A reader writes:
I have a very different interpretation of that video. Of course, what happened is horrible. But the video makes it quite clear that the soldiers in that helicopter didn't realize what they were doing. It was a tragic mistake. They believed they had found insurgents, and had a rare opportunity to kill opposing combatants in open combat. These are people who have probably seen their own comrades killed or maimed by insurgents many times. At one point in the video, it is clear they think that one of the reporters is carrying an RPG. I imagine such a weapon could take out a helicopter; certainly I would think an Apache is vulnerable to small-arms fire when flying low, so as far as these soldiers knew, they were in a "kill or be killed" situation.
I don't know what the technical definition of a war-crime is, but in my opinion, at least morally, these soldiers are not guilty of any crime.
They were probably scared, confused, under a great deal of pressure, and had access to limited information. Of course there was BS and lying after the fact, but what happened here is probably just what anyone would expect to occur in a war-zone: people make tragic, deadly mistakes. As far as I can see, this is more an argument against having a war in the first place, as opposed to actions by these particular soldiers, or even the rules of engagement.
When people like you (and me) supported a war in the first place, we might have stopped and reflected on the fact that something like this was well-nigh guaranteed to occur - again and again. I would challenge you to find any conflict in the history of war, that occurred on this scale, where an event like what occurs in this video does not happen hundreds of times.
The reaction to this video is misguided and overblown. Let me quote for you a key passage from David Finkel's book where he went into this incident in detail:
"All morning long, this part of Al-Amin had been the most hostile. While (Capt.) Tyler Andreson had been under a shade tree in west Al-Amin, and (Lt. Col.) Kauzlarich had dealt with occasional gunfire in the center part, east Al-Amin had been filled with gunfire and some explosions. There had been reports of sniper fire, rooftop chases, and rocket-propelled grenades being fired at Bravo Company, and as the fighting continued, it attracted the attention of Namir Noor-Eldeen, a twenty-two-year-old photographer for the Reuters news agency who lived in Baghdad, and Saeed Chmagh, forty, his driver and assisstant.
Some journalists covering the war did so by embedding with the U.S. military. Others worked independantly. Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh were among those who worked independantly, which meant that the military didn't know they were in Al-Amin. The 2-16 didn't know, and neither did the crews of the Apaches, which were flying high above Al-Amin in a slow, counter-clockwise circle. From that height, the crews could see all of east Al-Amin, but the optics in the lead Apache were now focused tightly on Noor-Eldeen, who had a camera strung over his right shoulder and was centered in the crosshairs of the Apache's thrty-millemeter automatic cannon."
Let's add some more context to this video. It was taken in the July of 2007, during the heaviest fighting in the Iraq war at the height of the surge, in one of the most violent sections of the most violent city in Iraq; Baghdad. These Apache pilots weren't running around looking for innocents to kill because they wanted Iraqi blood; they were responding to reports of violence and insurgents in that area and stumbled upon a group of men with what looked like weapons. It is important to note that there actually were men amongst the group who were openly carrying AK-47s and RPGs; and I would challenge anyone sitting in comfort in front of their computer screen to be able to definitively state that they could tell that the journalist was carrying a camera instead of a weapon.
Now put yourself in a hot, loud seat in the gunners position on an Apache, circling above a hostile city that has had reports of groups of men launching attacks with AK-47s and RPGs all morning. They identified a threat, identified the men as possessing weapons, reported their findings to their superiors, requested permission to fire, and then engaged when they were given that permission. On any other given day during these soldiers deployment, the exact same actions led to the deaths of legitimate insurgents and terrorists.
Guess what Andrew? This is what happens when you support a war. War is not and will never be clean and sterile, or even make sense. Upstanding Apache pilots explicitly follow their R.O.E. and yet the story still ends in unspeakable tragedy. David Finkel's book deals with this incident in a far more mature and reasoned way than you and most of the media establishment seem to be capable of. He doesn't shy away from the ambiguity and crushing insanity of the random violence in Iraq that tears at the claims of moral righteousness by both sides. Instead of getting incensed because we just discovered what war actually looks like, we should continue to channel our rage at the politicians who so were so cavalier with tossing our troops into these situations. Politicians who, conveniently, never had to serve in the combat and be exposed to these things.