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Anyone who cares about the truth

… needs to watch a video entitled Collateral Murder published by WikiLeaks yesterday, showing an attack on a group of civilians in Iraq back in 2007. Two of those civilians worked for Reuters.

It is essential viewing, especially for those who believe attacks on civilians are simply an unfortunate byproduct of bringing democracy to the world. This video shows 11 civilians murdered. Since the war in Iraq started, an estimated 600,000 civilians have been killed.

From the Collateral Murder website:

Reuters has been trying to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act, without success since the time of the attack. The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-site, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.

The military did not reveal how the Reuters staff were killed, and stated that they did not know how the children were injured.

After demands by Reuters, the incident was investigated and the U.S. military concluded that the actions of the soldiers were in accordance with the law of armed conflict and its own “Rules of Engagement”.

The US military refused to release the video and made sure it was encrypted. WikiLeaks obtained a copy and managed to decode it – here in Iceland. The full video, plus a shorter version, may be seen here.

Julian Assange from WikiLeaks has spent a great deal of time in Iceland over the past while and recently said that he believed US secret service agents were trailing him. After watching the video, it’s easy to believe him. Clearly this is something US authorities would have liked to keep firmly under wraps. That said, the US military has now confirmed that the video is authentic.

Iceland, through NATO, is a participant in the Iraq war. The decision to be among the “coalition of the willing” back in 2003 was made unilaterally by two men, Davíð Oddsson and Halldór Ásgrímsson, who were leaders of the two coalition parties in the Icelandic government at the time — the Independence and Progressive parties. They did not consult with anyone else before they added Iceland to that list – not parliament, not their own parties – no one. A few months later they switched places – Halldór becoming Prime Minister, Davíð Minister for Foreign Affairs. A few months after that, Davíð Oddsson was appointed Director of the Central Bank by the Independence Party.

Davíð Oddsson was forcibly removed from the Central Bank after the economic collapse and is now the editor of Morgunblaðið. Halldór Ásgrímsson is now the General Secretary of the Nordic Council of Ministers.

UPDATE: Lára Hanna has a very good compilation of links on her blog, of responses to the video in the foreign press. Scroll down to the bottom of the post, before the comments.

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  • JB in San Diego April 6, 2010, 6:29 pm

    I’m no apologist for the US military, and I have my letters to George W. Bush urging him not to invade Iraq to prove it… but having watched the video, and with an understanding about the time context of the event (this was at the height of insurgent violence in Iraq), I can’t find fault with the way the soldiers in the helicopters handled the situation.

    It was a terrible tragedy, and after the fact it was obvious that civilians were killed, and the US military needs to admit that and show some remorse and respect. But, as hard as it is to watch and listen to the audio, once you do it seems that the soldiers were being very careful about following protocol – they just mistook cameras for RPGs and AK-47s.

    I’m glad WikiLeaks is finding a way to get the truth out – knowing the consequences, intentional or accidental, of this misguided war is extremely important.

  • TomThumb April 6, 2010, 6:41 pm

    Alda. Thanks for posting this. I see that Birgitta Jonsdottir has been speaking out on the radio, saying that Iceland should apologize to Iraq for having supported the invasion back in 2003.
    As an American watching that video I want to apologize to all the victims of the American invasion of Iraq and for all of the premeditated murder of Iraqi men and women and children. Julian Assange is doing a fantastic job of getting the story out about the realities of war. The murder of innocents is the rule and not the exception. And the censorship of the realities of war in America is real. The New York Times article about the video comes off appearing as an apologist for war. Thanks to Wikileaks muchly. Talk about being ‘under pressure’. Whew!

  • alda April 6, 2010, 6:43 pm

    Then how do you explain the part where they go: “C’mon buddy, pick up the gun, pick up the gun” just so they can shoot him? The guy had no gun – they were just hoping he did have one so they could finish him off and not get into trouble.

    And why did they open fire on a van that was very obviously doing nothing but helping out an injured man?

    Incidentally, there were two children in that van that were wounded. They are still suffering the consequences of those attacks. Their father was killed trying to help an injured man — he was driving them to extracurricular activities and just happened past. US forces did not take them to a military hospital even though they found them, but rather turned them over to the Iraqi police. Neither they nor their mother have received any sort of compensation. They lost the breadwinner of the family and are now forced to live with the woman’s brother-in-law.

