Thursday, April 08, 2010

2007: Reuters photographer killed in Iraq. Does civilian clothing, casual body language, and a camera invalidate you as a potential enemy?

A 2007 U.S. Military video has been released with great fanfare by WikiLeaks, along with WikiLeaks' false claim that the video proves a U.S. helicopter gunner murdered approx. 10 Iraqis on a Sadr City street. Much of the left blogosphere is championing the video as evidence of either murder, or of U.S. military incompetence, or of War... what is it good for?... absolutely nuthin. Both WikiLeaks and the left blogosphere are wrong.

In 2007, Sadr City was a nest of Iranian-armed resistance to American occupation and to the Iraqi Government. The helicopter video was taken on a day and in a neighborhood in which real fighting was occurring between American forces and Iranian-armed forces of the Mahdi militia. The streets were empty: no children playing soccer; no vendors; no chit-chatters on sidewalks. With actual warfare occurring a few blocks away, with gunfire echoing in the neighborhood, noncombatants were sheltering inside their homes. American forces - including at least one Humvee - were on the ground approx. 2 to 4 city blocks from the street where the Iraqi men were killed. American forces had taken sufficient fire to warrant calling in helicopter support to sweep and search for insurgents in the direction in which American forces were preparing to move.

Apache helicopters spotted 8 men walking through a city street, and identified weapons amongst the men. In actuality: 1 man carried an AK 47, 1 man carried an RPG with a rocket locked in and ready to fire, 1 man carried an extra rocket round for the RPG. 2 men carried cameras: an Iraqi photographer who did combat photography for Reuters, and his driver. It is possible American pilots initially mistook their cameras for weapons.

In real time: American pilots and American command are in contact via radio, discussing whether or not the Iraqi men ought be targeted. One of the Reuters men points his camera around a corner and down a street and in the direction of an American Humvee which is 2 to 4 blocks away. The American helicopter pilot believes the camera is an RPG which is being pointed at American forces. The American pilot, with some panicky urgency, now swings his helicopter into position for a clear shot and shoots at the 8 Iraqi men - either killing or wounding at least 7 of them. One Iraqi man runs 100 feet, gets shot, and lies in the street. An unmarked late model van drives up; 2 men jump out and begin lifting the wounded man so as to load him into the van. The Apache pilot sprays the scene with bullets, killing the 2 Iraqi rescuers and possibly wounding 2 Iraqi children who are inside the van. The audio reveals American helicopter pilots exulting at the successful targeting of the Iraqis.

[Note: Wikileaks and the left, rather than interpret American pilot reaction as tension and adrenaline fueled exuberance at possibly having saved fellow American forces, interpret pilot reaction as possibly murderous and at any rate dangerously and inappropriately and distastefully aggressive. Ideally, some of the pilots' language would not have occurred. However, how concerned are we that the pilots are imperfect human beings who were amped up? Not very.]

American ground forces proceed to the scene and call to have the Iraqi children transported to American medical facility (note: the Iraqi children were treated at an American medical facility, then transferred to an Iraqi hospital). End video.

American military photographed weapons which were strewn at the scene: AK 47 (s?), an RPG and rockets, and hand grenades.

U.S. Military investigated the incident and absolved all personnel of wrongdoing, stating that all rules of warfare were followed. WikiLeaks and left bloggers assert, without evidence, that U.S. Military is covering up wrongdoing; that after-action weapons photographs at the site are fakes.

So, what do we have?

8 Iraqis were walking down the street in casual fashion. Is it reasonable to demand that American pilots accurately read casual walk body language vs purposeful walk body language? I think not.

More importantly: does casual body language change the strategic calculation, i.e. is it reasonable to assert the Iraqis were not a threat to American forces? It is not. If you were dressed as a local, and were attempting to get the drop on American forces, you might recruit a couple of guys to casually saunter down the street with you; you might affect a casual air as you moved into position. Thus we see a flaw in the reasoning of WikiLeaks and of the left: they are asserting that casual body language means the 8 Iraqi men were no threat.

Does presence of the Reuters photographer change the strategic calculation? It does not. What if the photographer was using his camera to scout the scene for the benefit of the RPG guy? Further, we know insurgents use cameras to create propaganda which is designed to create more warriors to fight against the U.S.A. A camera is an effective weapon of war. What if the photographer was scouting an angle for a good propaganda photo of an insurgent firing an RPG at a U.S. tank? Thus, the strategic calculation cannot be changed by the presence of a Reuters photographer. Thus we see another flaw in the reasoning of WikiLeaks and of the left: they are asserting that presence of the Reuters photographer means the 8 Iraqi men were no threat.

