It has been seven long years since the United States first invaded Iraq as part of the so-called Global War on Terror and it is the occupation’s continued duration that has caused it to recede somewhere into the fringes of American consciousness. Indeed, it is not at all uncommon for people to forget – if only for a moment – the fact that America is still involved in Iraq. For those who do remember, the scale of the macabre violence that is still being perpetrated in the war-torn nation has become entirely too commonplace to elicit any genuine concern.
The fact is, however, that America is still occupying Iraq. Americans were forced to confront the reality of brutal nature of this occupation once again when a U.S. military video depicting the slaughter of two Reuters employees and ten civilians in Baghdad was released on the internet by the non-profit news organization, WikiLeaks, last week.
The video was shot from an Apache helicopter on July 12, 2007. Reuters has since been agitating for the release of the video, which “consists of 38 minutes of black-and-white aerial video and conversations between pilots in two Apache helicopters as they open fire on civilians on a street in Baghdad.” Reuters employees themselves had been allowed an off-the-record viewing two weeks after the killings, but they were barred from acquiring a copy of it and their Freedom of Information Act requests were not approved.
WikiLeaks obtained a copy of the video through whistle-blowers in the military, and was able to view it after breaking the encryption code.
The video begins with the two journalists amongst a group of people milling about on a street in Baghdad. The photographer’s camera is mistaken as a weapon. Thus the crowd itself is misapprehended as an insurgent group, and the pilots open fire. Most of the men are killed almost instantaneously and the pilots then proceed to crow over the killings — “Look at those dead bastards,” one pilot remarks.
One of the Reuters employees, however, is seriously wounded and begins to crawl away from the scene. The pilots hope for reasonable justification to resume firing at him again — “All you gotta do is pick up a weapon — if we see a weapon, we’re going to engage!” one pilot says.
A van drives up a while later, and several men who are clearly unarmed, jump out to rescue the fallen. The pilots seek and receive permission to engage — within a few minutes, everyone is apparently dead. U.S. armored vehicles move onto the scene and one of them drives over a corpse, causing one of the observers in the helicopter to chuckle and say, “I think they just drove over a body.”
The situation was not hostile, and “[t]here was no threat warranting a hail of 30 mm [caliber gunfire] from above,” Anthony Martinez, a former U.S. army officer who has watched thousands of aerial footage from Iraq, has said. U.S. military inquiry into the killings, however, has absolved the officers of any criminal acts, even though firing at those rescuing the wounded is a direct violation of the Geneva Conventions.
This brutal massacre is not an isolated anomaly, Mike Prysner, an Iraq war veteran and co-founder of March Forward!, told me. “You can tell by the way they are talking and communicating with each other that this is just standard procedure — just another day in the field. I’m not surprised that this happened.” The only unique facet of this incident is that it was caught on tape and released to the media. “And it’s not as if they were a bunch of rouges — everything that happened was condoned by higher authority.”
This is what is happening all over Iraq, and this is why so many civilians have died — because this is the way we choose to go about fighting our wars. “This is a colonial occupation,” Prysner said, “which means that the civilians are our enemy.”