Collateral Murder

I’m in Washington DC right now where I just assisted WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange put on a press conference. Before today I was in Iceland for almost two weeks, yet again without properly seeing it. Apart from that one day at the volcano I haven’t gotten out much. That is to say: I have literally spent all the other days in “the bunker”, locked away behind closed curtains in rented apartments in Reykjavik, working to get things ready for today. At least I can now tell you all what I have been helping WikiLeaks with.

Wikileaks has obtained and decrypted previously unreleased video footage from the onboard camera of a US Apache helicopter over Baghdad in 2007. The audio has the radio communication going on at the time. We released that video today. In it we see Reuters journalists Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh and others getting shot by the Apache on a square in Eastern Baghdad after they are apparently assumed to be insurgents. After this, an unarmed group of adults and children in a minivan arrives on the scene and attempts to transport the wounded journalists. They are then fired upon also. Just the visuals are pretty gruesome stuff.

Meanwhile the voices on the radio are hoping they get to fire their 30mm cannon some more at a wounded journalist who tries to crawl while he is dying on the sidewalk. (“Come on buddy, all you gotta do is pick up a weapon”) They laugh about an armored vehicle running over the corpse of the other journalist and they appear both routined and content (“Nice!”) when they see a street full of dead people. The official statement on this incident initially listed all the adults as AIF KIA (“Anti Iraqi Forces” “Killed In Action”) and claimed the US military “did not know how the deaths ocurred”.

In researching this, Wikileaks has partnered with RUV, the Icelandic state television. Two of their reporters were supposed to leave for Baghdad, couldn’t get visas and then got some kind of last-minute emergency visas after all. So while we were scrambling to deal with yet another changed plan, the first pictures and emotional back-stories started emerging in bits and pieces from Baghdad. (Kristinn, Ingi, you guys rock!) More of that will appear over the next few days as the material is readied. Suffice it to say we all cried from time to time.

The very courageous anonymous source (yay!), the regular Wikileaks staffers, journalists in warzones, they all deserve much more praise than I do. Still, I’m hell of proud to have been part of the extraordinary team that helped get this video out. The supporting documents as well as various other bits of the story are on Please check them out.

Here’s to hoping that these images of death by modern urban counter-insurgency warfare will enter the gallery of iconic frozen moments needed to break people’s apathy about the harsh realities of a particular war. We need to permanently rewire what happens in people’s brains when some robot in a clean uniform tell us of “hearts and minds”, “minor collateral damage” or “killed insurgents” from the safety of a briefing room half a world away from a dirty war.

It’s been a highly emotional and very intense couple of weeks. I’ve met some amazing new people that I now feel I’ve known for quite a while. But right now I’m looking forward to holding Carla, Milo and Floris, eating something other than crisps, pretzels and pizza, sleeping in my own bed and getting a full night’s sleep.

OK, so this was my part. If you feel this deserves a fair bit of attention, it’s your turn to help now. It’s hard to say how the corporate media, esp. in the US, will pick up this story. So act quickly. Help trend this topic. E-mail this. If you can, describe to your friends in your own words why this needs to be spread even further. Ignore the fact that you normally write about other things. We are not powerless and it is still legal to get emotional and angry every once in a while. Blog, update your Facebook status, embed, comment and give lots of stars on Youtube, tweet, digg, retweet, reddit and retweet some more. I mean, hell, I was so angry I even made a few phone calls. Spead the word. Far and wide…

And before I forget: if you have any leftover money, skills or a stack of secrets that really shouldn’t be secret, contact WikiLeaks.

74 thoughts on “Collateral Murder”

  1. I’m hardly an “expert” in any sense of the term when it comes to this video and it’s interpretation.
    But in my opinion, (which will matter little to you, I know) everyone condemning what occurred in this incident is completely biased by their leftest anti-war agenda just as much as any right-winger or military person would be in excusing it.

    The fact is, these reporters were associating themselves with a group of men, and planting themselves in plain sight during a day filled with battle and death. What happened is unfortunate, but hardly surprising.

    Also, I’m so intrigued by the timing of this “leak”. Is it a coincidence that Obama passes his health care plan, the country is up in arms and more volatile than usual. A lot of independents are swinging towards the right, and suddenly there is an anti-war “leak” from the Pentagon.
    Oh so convenient.

    In any case, I think most are over-reacting to this video. To me some of the men are clearly holding weapons, especially the shot of the RPG until the man is hidden behind the building.

    Are our soldiers suppose to wait until they have munitions flying through their windows before taking action?