Whether or not the 8 Iraqis were a threat, they imperiled themselves via being on the street; they further imperiled themselves via carrying weapons. An RPG? Locked and ready to fire? Hand grenades? Who carries this stuff casually? You cannot carry these either inside or on the edges of a war zone. It makes you a legitimate target. You may as well go play in traffic: you are a good bet to soon be dead, and it's your own fault.

Let's speculate a scenario in which the Reuters photographer hired private guards to use an AK 47, and hand grenades, and a frickin RPG to in order to protect the photographer against hostile Mahdi militia who might shoot the photographer on sight. Let's further speculate the Reuters photographer forswore a bright and obviously marked "MEDIA" windbreaker or vest b/c those items would make him a bigger target for Mahdi militia. Under these wildly speculative circumstances: the Reuters combat photographer had to have known he was at risk of being targeted by American forces. If these speculative circumstances occurred, it simply means the Reuters photographer took a gamble and lost. The American military followed their rules of engagement - as everyone, including the Reuters photographer, knew that they would.

As for targeting the rescuers in the black unmarked van: rules of engagement allowed for the targeting. Think of it like this: on a battlefield, two enemy soldiers run to aid a wounded enemy soldier. All rules of warfare consider the two enemy soldiers as justified targets. It's war. It's life or death. You kill the enemy. Anyone who is aiding an enemy is an enemy. You cannot allow your enemy to live to fight another day.

Further: those guys driving the van were bad guys; were not civilian Good Samaritans. Sadr City is a ghetto. The only guys in possession of a late model van were bad guys who were on the other side. That's just the way things were. I don't know that this understanding/reasoning about late model vans and SUVs played into the rules of engagement (I doubt it), yet I do know everyone in Sadr City and in the U.S. military would have known that 2 guys driving a late model van would be part of the Mahdi militia forces which were opposing the Americans. WikiLeaks and the left do not know that. They are the only ones who believe 2 innocent, regular citizens of Sadr City would be in possession of a late model van.

Speculation: how did that van arrive so quickly? Is it possible for the van to have transported the 8 Iraqis to that street so that the Iraqis might saunter into position and get their shots? It's absolutely possible. Might the children have been in the van to provide cover during the drive to the combat site? They might. Think like a Persian, not like an American. Might the van have arrived so quickly b/c it was parked down the street watching the action and awaiting the return of the 8 men? It might. This is pure speculation on my part. Yet, that van did arrive quickly, and insurgents are known to remove evidence in order to cover their tracks and thus preserve deniability.

None of this is to say the American command and the Apache gunner necessarily ought have taken the shots. There are numerous and constant situations in which Americans refuse to take shots, and thus put themselves at risk, in order to protect possibly innocent life. However, this is to say that targeting these Iraqis appears to have been justified according to our rules of engagement.

Bob Owens, of Pajamas Media (1, 2), has all the relevant links, plus this:
[WikiLeaks] happens to be attempting to raise funds now. Claiming the need for an operating budget of $600,000, the group states they have only been able to raise $370,000. The implication seems both sad and obvious. Desperate for both attention and funding, WikiLeaks carefully constructed a propaganda video designed to raise their profile and increase donations.

They carefully framed the video footage with nearly three minutes of exposition, instead of merely allowing the video to stand on its own, relaying the actual context of this incident as it occurred during a larger battle to diminish the power of militants and restore order during the surge. (Which effectively ended militia control and greatly reduced sectarian violence in this area.) For reasons known only to WikiLeaks, they refuse in the shorter video to show or even mention the third engagement of the helicopter crew that morning, just blocks away, where a larger group of insurgents was destroyed with missiles.

WikiLeaks whitewashed the presence of weapons clearly shown by gun camera footage and ignored the confirmation in military investigations of the incident that the militant’s weapons displayed in the footage were recovered at the scene. WikiLeaks attempted to create obtuse new standards and rules of engagement, implying that “relaxed” terrorists should not be fired upon. They carefully omit the rules of engagement and refuse to note that evacuating combatants are still enemy targets and recognized as such by almost every military in the world.

The WikiLeaks video and “Collateral Murder” website seem calibrated for the express purpose of accusing soldiers of murder for the purposes of fundraising.

