The seventeen-minute film, pared down from thirty-eight minutes of raw
footage, seems to speak for itself; yet even with subtitles
transcribing the radio transmissions, the occasional identification
tag, and introductory slides, the reality of the situation is hardly
The shooting took place on July 12, 2007, in Little Baghdad, a suburb
of the capital. Noor-Eldeen and his Reuters colleague Saeed Chmagh, 40,
and a father of four, had been covering a nearby U.S. military
operation. As they crossed an open square, a pair of Apache helicopters
providing close ground support to the operation reported seeing "five
to six individuals with AK47s" and opted to engage the group.
Rules of engagement aside, the radio banter between pilots is
excruciating to listen to. "Oh, yeah, look at those dead bastards,"
says one, after the initial volley of cannon fire, followed by a series
of complements for a "good shoot."
As one wounded man attempts to crawl away, identified by WikiLeaks in
the video as Chmagh, a pilot taunts him, daring him to give the Apaches
justification to engage again. "Come on, buddy. All you gotta do it
pick up a weapon."
A van pulls up, and as the wounded man is loaded inside the Apaches
open fire again. When U.S. soldiers on the ground arrive on the
scene--apparently driving a Bradley over a body in the process,
eliciting a laugh from the pilots--and pull from the front seat not
insurgents but two badly wounded children, over the radio is heard,
"Well it's their fault for bringing their kids into a battle."
When, immediately following the shooting, it emerged that two reporters
had been killed, a defense official stated, "There is no question that
coalition forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a
Reuters requested the footage, via FOIA, as part of
their own investigation into the men's violent deaths. And while the
Department of Defense screened it for top editors in a 2007
off-the-record meeting, they declined to release it publicly.
(WikiLeaks refused to comment on how they obtained an encrypted copy,
which the Pentagon acknowledged Monday was authentic.)
The Monday morning press conference, held at the National Press Club in
Washington, was a notable departure for WikiLeaks. Since its inception
three years ago, the donor-funded site has typically offered little
editorial comment on the material it releases; it's been more of a
clearinghouse than soapbox.
To unveil the film, however, Julian Assange, the website's editor, flew
in from Reykjavik and provided sober commentary throughout.
Ten months after the incident, he said by way of introduction, the
Pentagon issued a statement to Reuters saying the killings were lawful
under the rules of engagement. "I believe that if those killings were
lawful under the rules of engagement," he continued, "then the rules of
engagement are wrong. Deeply wrong."