I can't pretend to know the full truth or circumstances of this. But at face value it is the most damaging documentation of abuse since the Abu Ghraib prison-torture photos. As you watch, imagine the reaction in the US if the people on the ground had been Americans and the people on the machine guns had been Iraqi, Russian, Chinese, or any other nationality. As with Abu Ghraib, and again assuming this is what it seems to be, the temptation will be to blame the operations-level people who were, in this case, chuckling as they mowed people down. That's not where the real responsibility lies.
Bill Roggio defends the military:
There is nothing in that video that is inconsistent with the military’s report. What you see is the air weapons team engaging armed men. Second, note how empty the streets are in the video. The only people visible on the streets are the armed men and the accompanying Reuters cameramen. This is a very good indicator that there was a battle going on in the vicinity. Civilians smartly clear the streets during a gunfight.
R.M. at DiA arrives at the same conclusion:
I've watched this video a couple of times now, first with outrage similar to Mr Sullivan's, then with an eye towards seeing what the pilots saw. I don't mean to turn this tragedy into a psychological experiment, but I'm reminded of this selective attention test. By way of the text and markers in the video we are prodded to see one side of the event. (The helicopter pilots do not help matters with their casual approach to killing and intermittent laughter.) But ask yourselves, would you have been able to distinguish between the journalists' cameras and the guns some of the other men were carrying? More importantly, did you see the man with the RPG? Did you see him poke around the corner and seem to aim it at the helicopter?
While the pilots who fired at apparently armed men (and at least 3 were actually armed) thought they were saving US ground troops who had been pinned down from men with small arms, they had less justification for firing on the van. Indeed, the latter action may have been a war crime since the van was trying to pick up the wounded and it is illegal to fire on the wounded and those hors de combat.
Raffi Khatchadourian describes the rules of engagement:
The video raises a number of interesting questions about the treatment of casualties during an ongoing military operation. On several occasions, the Apache gunner appears to fire rounds into people after there is evidence that they are have either died or are suffering from debilitating wounds. The Rules of Engagement and the Law of Armed Combat do not permit combatants to shoot at people who are surrendering or who no longer pose a threat because of their injuries. What about the people in the van who had come to assist the struggling man on the ground? The Geneva Conventions state that protections must be afforded to people who “collect and care for the wounded, whether friend or foe.” The understanding here is that such people are clearly designated as noncombatantsby wearing a prominently displayed red cross, or red crescent, on their persons, for instanceor who are obviously civilians. A “positively identified” combatant who provides medical aid to someone amid fighting does not automatically lose his status as a combatant, and may still be legally killed.
As The National put it: "Wikileaks has probably produced more scoops in its short life than The Washington Post has in the past 30 years." If they did not obtain and then post this video, we would not know about what happened with this incident. I wonder how WikiLeaks is able to break so many stories without publishing "beat sweeteners," spending tens of thousands of dollars to be seen at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, and currying favor with White House officials in exchange for access?
Let's assume there's a positive place for an organization like Wikileaks. An outlet. A steam valve. Whatever. Is it the proper place of that outlet to take their raw leaked documents, audiotapes and video, and add biased editorial analysis when they do not -- and cannot -- have all the facts?