Video: Collateral murder, or the risks of war zones?

posted at 2:12 pm on April 5, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

Wikileaks released a video today of an engagement in Baghdad in 2007 that resulted in the deaths of two journalists from Reuters in an effort to accuse the US of covering up a war crime. Calling the incident “collateral murder,” Wikileaks says that it wants to promote the safety of journalists in war zones with the release of the DoD video, but the video itself shows why the US forces fired on the group — and on the vehicle that came to their aid. Note that the video itself contains NSFW language and graphic images of death (via John Holowach at TrueHigh):

In the video, starting at the 3:50 mark, one member of this group starts preparing what clearly looks like an RPG launcher, as well as some individuals with AK-47s. The launcher then reappears at the 4:06 mark as the man wielding it sets up a shot for down the street. In 2007 Baghdad, this would be a clear threat to US and Iraqi Army ground forces; in fact, it’s difficult to imagine any other purpose for an RPG launcher at that time and place. That’s exactly the kind of threat that US airborne forces were tasked to detect and destroy, which is why the gunships targeted and shot all of the members of the group.

Another accusation is that US forces fired on and killed rescue workers attempting to carry one of the journalists out of the area. However, the video clearly shows that the vehicle in question bore no markings of a rescue vehicle at all, and the men who ran out of the van to grab the wounded man wore no uniforms identifying themselves as such. Under any rules of engagement, and especially in a terrorist hot zone like Baghdad in 2007, that vehicle would properly be seen as support for the terrorists that had just been engaged and a legitimate target for US forces.  While they didn’t grab weapons before getting shot, the truth is that the gunships didn’t give them the chance to try, either — which is exactly what they’re trained to do.  They don’t need to wait until someone gets hold of the RPG launcher and fires it at the gunship or at the reinforcements that had already begun to approach the scene.  The gunships acted to protect the approaching patrol, which is again the very reason we had them in the air over Baghdad.

War correspondents take huge risks to bring news of a war to readers far away.  What this shows is just how risky it is to embed with terrorists, especially when their enemy controls the air.  War is not the same thing as law enforcement; the US forces had no responsibility for identifying each member of the group and determining their mens rea.  Legitimate rescue operations would have included markings on the vehicle and on uniforms to let hostile forces know to hold fire, and in the absence of that, the hostile forces have every reason to consider the second support group as a legitimate target as well.   It’s heartbreaking for the families of these journalists, but this isn’t “collateral murder” — it’s war.

Update: Rusty Shackleford has more thoughts at The Jawa Report.

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