    The reporters shouldn’t have been there. End of story.

  2. Good work, Rop. Remember my slogan from ’97 (‘Shopper’ easter egg)?

    It is not demonstrations or ‘parliamentary votes’ or even international legislation that will change the world, for the better. It is – and always has been – the efforts that individuals make to fight for human rights and against these (unfortunately all too typical) human wrongs. These new(ish) communication channels boost the power of those individuals, such as yourself. Well done and thanks.

  3. Rop,
    I finally managed to see the video today. Very sad after viewing it.
    I salute you, Julian and all involved in this project.

  4. Is this the way the US is trying to win hearts and minds? Good that the lack of investigative journalism by the ckassic media is compensated by excellent initiatives like yours. Keep up the good work!

  5. Rop,

    My first reaction was that of many: “What a brutal slaying of innocent people!”

    However, after re-viewing the video many times, I must conclude that indeed some men in that group were carrying weapons, among which an RPG-7.

    Kneeling by the roadside is a man with that weapon on his shoulder who some moments later, when the photographer crawls up to the streetcorner out of camera sight, walks towards the streetcorner too. Moments thereafter, someone (the photograper) peeks around the corner holding his camera.

    I can very well understand why that pilot would have mixed up the two people, thinking the RPG guy was leaning around the corner instead of the photographer.

    Given the fact there were firefights going on, that this group carried weapons and was in the neighbourhood, may haven been enough justification for the pilots.

    What is appalling, but probably default behaviour of these pilots, is the gunning of wounded guys and people who pick them up. Why was that neccesary? This part I do not understand, but I fear this is what happens every day in these war zones. And we never hear from it!

  6. Beste Rob, ooit heel lang geleden las ik de hack-tic en heb jou ooit gezien in paradiso op een hackers beurs. Ja erg lang geleden inderdaad. Ik vind het geweldig wat je doet, maar wees svp voorzichtig jouw nieuwe vijanden zijn gevaarlijke psychopaten.

  7. looks like the been playing modernwarfar to long .

    its the usa thats a treat to the hole world .

  8. Rop,

    What about this?

    Tell me where the camera tripods are because I see only the RPG, you may want to point out the tripod for me?

    I wouldn’t think the idea in Bagdad 2007 was walking around with toy RPG’s and AK’s. If so, I would estimate these guys were taking a risk at their sunday afternoon stroll showing each other their new toys. They could easily be mistaken for real weapons and they were.

  9. I see some funny comments here. Poppo Wit thinks it’s alright to kill EVERYTHING and EVERYONE without provocation. Never mind the fact that the crew are having a blast killing children. Couldn’t wait to open fire on the van picking up the wounded. Never mind the fact that when I was there in 2004 the American mentality was shoot first and ask questions later. There can be NO excuse for what is happening in Iraq today. And if anyone tells you that the Americans, even the world, have a right to be there then they are lying to you and themselves.

  10. @Tony

    “I see some funny comments here. Poppo Wit thinks it’s alright to kill EVERYTHING and EVERYONE without provocation.”

    Nowhere do I claim that, on the contrary. But I do wonder where normal behaviour ends and provocation begins. To me it seems abnormal civilian behaviour (even in Bagdad 2007) to wander around, one street block away from a US patrol, with an RPG and several handguns. At what point would you say starts the provocation? At the moment the RPG rocket leaves the tube?

    I could understand that these armed guys were regarded as a threat. Still, one may wonder if there were no better methods to verify their hostility, by taking a closer look for example before shooting, but I’m no expert at military rules of engagement or tactics, so I couldn’t judge this at all. But it must also have appeared to these pilots that only some guys of that group of 12 carried weapons, the rest were probably just curious bystanders, they must have noticed. The shooting of the van is completely unacceptable in my opinion, totally disproportionate to the supposed threat they (not) posed.

  11. @Poppo Wit. They asked & received permission to engage(=shoot) before they mentioned “RPG” (btw, somehow they saw 5 to 6 people with AK-47’s. Do you see the same?). On the black van: they did not connect it with the one previously seen. They say (3:16): “We have a van that’s picking up the bodies” … “looks like possibly uhm picking up bodies and weapons”. And, in general: how professional is their talking? Are yuo allowed to do your work talking that way?

  12. @eGuest

    True, They received permission before that.

    Again, I’m not familiar with the procedures. I guess the pilots have great freedom in their target aquisition. I have the impression they were very eager to attack and overstated the threat these guys posed.

    Still, walking around with an RPG is NO normal behaviour and anyone can understand that an occupation force regards that as a threat.

