The website Wikileaks.org today publicly issued a classified US military video from July 12, 2007, showing Apache helicopters killing at least a dozen civilians, including two employees of Reuters. The video had previously been sought by Reuters in its own investigation of the killings, and an encrypted copy had reportedly been smuggled to the website, who finally decrypted and released it.
The video (see below) shows the soldiers in the helicopter watching the group of civilians walking casually down the street, and then declaring that one is holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher (apparently the camera held by one of the Reuters employees). The helicopter then opens fire on the civilians, killing all but one, who is seen badly wounded as the crew discusses whether or not to kill him. When a van arrives and begins to cart off the wounded or dead bodies, the helicopter attacks it as well, killing several others and wounding two children. One of the voices on the video then glibly remarks that the injuries of the children are the fault of the van driver for “bringing their kids to the battle.”
US officials have confirmed the authenticity of the video but have largely declined comments on the question of why the troops so eagerly attacked the group, let alone attacked the people trying to rescue them. The State Department officially declined comment at today’s press conference, while the Pentagon maintains that the soldiers acted appropriately in the killings and no investigation would be held.
At least as troubling is the Pentagon’s unwillingness to explain why, at the time of the killings, they claimed troops were “engaged in combat operations against a hostile force,” when the video clearly shows no action at all taken by the civilians in question, who are summarily mowed down by helicopter gunfire and never had a chance to react one way or another.
A retired US intelligence officer speaking about the video on MSNBC said that it appeared to show violations of the military’s rules of engagement and that the soldiers should have made some effort to capture any suspects instead of just killing them en masse. He described the period after the initial firing, in which the troops mull killing the wounded Reuters employee (who is eventually killed when the van is attacked) as particularly disturbing.
Though Wikileaks’ release was scheduled well in advance, the release comes at a particularly inopportune time, as the US military is still scrambling to explain away the killings of several civilians (including pregnant women) in an attack on an Afghanistan home. In that case as well, the military lied about a “firefight” which never happened, and even blamed the deaths of the pregnant women on insurgents that were never present at the site.