I watched this gruesome video yesterday of US military personnel in Iraq gunning down a group of people, including two Reuters employees, based on the notion that they’re carrying AK-47s and RPGs. I can’t see clearly enough to tell whether or not some of the men in the group are in fact armed, but it’s clear that one of the so-called RPGs is actually a camera. And it’s also clear that whether or not anyone in the group was carrying weapons, that possession of a firearm is not cause for summary execution either in Iraq or the United States. My understanding of the rules of engagement is that soldiers are not supposed to fire unless there’s a hostile act or a clear sign of hostile intent.
This video isn’t for the faint of heart, but I think people need to see it. First, though, in all fairness it should be said that as of now the US military command in Iraq will neither confirm nor deny. the authenticity of the video and it’s possible this will turn out to be fake and a huge embarrassment for WikiLeaks. That said, let’s proceed:
Three points about this that I find particularly disturbing. One is that if this is authentic, you have military personnel killing people without making any reference to the rules of engagement. The confusion or whatever about the weapons is bad enough, but the people on this recording don’t seem to have any idea what the rules of engagement they’re supposed to be operating under are, or else they don’t care. This obviously raises the question of how many broadly parallel incidents there have been that haven’t come to light since they haven’t happened to have involved a Reuters employee.
The second is that according to WikiLeaks “Reuters has been trying to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act, without success since the time of the attack.” That appears to indicate a deliberate cover-up of the incident by the relevant officials at the Pentagon. And that, again, obviously raises the question of how many broadly parallel incidents there have been that haven’t come to light since they haven’t happened to have involved a Reuters employee.
Last is the incredible paucity of media attention given to this incident. You have what appears to be criminal activity by American soldiers and what appears to be a coverup perpetrated by someone and . . . nobody cares. Normally when General Petraeus sneezes, dozens of reporters spring into action.
I recognize that I myself am 12-18 hours late on blogging about this since, frankly, I found the content disturbing and have been trying to compose my thoughts. But as of now, there’s shockingly little out there from anyone outside specifically anti-war circles. Not to get too involved in calling out individuals, but I checked to see what Tom Ricks and Andrew Exum had to say about this, thinking they could maybe put it in some context for me, but they’ve got nothing. And yet the perpetration of the odd massacre followed by a coverup isn’t really much of a news story from the point of view of someone who thinks that the liberal application of military force around the world is itself a form of criminal wrongdoing. It’s precisely those who endorse the notion of prolonged occupations of foreign territory who need to grapple about the meaning of these kind of incidents.
To look at it another way, no matter what abuses may sometimes be perpetrated by police officers, you could never in a million years have an incident in which American police officers gun down a half dozen people, none of whom fire shots, and then the whole thing is just swept under the rug. The very fact that an incident could play out this way highlights the extent to which American soldiers in Iraq in 2007 simply were not genuinely in the structural position that people focused on a population-security mission would be. As with General McChrystal’s observation about killing innocent people at Afghan checkpoints, it’s just not clear to me what’s really being done on the ground to bring practice in line with aspirations.