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. christinA: ik weet niet precies wat je bedoelt met “Weten of vermoeden.” De video spreekt volgsn mij vrij goed voor zichzelf

  2. Sorry, was een beetje onduidelijk. Ik sprak over het verschil. Nu weten we het zeker mede door de beelden, terwijl daarvoor zulke dingen in 99 van de 100 gevallen met vermoedens werden afgedaan.

  3. Hello, thanks for existing! :)<3

    I have been searching for more information about wikileaks being followed and detained by the CIA. Nothing can be found, really, except for what you yourself wrote on twitter. I thought I could find something when the Icelandic US embassador was called for a discussion about the leak about how some Icelandic leaders had been spied on by the US, since the IMMI-thing. But nothing can be found there either.

    Will you release this later?

    Quotes from your twitter:

    "Two under State Dep diplomatic cover followed our editor from Iceland to on Thursday."

    "One related person was detained for 22 hours. Computer's seized.That's;

    "We have been shown secret photos of our production meetings and been asked specific questions during detention related to the airstrike."

    "We have airline records of the State Dep/CIA tails. Don't think you can get away with it. You cannot. This is WikiLeaks."

    — Just making sure i am not a tin foil hat. It feels better with links that are not just twitter before I can re-publish your stories 😉

  4. Rop,
    ik was/ben erg onder de indruk van de video, en word er ook ontzettend kwaad van. Heel erg bedankt voor jullie harde werk om dit naar buiten te krijgen, en succes de komende tijd. Pas goed op jezelf want ik kan me voorstellen dat er een paar hele enge mensen het wat minder leuk vinden dat dit naar buiten komt.

  5. Good work guys

    This just in:
    RT @xenijardin: MSNBC appears to be blocking searches at for term “wikileaks”? Weird.

    This shit is being censored

  6. Eelco, thank you for the interview.

    The video itself is absolutely disgusting. It’s saddening how the US soldiers kill innocent people as if they were playing a video game.

  7. I, also, did a blog on this.

    It’s worth noting a few points. #1 while the 70-200mm canon lens has intimidated many a model, it is not an RPG. Crazyhorse 18 misidentifies this in a very gross error. #2 some 25 seconds prior to this misidentification both an AK variant rifle, and an RPG7 are plainly visible, though not used in a method consistent with an engagement inducing threat. #3 the vehicle that ran over the body is an M1151, not an M2A3. There is an M2A3 to the left of the body, but the vehicle shown running over the body is quite clearly an M1151 – a hummer, not a Bradley. Finally, #4 – in the transcript the Bradley crew is asked to drop ramp, not rap. RAP, while a military acronym (for Rocket Assisted Projectile) is definitely not something a ground commander would request from a Bradley crew – especially not to say “open that vehicle so I can get these wounded people inside something with armor.” No, he would ask them to drop the ramp, in the back of the vehicle, so the troop area could be loaded.

    That the events even happened is far worse than a shame. Equally shamefully is the piss-poor job WikiLeaks has done in verifying their data before going live. Rest assured, there are many veterans just like myself plenty willing to scour over the video and provide a clear transcript of the conversations, translations of any jargon used, and a correct identification of any elements possible. The freedom of information is vital to society, let’s strive to provide accurate information – even if it takes 5 minutes longer to produce.

  8. Lieve Rop,

    I dont know who you are,and dont necessarily need to know.Maybe it is more people involving the brave action you do…I appreciate the truth coming through your engagement…shocking video,yet, like a video game…I was always hoping that human kind can do better…pity for the families and innocent people…pity for the soldiers (whom I cant accuse – these people believing they were doing the right thing)
    I was a civilian during one war and know very well what it means to have guts and go out to pick up other wounded civilians…it is immense tragedy and am so,so terrified to see how these people were shot by trying instinctively to save human lives…Im so sorry that I cant help any other way but to write and scream on this site for some sanity among the people…Im sure “smart heads” will find the way to explain this but I believe this and other actions alike no matter who engages them are bringing us (human kind) nowhere…If you exist,please,keep our dirty conscience remember for all those who dont want or can’t – that something is deeply wrong,wrong,wrong no matter how much we try to ignore it or want to hide it from being busy with our daily lives.Thank you brave Dutch man/woman whoever,wherever you are…

