which is probably Bushmaster 7) reports that there are eleven Iraqi KIA and one small child wounded. The operators of Crazyhorse One Eight make very disparaging comments about this revelation, which certainly fuels views of them firing indiscriminately, but hardly validates it. Later at 27:30, Bushmaster 6 reports that there are two civilian children casualties

The last combat event in this video is of Crazyhorse One Eight firing missiles (with permission) into a building where they spotted armed men entering, close to where they had previously engaged. At 31:10, you can see men carrying what appear to be assault rifles. Before this, at 30:30, Bushmaster 4 tells Crazyhorse One Eight, I can hear small arms fire from your engagement area at [coordinates], suggesting that these missiles were in response to that fire.

It is no good at all that this is our only window to this event. If there was more transparency here, then it would be easier to tell just what mistakes were made. From the video, it strongly looks like mistakes were made, I’d even venture to say, by both the men on the ground (if the Reuters journalists were indeed among them, which, sadly, I’m starting to suspect they were) as well as by the military. The gentleman at 2:32 with the RPG very understandably alarms the men in the helicopter. Based on the intelligence that it seems they were provided with, firing on the men on the ground seemed well within their protocols. Why was that man crouching behind a wall with such a weapon? They had to have known the helicopter was above them and that such a combat ready position would inspire them to protect themselves and their unit.

In addition, the military should have known that Reuters reporters were there. It appears that there was a lack of communication regarding that crucial piece of intelligence, and the lack of it caused the gunner and his pilot to assume the worst. I would not be surprised if that event indeed inspired greater communication between the media and the military. Based on such limited information, I couldn’ possibly solely attribute blame to anyone. My main point is that this video does not show indiscriminate killings. The group fired upon were discriminated by the weapons they carried (but some were actually bags and not weapons) and the frightening movements of the gentleman with the RPG. The military doesn’t make the situation any better by holding off their investigation of this matter, which obviously prompted Wikileaks to leak the video eventually. The harassment that Wikileaks has experienced since it was learned they had the video does not help our government’s case in the slightest, but I am quite eager to hear their side of the story.

In a little, I will add below a list of what I believe are places of great interest in this video, provided that it remains on YouTube. Please let me know your thoughts.

Point in Time Description
1:29 First close up view of men on the ground
1:43 Crazyhorse One Eight identifies weapons among the group on the ground (although a few of these weapons are actually bags)
2:03 The two men on the left in the center much more convincingly appear to be carrying assault rifle-looking weapons
2:06 Crazyhorse One Eight requests permission to engage from Hotel Two Six and it is granted
2:32 Crazyhorse One Eight gunner sees one of the men crouching behind a building carrying what very convincingly looks like an RPG
2:46 What sounds like Crazyhorse One Eight’s pilot says, Yeah, we had a guy shooting— and now he’s behind the buildling. No enemy fire is apparent from the video, but it seems like the person behind the building is the man with the RPG
2:52 Another voice, it’s hard to say who, says Negative, he was right in front of the Brad [short for Bradley, a call sign for the various armored vehicles] ’bout their one o’clock. Haven’t seen anything since then.
3:00 It appears that the pilot says to his gunner (and not to the others), Just fuckin’, once you get on ’em just open ’em up. As far as I can tell, they still have permission to engage.
3:15 Crazyhorse One Eight engages the group.
4:14 After viewing the aftermath, it appears that either Crazyhourse One Eight someone else fires again
4:35 Hotel Two Six is told to move to where Crazyhorse One Eight engaged once they are finished and to take pictures
4:40 More viewing of the aftermath with disparaging comments by the helicopter operators (Keep in mind that they fully believe they have killed insurgents who were about to do harm to them, and no one has informed them to the contrary)
4:35 Hotel Two Six is told to move to where Crazyhorse One Eight engaged once they are finished and to take pictures
5:31 Crazyhorse One Eight gives Bushmaster Seven the location of the bodies
6:13 Closeup of injured man crawling away, who the Daily Censored identifies as Saeed Chmagh. Bushmaster 7 says they’ll move down there. Crazyhorse One Eight says they’ll cease fire
6:31 Gunner of Crazyhorse One Eight acknowledges that some of his team was also shooting, suggesting he had help engaging the group
6:58 Crazyhorse One Eight’s gunner expresses hope that the wounded man, identified by analysts as Saeed Chmagh, will pick up a weapon, which would justify further engagement
7:08 Bushmaster Five asks Crazyhorse One Eight to direct them to where the wounded man is
7:31 Crazyhorse One Eight reports that a van is approaching the scene, picking up dead bodies
7:45 The men exit the van and pick up the wounded man. No weapons are present and Crazyhorse One Eight do not mention any
8:05 Crazyhorse One Eight is eager to engage and request permission
8:32 Bushmaster Seven grants them permission
8:37 Crazyhorse One Eight engages the van and the men on the ground
9:13 Crazyhorse One Eight’s gunner believes the van’s disabled, but the pilot tells him to keep firing
9:39 Crazyhorse One Eight’s pilot gives a damage assessment to Bushmaster
11:33 It appears that Hotel Two Six warns that there were some guys popping out with AKs behind that dirt pile break. We also took some RPGs off earlier so just make sure your men keep your eyes open
11:57 Crazyhorse One Eight’s pilot clearly expresses to Hotel Two Six his belief that they themselves were being shot at earlier asking Where else are we taking fire from? Hotel Two Six says they currently are not being engaged
13:15 Copperhead One Six tells Bushmaster that thy are moving towards the scene and they see a kid who is a casualty
15:12 Bushmaster asks all elements, Which element called in Crazyhorse to engage the eight-elem– eight-men team on top of a roof?
15:23 Hotel Two Six replies, I believe that was me. They had AK-47s and were to our east, where we were taking small arms fire.
15:50 Pilot of Crazyhorse One Eight tells Hotel Two Six, I just wanted to make sure you knew that we had a guy with an RPG cropping around the corner getting ready to fire on your location. That’s why we requested permission to engage.
16:34 Crazyhorse One Eight tells Hotel Two Six, Whoever was talking about rooftops, know that all personnel we engaged were ground level.
17:09 Bravo Seven (which may be Bushmaster Seven) tells Seven Six Romeo, I’ve got eleven Iraqi KIAs. One small child wounded. A very insensitve exchange between the operators of Crazyhorse One Eight follows, particularly when the gunner comments Oh well.

What say you?