    You cannot tell me those soldiers were being careful in following protocol. They were not threatened in the least.

  • Rik Hardy April 6, 2010, 7:17 pm

    JB, “I can’t find fault with the way the soldiers in the helicopters handled the situation.”
    I suggest you watch the video again, although Alda has already pointed out certain oversights.
    My own minimalist summary is that Vice-President Cheney wanted Iraq’s oil and saw to it that the US could start to act as if it might do anything it wanted in order to get the oil and keep it. The video simply says, “We’re not going to let a few Iraqi civilians get in the way of that, now, are we?” I can just hear Cheney saying, “Unfortunate things happen in war” even if the war is his own private career move. I guess he was hoping for promotion… but to what? – God?

  • James April 6, 2010, 8:14 pm

    The children were fortunate they just hid – and didn’t try to run from the Americans…

  • Michael Lewis April 6, 2010, 8:27 pm

    Sorry, I agree with JB. The soldiers thought that they were armed, the man crouching with a presumably a zoom lens , did appear as if he was crouched, ready to fire an RPG. Of course its an accident, but such incidents have happen in every major war. Thats not to trivialise them, but to acknowledge that always will happen in a war. The apache pilots may not have been threatened but in the context: they thought they were stopping people who would cause massive loss of civilian life.

  • The Fred from the forums April 6, 2010, 9:20 pm

    What does Iceland’s constitution say about foreign policy powers?

    Is it legal there for the executive to involve the country in a war unilaterally?

    At least one set of constitutional engineers, in another country, were firmly convinced that it was too dangerous to leave that kind of authority with the executive branch.

    What was the Icelandic people’s reaction at the time?

  • Sebastian April 6, 2010, 9:26 pm

    Iceland, through NATO, is a participant in the Iraq war.

    The Iraq war has nothing to do with NATO. The war was launched by the United States and United Kingdom.

    Belgium, Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Norway and Slovenia are NATO members, but not part of the “coalition of the willing”.

  • alda April 6, 2010, 9:32 pm

    Sebastian – I stand corrected. Thank you!

  • Tom Joseph aka tj3 April 6, 2010, 9:40 pm

    Iraq and Afghanistan have been and are ill conceived murder festivals. They have no military importance. I cannot for the life of me understand why the new President of my country Obama does not get us out of this madness.

    There is something really wrong with arguing the points of a single video. It is not as if the action shown are OK when the entire operation was based on lies about non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The Afghan war was supposed to be about catching the terrorists who bombed the US with planes. Well that was no longer true after a few months there.

    I had no idea that Iceland had any support function sto any of this and that is sad. We should not have tainted the karma of other nations in our insanity.

    It reminds me ever so much of talking to the insane or some old person who is cranky and stupid and full of opinion s and reasons for the worst behavior on e can imagine. There is basically no reason available to use in discussions with them.

    Just exactly what are we doing there killing anybody? I know there are true enemies of the United States who are killers and criminals. To stop them it is more a matter of spy works and police work not the use of helicopters and troops. All we have done is to guarantee that there will be more hatred and a cycle of revenge for generations to come.

    This is an accident? This other incident is justified? Some other stupid f-ing excuse for filling the world with hate and death. It is the policy itself that leads to all this and it is no way an accident nor justified, all subsequent activities are tainted by this. No?

  • Joerg April 6, 2010, 9:45 pm

    Iceland’s participation in the Iraq war has been a particular sad episode of Icelandic history. I assume a certain amount of pressure exerted at this time and some – illusionary – hope for a continued existence of the Keflavik airbase, but the secrecy about this decision and the bootlicking subservience of Davíð Oddsson and Halldór Ásgrímsson are hard to swallow. And it appears very odd and almost like a coup d’état, that it needed just those two politicians to engage Iceland in a war, keeping the democratic procedure to a bare minimum. What a difference to the Icesave issue, which has been stalling Icelandic politics now for more than 18 months.

    If I refrain from judging the actions in this video in retrospect, the most disturbing thing here is the pilots’ voiced disdain for the destroyed lives and the apparent hatred, which will most likely just result in more hatred as response.