  9. @Anthony Martinez.
    Above you write: “Equally shamefully is the piss-poor job WikiLeaks has done”. And in your linked blog you write: “I am certain my voice can be heard on several transmissions with several different Crazyhorse aircraft, …” (are you proud?), “Part of the problem (…) lies in the presentation of above video” etcetera. Thank you for your contribution. It clarifies a lot. Namely: you still don’t get it that YOU are with the ones doing a piss-job. Over 100.000 military in and about Iraq, and NO ONE BUT ONE had the guts to reveal with this. Why would you think WikiLeaks did NOT invite someone from the US military to ‘clarify’ the video? Because the video shows: you cannot trust what a US soldier says. Nor his general.

    You write: “the engagement clearly went bad”. NO you shitcovering bunch of flies: the engagement WAS wrong from video frame 1. This publication is afterwards, it did not change the “engagement” (=shooting). You lie while my eyes see the truth.

    Why did you not ‘clarify’ before? Why do you blame the messenger? How often have you been in such a transmission, and prevented such a collateral murder? Which killings did you see and let through? You write: “the engagement clearly went bad”. NO you and your shitcovering bunch of flies: the engagement WAS wrong from video frame 1. This publication is afterwards, it did not change the “engagement” (=shooting). Tell us. ‘Clarify’ for us. WE do not shoot messengers.

  10. This is a major victory in a society where the governments & businesses routinely lie to the people to cover up their actions. Rop, I am proud to have the same first name!

  11. eGuest,

    Shouting accomplishes exactly nothing. Exactly no similar events occurred at any time during either of my tours with my knowledge (or even suspicion). Had they, I would have reported them through the proper channels. If that had failed, as it quite probably would have, I quite likely would have gone to WikiLeaks. The notion that all soldiers are liars is as patently insane as the notion that all WikiLeaks media consumers are experts in aerial video analysis.

    Engagement does not equal shooting, an engagement does not have to involve gunfire. We are presently “engaged.” I’ve not shot you. When the camera lens is identified improperly, as I’ve stated consistently – the engagement becomes a shooting one, and wrongly so. There is no disputing that. At no point have I praised the flight crew for their actions in that particular engagement. It was wrong. So is WikiLeaks for subjectively highlighting only what they deem important.

    As for being proud that my voice is likely on several gun-camera tapes, I’m indifferent. I maintained professionalism during all of my radio traffic, and demanded the same from my soldiers. You can believe that if you wish, or choose to continue believing all men and women to have worn the uniform are liars.

    I blame the messenger for distorting their messenger through negligence, plain and simple. Show everything that happened (the video was incomplete) and paint the whole picture. Do not simply select a few bits and paint the picture with a different frame of reference.

  12. @Anthony

    You make some good points, and given the pressures we faced I’d be surprised if we got it all right. I don’t think what we did qualifies as “piss poor job”, but then I am clearly biased. If we really got it wrong with the vehicle driving over the corpse that is a mistake of the type we hoped to avoid. But it really doesn’t matter all that much too the moral interpretation of these events whether they are joking about a Humvee or a Bradley that’s driving over a corpse.

    The presence or non-presence of a guy with an RPG is clearly in a different category. I can’t rule out the presence of an RPG in the image, but it could as well be a camera tripod to me. It appears to me that the guy crouching with the telephoto camera is what is critically being mistaken for someone with an RPG taking aim. Also note that the permission to engage is requested and given before there is any mention at all of an RPG.

    The assumption that this group has any kind of hostile intent, to me, seems largely based on the fact that it was a bunch of males interested in what happened around the corner, and anything after that was interpreted from that assumption.

    I guess that it just seems inexplicable and way too suicidal to me for a talented war photographer and an experienced local fixer to be so casual close to a guy with an RPG under these circumstances especially given that they are clearly aware of Apaches overhead.

    From the sound of your reply, I’m guessing we generally agree on what is one of the main issues: the attack on the minivan was ‘collateral murder’, even if that’s not a military term. I understand and appreciate that you are not trying to excuse these soldiers for that.

    As we all try to understand the pressures that soldiers face, I hope you can also understand the difficulties an organization like WikiLeaks faces in getting this out in a ways that aren’t frustrated, prevented, preempted or spun. In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be these coverups and there would be a much more diverse media-landscape and many more journalists actually doing their jobs.

