The Daily Roundup – Apache Killing Tape Edition

6 Apr

Reaction to the release of tape (video at bottom of post) showing American soldiers from Apache helicopters killing Iraqi civilians, including two Retuers journalists, then killing people who came to remove the bodies later, continued today.

Besides stories in The New York Times, Washington Post, and coverage on MSNBC, this tape has gotten surprisingly little coverage. This is unfortunate, that it suggests a squeamishness by big media to write stories that in any way portray American soldiers in questionable acts.

Glenn Greenwald, columnist at Salon, has had some of the most aggressive coverage so far. He continued today. Below are some excerpts of his writing.

But what is shown is completely common.  That includes not only the initial killing of a group of men, the vast majority of whom are clearly unarmed, but also the plainly unjustified killing of a group of unarmed men (with their children) carrying away an unarmed, seriously wounded man to safety — as though there’s something nefarious about human beings in an urban area trying to take an unarmed, wounded photographer to a hospital.

Those formal investigations not only found that every action taken by those soldiers was completely justified — including the firing on the unarmed civilian rescuers — but also found that there’s no need for any remedial steps to be taken to prevent future re-occurence. What we see on that video is what the U.S. does on a constant and regular basis in these countries, and it’s what we’ve been doing for years.  It’s obviously consistent with our policies and practices for how we fight in these countries, which is exactly what those investigative reports concluded.

What Greenwald has concluded is that the actions demonstrated in the video, and confirmed by the military’s own investigation, are that there is nothing wrong with what happened in this case.

This should horrify us. While we must be open to reexamining our views when more evidence and context emerges, that should not stop us from making conclusions based on the evidence we have. And what we can conclude from the current evidence is that there seems to have been a tragic misinterpretation of reality along with a seeming callousness toward human life on the soldiers’ part.

The tragic assumption that the soldiers make in this case is mistaking the camera of one of the journalists as an RPG. While the camera can and does from their distance look like a weapon, it appears the helicopter crews failed to look at other clues that suggested that this group of men were not insurgents.

First, the group seems oblivious or at least unconcerned about the presence of the aircraft. I would imagine insurgents are smart enough not to walk around in the open while American Apache helicopters are circling above. Second, while it does appear some of the men may possess AK-47s there are no indications they demonstrated any hostile intent, either toward the Americans or anyone else. Possession of a weapon should not be misconstrued as hostility.

The soldiers kill most of the men but one of the journalists survives and can be seen crawling on the ground. One of the soldiers wishes aloud for the journalist to grab a weapon so he can kill him. This presents an attitude that runs counter to the rules of engagement, which is to first attempt to take prisoners for intelligence purposes. A discussion on that aspect can be seen during this segment on MSNBC.

Later, after the soldiers have fired upon and killed most of the men in the group, a van pulls up to retrieve the bodies. The men who emerge from the van are unarmed. Yet, the soldiers fire upon the van and men around them, in the process seriously injuring two children that are in the van. Once again, the soldiers operate under the assumption the men are insurgents, even though they clearly have no weapons and show no hostile intent.

A more involved look at all the rules of engagement issues at play in the video can be read at The New Yorker.

Now, at this point, it’s logical to ask the question, Why should we even care at all?

We should care because civilian deaths at the hands of the U.S. military has been a complicating effect in America’s efforts in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The credibility of our armed forces has been undercut as the military has repeatedly had to re-explain the actions of soldiers after initial reports of incidents involving civilian deaths have turned out to be false. Just today, The New York Times revealed that NATO is investigating claims that the U.S. military covered up an incident where commandos are alleged to have killed five Afghan civilians – including two pregnant women.

We should care about this videotape because the military fought very hard to keep the tape from becoming public, including intimidating Wikileaks, the organization that released the video. If the actions on the tape are standard practice, as the military’s investigation found, then why the hard pushback?

A morally credible military should not be afraid of making its practices and standards of acceptable conduct public. And a public that supports such a military should be willing and want to know about what our soldiers due in the course of taking actions that are suppose to protect us.

There has been criticism of the press coverage and there are some who believe this footage should not have been released. There are also those who will undoubtedly view any questioning of American soldiers or military actions as offensive or unpatriotic.

But it is the job of the press to showcase uncomfortable truths, to expose questionable behavior by government, and to hold those in power accountable for their actions. And few things are as powerful as a gun.

We must hold our military to the highest standard of ethical and moral behavior and expose them when they deviate from this standard. This is necessary if this nation is to have any moral credibility at all in the area of foreign affairs and international relations.

We must always remember that the military works on behalf of the American people, and if we as Americans are uncomfortable with the way that job is performed or that mission is undertaken, we must make our views known. This is not to denigrate those in service. It is to reaffirm the significant trust the people place in our armed forces – a burden we would not entrust them with unless we had the highest respect for them. They carry the honor and image of America wherever they go. This is a solemn and grave responsibility and one that demands the highest standards of conduct and behavior. We should expect nothing less.

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One Response to “The Daily Roundup – Apache Killing Tape Edition”

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  1. The Daily Roundup « Hawk Post - April 12, 2010

    […] who have been emboldened this past week since Wikileaks released a video (which I wrote about here) showing American soldiers killing Iraqi civilians (including two journalists) from Apache […]

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