  • sylvia hikins April 6, 2010, 10:14 pm

    I am ashamed of the UK’s part played in Iraq. I was one of the many who deeply opposed the war (still do) and campaigned in every way I could against it. It’s taken long enough for this video to surface, but it has. How can a sane person confuse a camera with a rocket launcher. But this is the war where the only body count that counts are those of allied soldiers. We haven’t even had the decency to count the Iraqi’s who died. Whatever happened to the internationally agreed definition of war crimes?
    sylvia from viking wirral

  • Joerg April 6, 2010, 10:27 pm

    @Sebastian: There seems to be some ambiguity about Norway’s role as member of the “coalition of the willing”:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multi-National_Force_%E2%80%93_Iraq

    After all, they deployed some troops there for some time.

  • alda April 6, 2010, 10:59 pm

    NB – Lára Hanna has a very good compilation of links on her blog, of responses to the video in the foreign press. Click on the link and then scroll down to the bottom of the post, before the comments.

    http://blog.eyjan.is/larahanna/2010/04/05/slatrun-og-stridsglaepir/

  • Sebastian April 7, 2010, 8:43 am

    @Joerg:
    “The coalition of the willing” consisted of countries in favor of the invation. Norway was not.

    The non-combat Norwegian troops were deployed after a UN resolution was passed. Their mission was to rebuild infrastructure and remove land mines and other explosives.

    One correction to my previous comment: Croatia and Slovenia were not NATO members at the time of the invasion.

  • Nancy April 7, 2010, 9:06 pm

    This is actually getting some attention from American media – http://www.newsweek.com/id/235995. It’s such an anomaly for US media to cover anything of substance, I had to pass it along! I can’t comment on the substance of the video or the coverage (haven’t watched the video yet), but the cover-up is infuriating.

  • JB in San Diego April 7, 2010, 10:46 pm

    @ Nancy: Thanks for posting that link. It is a well-written piece, and I feel a little justified in my earlier comment about not blaming the soldiers. Christopher Dickey ends his Newsweek article with a similar sentiment.

    @Alda: With regards to the soldiers saying “pick up a gun,” when I heard that it struck me differently than it struck you I think…. I heard a professional soldier, understandably pumped on adrenaline, vocalizing a clear understanding that he was not justified in pulling the trigger on an unarmed, wounded man.

    These little side debates are small potatoes compared to the horrific costs of the war itself, but thanks for the forum, Alda.

  • rifek April 8, 2010, 1:51 am

    3:43: “Have five to six individuals with AK47s” even though only three “weapons” had been spotted and only one could have been ID’ed as an AK47. The camera bags looked like no Kalashnikov I’m familiar. One might be ID’ed as an RPG, but no one had made that call yet.

    4:23: “We got a guy shooting.” [Note that the caption is wrong.] Now the camera is ID’ed as an RPG. We never see him get into a firing stance, though. And there is no sign of actual incoming.

    4:48: Apache has cleared the building, and there is no sign of an RPG launcher or any other weapon directed at them, but they light up the group.

    I know that crap happens in combat, but these guys aren’t boots on the ground. They’re in the air, with good optics, and not nose-to-nose with the threat.

    The part that gets me, though, is the strike on the van. If somebody lit up one of our evac units like that, we’d be calling for scorched earth.

  • Rik Hardy April 8, 2010, 3:51 am

    It was a coalition of the willy-nilly: Weak politicians who thought Bush and his gang would rule the world for ever, so they might as well jump on the band wagon. Blair hopped on, and then David and Halldor thought it would be safe for them to do so as well.
    Several countries realized their mistake, admittedly later rather than sooner, and so, under intense public pressure, they grabbed the first opportunity to pull their troops out.
    The general public of today reads the news carefully, including the small print, and this is not the same public as that small minority who go out and buy a washing powder because they saw it advertised on TV. The advertisers are in denial if they think that they are of any importance whatsoever.
    It’s the same denial with politicians who think that people will follow them just because they want them to.

  • idunn April 8, 2010, 7:28 am

    I have seen the video and I know it for what it shows: murder.