    As for your offer to analyze and annotate aerial videos, you might be taken up on that some day. And please do make sure you talk to WikiLeaks using their secure chat if you have information that also needs to get out.


    Give the guy a break. He makes some good point. And even in bad wars most soldiers are not demons. War is always fucked up. This video was probably (don’t ask me, I don’t know) leaked by someone in the military that was as angry as anyone else.

  13. Anthony, Rop,

    I’d like to commend you guys for the civilized way this discussion is developing. While I don’t think I (or most other people for that matter) have the experience, knowledge and skill to properly assess what happened here, I hope the release of this video can contribute to our efforts as an international community: to the way we handle situations like this on the battlefield, but mostly in making us aware of what it means to send soldiers onto the battlefield. I hope that the debate won’t get so much upset that once the initial storm settles, there isn’t room left for a properly motivated discussion about how we can prevent this from happening in the future. Branding the people involved in this video as “monsters” is exactly what we shouldn’t do: they are our monsters (or they might as well be, I’m Dutch as well. Wouldn’t it be possible this happened with Dutch soldiers too?).

    Anthony, one small question:

    01:43 Hotel Two-Six; Crazy Horse One-Eight. Have five to six individuals with AK47s [automatic rifles]. Request permission to engage [shoot].
    01:51 Roger that. Uh, we have no personnel east of our position. So, uh, you are free to engage. Over.
    02:00 All right, we’ll be engaging.

    At this point, when they are cleared to engage the group, does it mean that Bushmaster at that point agrees that the group has to be shot? To what extent is it possible or even common practice that after they are being cleared to engage, they won’t be allowed to fire?

  14. Rop,
    Ik had je naam niet meer gehoord sinds de vroege nineties toen ik een fotocopie van fotocopie van fotocopie van fotocopie van de laatste Hack Tic in de hand had. Tot ik vandaag je naam zag in de credits van deze video. Dank voor je bijdrage en blij dat je de goede oude principes blijft eren, zij het in een andere vorm. Respect! En groeten uit Iraq.

  15. An interesting point was made in MSNBC: these images exist, they are distributed, it’s just that they are not distributed to western media. It this type of information that is viewed by “the other side.”
    If policy makers were really interested in making good decisions, they would know of these events. You cannot make good decisions based on bad/inclomplete information.

    Also, there is a reason this footage exists: the US military uses these for training purposes and for establishing (il)legitimacy. There is a legal and moral obligation to face facts and deal with the realities. In this case of course, it was “archived”. BUT: what do “we” (and not “the other side”) NOT know because of all the privatised military groups in Iraq?

    Further interesting questions:
    a. some information is purposely kept behind, ALTHOUGH the impact is known and taken into account by policy makers; does the public have a right to know

    b. this information is unwanted and therefore unknown and NOT used to base policy decisions on; do policy makers choose to “believe their own myths”?

  16. Hope those shooters burn in hell with bush 2.

    America is the terrorist nr.1

    Killing kid and normale ppl even me could see that one on the corner had a big tele camera.

  17. @rop

    Thank you for your response, it is appreciated. Perhaps I was too harsh in my wording of my issues with the way WikiLeaks has worded their content in this matter. At any rate, I believe the details (all of them) to be of the utmost importance.

    I do certainly agree that, where moral implications are concerned, it matters not whether the identified body was run over by an M2A3 or an M1151. Still, I feel that the proper vehicle identification is a necessary detail in the painting of this picture to the layperson. If one is unaware of what a Bradley is prior to seeing this, it is not unreasonable to think such an individual might search Wikipedia to find out. The feelings about a man run over by a Bradley and those of one run over by a HMMWV, while both certainly of a bad nature, are likely quite different in magnitude.

    The possibility that the object I ID as an RPG is in fact a camera tripod simply does not mesh with my experiences in theater. I have escorted numerous combat photographers, picked them up at the airfield with all of their belongings, and even allowed a few to process their photos on my own personal laptop when theirs failed to boot. At no point can I recall any of them having a full size tripod anywhere in their possession. The tripod I personally use for studio work is quite heavy, and very large – and even it is not as large as the object held by the individual in question. Combine that with the bulbous shape of what would be the “tripod head” and it just looks entirely too much like an RPG to be anything else. That said, it’s possible I am wrong – just like the crew of Crazyhorse 18.