    Regarding the van: As I mentioned before, this seems totally out of proportion, I would say it is a crime. Which threat does picking up wounded people pose? The pilots suggested the van was there to pick up weapons, but they started shooting before they actually saw that happening.

    If this is default behaviour of US troops over there, this is a bad situation.

    Well, yes, talking like that about people you just killed is quite senseless, especially heartless when they discuss the wounded children. But I would say this happens in a war when you are a soldier and think you are targeting the guys who (probably) shot up some of your friends.

    The point is to avoid getting yourself into those circumstances, I guess..

  13. Ik citeer: ‘The point is to avoid getting yourself into those circumstances, I guess.’ Nadat Poppo Wit eerst terecht gewezen is door de feiten van eGuest, concludeert hij toch vanuit zijn veilige en comfortabele jongenskamer in Nederland dat die kinderen, burgers en journalisten in Irak die zwaar gewond of gedood werden zelf de schuld daarvan dragen. Poppo is ernstig in de war. Het vermoorden van een gewonde en zijn hulpverleners van wie de ‘fout’ alleen was dat ze een gewonde te hulp schoten, zoals eGuest nog eens aangeeft, is een feit dat Poppo Wit negeert omdat het niet past in zijn vooringenomenheid.

  14. Go ahead Stan, push me into the corner you want to get me into. What I meant was you should not get (your soldiers) into a situation like that, where they have to shoot first, ask questions later.

    Ok Stan but this point is for you, thanks for highlighting it for me! I agree completely with you, that it is also very unwise to put yourself into a situation where soldiers might think you pose a threat to them. By strolling around with rocket grenades for example. Thnks..

  15. Ik citeer: What I meant was you should not get (your soldiers) into a situation like that, where they have to shoot first, ask questions later.

    ‘have to’? Niemand dwingt een soldaat een oorlogsmisdaad te plegen. hem wordt geleerd wat hij wel en niet mag. poppo, niet alleen lees je slecht, maar ook je wijze van uitdrukken is gebrekkig.


  16. Dat is maar de vraag.

    Ik vrees dat soldaten dit gedrag wel degelijk wordt geleerd, dat zal jij toch willen beamen Stan. Dat lees je in alles wat hierover wordt gepubliceerd, behalve uiteraard van officiele kant. In theorie worden die soldaten natuurlijk opgeleid om met beleid en terughoudendheid geweld te gebruiken, maar de realiteit is dat dit al snel overboord gaat zodra aan eigen kant de eerste slachtoffers zijn gevallen. Dit zijn jongens van nog geen twintig, het dons nog maar net van de lippen en vers uit het amerikaanse Tietjerksteradeel. Wat verwacht je? Zet die jongens neer in de chaos van een burgeroorlog waarin iedereen je vijand kan zijn, die je niet ziet, terwijl je vrienden gewond raken of erger. Dan gaat dat geheid mis, dan slaan de stoppen door.

    Wat ik bedoel: Je moet (als politiek) niet zomaar willen dat je je soldaten in zo een situatie brengt, dat is een recept voor ellende.

    Geen idee wat dit nu weer te maken heeft met slecht uitdrukken van mijn kant. Lezen is ook een ding.

  17. hoi rop (excuus; ‘k doe maar net effe of we familie zijn)

    hoor/lees net nieuws over de Yanks die een klopjacht begonnen zijn n.a.v. de recente aktie van WikiLeaks. Het zal – zo schat ik in – weinig tot geen enkele Nederlander involveren. Maar hoe dan ook, ik bied graag voorlopig onderdak aan in dit kader, voorzover gewenst.

    ben er niet in detail naar gaan lezen, maar heb volstaan met een paar samenvattingen zoals bij De Volkskrant en The Guardian. en tref dan een paar Yankee-observaties aan zoals m.n. over de top in Rusland, waar ik me uit eigen ervaring een paar jaar terug al totaal in kon vinden. niet fris.

    Kortom, ‘t is de 2e Wereldoorlog niet maar onderduikers zijn in dit kader welkom.

    cheers & take care!

  18. En dan moet dit er nog even uit:

    Sommige Moffen zijn nóóit te vertrouwen!

    Guardian-link Feb. 10 2011 “WikiLeaks threatens legal action against Daniel Domscheit-Berg”

    Hopelijk zal Wikileaks zelf binnenkort kunnen publiceren hoeveel die drol zich heeft laten betalen om te proberen heel Wikileaks om zeep te helpen. Walgelijk.

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