  • Simon Brooke April 8, 2010, 9:29 am

    @JB in San Diego, whatever you may say about the initial attack on the people in the square – and even on the video I can clearly see that that camera is a camera and not a weapon – the attack on the good samaritans who come to try to rescue the wounded is blatantly and inexcusably a war crime.

    This is Bush’s Mai Lai.

  • John April 8, 2010, 11:58 am

    In my uniformed opinion Iceland needs NATO a lot more then NATO needs Iceland. Otherwise i think u will find that Russian bombers will fly into Icelandic airspace. And who will defend Iceland if someone attacks Iceland – not Iceland they don’t have any army or air force. To have a weak military force to none will not save Iceland from attacks. If u doubt that look up the word Operation Weserubung
    and the result of Nordic neutrality

  • geo8rge April 9, 2010, 7:54 am

    I would avoid the temptation to blame the people on the lowest rung of the ladder. Or even wonder what they were thinking, or why they did that. It is really pointless. It is like asking why an assembly line worker assembled a defective car.

    The overall issues are if the war is ‘worth it’, if NATO is still relevant, ect.

  • Michael Gordon April 10, 2010, 6:05 am

    There is a caution on this video. Several, actually, that I consider credible but have no way to independently verify and neither do you. In short, claim of altered footage and missing 20 minutes that would lend context. Written statements that accompany this incident include “I then observed a child and some other noncombatants in the vicinity of the AIF so decided to hold off on the engagement until the non-combatants were clear. After the non-combatants were clear CZ18 then engaged the AIF with 20x30mm.”

    I do not automatically believe ANYONE in government or military and it is almost trivial to splice video and audio and make your own. Rifles are not extremely dangerous to an Apache helicopter (bad enough for the people IN the helicopter) but a rocket powered grenade is something else entirely. Watch the movie “Blackhawk Down” for some context. Pray that Island escapes the notice of mideastern terrorists. Most newsphotographers use Canon cameras and lenses, which are white, heavy and fabulously expensive. Nobody would carry a lens of that kind as a “walk around lens” anyway unless you had something very specific in mind, you knew something bad was going to happen and you wanted to photograph it from a safe distance.

    Sources: http://mypetjawa.mu.nu/archives/201929.php — while I have no particular evidence that this site is telling the truth, they do link to CENTCOM official site http://www2.centcom.mil/sites/foia/rr/CENTCOM%20Regulation%20CCR%2025210/Death%20of%20Reuters%20Journalists/2–Sworn%20Statements%20.pdf — well either the site is offline or my internet just went offline (I’ll find out in a moment when I post this, it *does* go offline rather often unexpectedly)

  • Michael Gordon April 10, 2010, 6:25 am

    Minor addition I meant to include — obviously my internet connection is working so I don’t know why the CENTCOM site didn’t respond to me — I am reminded of George Orwell’s “1984” teams of editors that edit _history_ so that history tells the story a regime wants told. In our world of technology, it is almost trivial to re-write any story or video, or merely edit out contrary bits to the story you want to tell. That way, the remaining bits are true, yet untrue at the same time, misrepresenting the truth.

    I lived two years in Island guarding against the Soviet Union. Having watched the unpleasant movie, “Born in America” about a three of students that foolishly wander from Finland into the Soviet Union and get caught, My good friend Konni laughed at the suggestion that the Soviets would ever invade Island, I pointed out they had already killed six times the population of Island in their war in Afghanistan and near as I can tell, there is nothing in Afghanistan that anyone wants, not the USSR and not the USA. That seems to be a humanitarian conflict more than anything else, stop the Taliban blowing up ancient Buddhist statues (among other things).

    This site, once again impossible to verify, suggests rather strongly that Orwellian editing of history is taking place. The military photograph shows a slightly damaged van; the website shows what is intended to be the same van but heavily damaged and it looks rather more like a dump truck sat on it rather than any kind of artillery or bomb (which would have burned it and blown it outward from the inside). There is no burn.

    http://www.mudvillegazette.com/033539.html

    CENTCOM parent link:
    http://www.centcom.mil/en/press-releases/link-for-foia-documents-on-july-2007-new-baghdad-combat-action.html

    Well it’s clearly overloaded. Not surprising. What *is* surprising is allowing any part of this to be made public. How times have changed!