The justification of the targeting depends on this: if persons are impersonating a threat, you are justified in targeting them. It doesn't matter whether or not they actually are a threat.

If a guy threatens a convenience store owner: "gimme yer money or I will shoot!", does the convenience store owner wait until he knows whether the guy has a gun in his jacket vs a candy bar in his jacket? No. The convenience store owner shoots the guy. Whether or not the guy was a threat does not matter. The guy impersonated a threat, and therefore gets to be shot. Back in Sadr City in 2007, we can see: walking down that street with an AK 47, an RPG, and a camera (all weapons of war), was provocative; was analogous to threatening a convenience store owner with "gimme yer money or I will shoot!"

This is the same as the situation with Saddam and WMD. For purposes of justifying invasion: did it matter whether or not Saddam had WMD? It did not. Rather, Saddam was impersonating a threat, and therefore the U.S. was justified in reacting as if he were a threat. Whether or not Saddam actually was a threat, and in what specific ways he was or was not a threat, does not change the justification for invading and overthrowing.

And this is the way it was with the 8 Iraqis and the weapons: they were impersonating a threat, and therefore they were targeted. Whether or not they actually were a threat was irrelevant to the question of whether or not it was justified to target them.


Montana said...

I like that they questioned for “Public Defenders” (and they thought they could bring down our government), undercover FBI agent, sweet. Since their inception the Teaparty crowd (not a movement since they do have the numbers or clout) because they are haters not debaters or as others have dubbed them screamers not dreamers. The simpleton Tea baggers are the same whiners that were crying when the McCain/Bailin ticket lost. Now that their yelling and screaming disastrous to stop the shape care debate and the bill from passing they are crying again. Lets face it the Republicans had eight years to deal with shape care, immigration, climate change and fiscal oversight and governance and they disastrous. The Republicans are excellent at starting wars (two in eight years, with stout contracts to friends of Cheney/Bush) but not at winning wars as seen by the long-lasting line of body bags that keep coming home. Instead of participating in the shape care debate of thoughts the Republicans party turned inward to your ancient fashion obstructionist party. In my opinion the Republican Waterloo loss was caused by the party allowing a small parts (but very loud) of the republican party of “birthers, baggers and blowhards” to take over their party. I will admit that this fringe is very excellent at playing “Follow the Leader” by listening to their dullard leaders, Beck, Hedgecock, Hannity, O’Reilly, Rush, Savage, Sarah Bailin, Orly Taitz, Victoria Jackson, Michele Bachmann and the rest of the Blowhards and acting as ill plotted robots (they have already acted against doctors that perform abortions). The Teaparty crowd reckon they can scare, intimidate and break down others to go along with them by observations like “This time we came unarmed”, let me tell you a touch not all ex-military join the fringe militia crazies who don’t pay taxes and run around with face paint in the parks playing commando, the majority are mature and know that the world is more complicated and grey than the black and white that these simpleton make it out to be and that my friend is the point. The world is complicated and presidents like Hamiliton, Lincoln, and Roosevelt judge that we should use government a small to increase social mobility, now its about dancing around the aver of government is the problem. The sainted Reagan passed the largest tax increase in American history and as a result federal employment increased, but facts are lost when mired in mysticism and superstition. Although some Republicans are trying to distant themselves from this fringe most of them, having no game plot/ vision for our country, are just going along and fanning the flames. For a party that gave us Abraham Lincoln, it is tragic that the ranks are filled with too many unfilled suits. But they now aver they have changed, come on, what sucker is going to judge that? All I can say to you is dredge up Waterloo.

gcotharn said...

No, "my friend", the point is not complicated vs. simple; is not grey vs. black and white. The point, especially, is not about speculation as to motives and intentions. The points are about policy. Small gov vs. large gov, which is better? Free markets vs. markets managed from Washington, D.C., which are better? Left side of the Laffer Curve vs. right side of the Laffer Curve: which is better? Opportunity vs. equality of outcome: which is better? These are the points. Most effective policies are the points. Speculation about motive and intention is horse manure fantasy thinking. My friend.

Paul_In_Houston said...


All I can say is that you have a hell of a lot more patience in debating 19 year olds than I ever will.


gcotharn said...

Hey Paul. Sometimes I spill righteous indignation all over the computer keyboard, and then words appear in comment sections. It's not so much patience as it is grumpy indignant guy. Heh.