    Where the seemingly suicidal nature of associating with potentially threats is concerned, I’ve found it far more common than one might believe. If ever there was a side to the story craved by a journalist in this position – it is the inside look at the views of the enemy. This has been done throughout history, with reporters doing their best to get inside the “other side” to tell the story.

    An assumption I might make, which still does not excuse the destruction of the rescue van, is that upon losing sight of the individual I (and CH18) apparently believe to have been holding an RPG7 and then seeing an individual peer around a corner with a tube up to his face (from such an angle aiming an RPG and framing a camera could look strikingly similar) might well constitute enough of a perceived threat to engage. The pilots, who have certainly committed acts of gross negligence amounting in civilian terms to murder, did not have the information shown in the video – that the object held up to the man’s face was in fact a Canon SLR with a 70-200m telephoto-zoom lens mounted in place.

    These are the sorts of things I feel must be understood by the audience in order to better grasp the situation. None of those details ends with a different picture – the shoot was wrong – but turn what might be the work of an unskilled painter into something more readily appreciated by all.

    We’re in complete agreement that such events ought never occur, and certainly should not be hidden from the public. I will say that there are many good things to have happened within that specific area that never once saw the light of the journalistic day, and I find that to be as much a shame as this. If my assistance is needed, I’m hardly difficult to find.

    Anthony Martinez

  18. @Menno

    The ground element is reliant, in this situation, on the assessment of the aviation element. Unless the ground element had a UAV up and was able to tell the Apache crew was wrong, it’s unlikely such authorization to engage would be rescinded. That said, the callsign of the element in question indicates a rather low echelon, and were a higher element watching the situation, they could very well break through the communication and deny authorization or retask the aircraft.

  19. Thank you Gentlemen for your cogent, non-emotional analytical replies, in the midst of what must be a stressful and demanding, highly charged atmosphere of international human import.

    We should all care for the facts enough to not allow them to buried or perverted in a swell of emotion.

  20. Goed gedaan Rop , ken je nog uit de hactic tijd.
    Ben zelf ook niet zo gedient van die CNN propaganda, machine die het dan over de zoveelste “schone oorlog”
    Heeft gelukkig is er internet , en heeft dat meer potentie het bewustzijn van mensen te veranderen omdat het iedere abonee in potentie zijn eigen radio of TV station geeft!
    Nu aleen de kijkers nog zo ver krijgen dat ze er ook naar gaan handelen 🙂
    Kortom goed bezig.
    Respect Frank

  21. @Anthony Martinez,
    You’re right, I should do without the keyboard-shouting.
    – I did not state that “that all soldiers are liars”. Nowhere. I wrote: “you cannot trust what a US soldier says. Nor his general.” It’s not that they’re allways lying. It just that you cannot know when they are lying. In this case lies have been shown, so why should we trust a next statement by the military to be true? For this reason I cannot use your statement that you never saw anything similar in your job.
    “Engagement does not equal shooting, an engagement does not have to involve gunfire. We are presently “engaged.” I’ve not shot you” Negative to the final point: you were shooting the messenger. And yes we two are engaged, although I did not receive the ring yet. But engagement in the theater is a different thing. Engagement=taking up arms into conflict (not necessarily shooting indeed, literally). But used in “requesting permission to engage” (3:47) it includes the shooting. SOP, rules of engagement. I think it strange that you divert from that meaning, right when you are clarifying the video. Or do you really think the Apache was going to engage in postings on a website with these people?
    – btw, permission to shoot was asked & given before mentioning a RPG, as rop pointed out. Still, after rop’s remark, you write “apparently believe to have been holding an RPG7 … might well constitute enough of a perceived threat to engage”. Very interpretative.
    – In general: you are talking this collateral murder down into an “incident”. You may try so, but why should we be convinced? At least, the taped talking sounds quite regular. Why and how could such an unprofessional behaviour creep into their job as an incident? A trained fireman peeing into the fire is an incident, but when no colleague is expressing question marks, there is a pattern to be researched.
    – You wrote: Equally shamefully is the piss-poor job WikiLeaks has done. This is the statement I object to. You could help improve the interpretations of the video. But you have misplaced your weight in declaring it “equally piss-poor”. Good to know the difference between a M1151 and a M2A3. But this does not qualify you to judge on murder.

Comments are closed.