Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Shameful Video

There is no doubt that the video footage from a U.S. military helicopter of Iraqi journalists being killed is extremely damaging to America's image in the world, and its impact has been underrated by most US media.

On Tuesday this video made the headlines on the French 6 o'clock news (which is actually at 8) and so did it all in the rest of the world. The reaction was moderate - a war expert was interviewed and pretty much explained that these things happen in war. One might agree this is just the ugly side of war, the "unfortunate" consequences of urban warfare - but that is the very reason why such images must be shown.

The American public has been shielded for too long from such graphic views of the human cost of war, just as the French see nothing of the war of their own troops in Afghanistan. It won't stop the war but might make the anger of some people in the world a little more understanding.
Just imagine the impact of those images in Iraq or in the Arab world. If that's hard to figure out, imagine the reaction in the U.S. if the people on the ground had been Americans and the people shooting had been Iraqis, Russians, or Chinese?

What is particularly disturbing is that this footage looks like a video game in which soldiers sound like gamers shooting from a distance and enjoying it. It is different from WWII or the Vietnam bombings because the shooters are both at a relatively safe distance and at close range visually. (It is even worse when you think of the thousands of unmanned Predator aircraft firing from a base miles away.)
I can believe that flying in an Apache makes it harder to dissect the video even if it is electronically and mechanically stabilized and since I have never been in a war situation, I cannot even begin to fathom what it must be like for these guys.
That being said, it is even harder to understand how the US Military could have concluded that the Apache crew acted appropriately and did not break the rules of engagement when it fired at the van which was trying to pick up the wounded (it also seems hard to miss the two kids sitting in the front seats).
In fact, this is not only a breach of the rules of engagement, it may be a war crime altogether :
As the New Yorker reminds us :
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.
The Geneva Conventions state that protections must be afforded to people who “collect and care for the wounded, whether friend or foe.”.
I am no legal expert but it does make sense that this is awfully wrong and it is disgrace that most U.S. media spent more time this week on Tiger Woods than on this terrible event.

And, as we are reminded by The Economist, we even know of this video simply because two of the people who were killed were Reuters employees.
How many other civilians were killed in similar circumstances whose names we will never know, because they had no powerful Western employers to publicise their deaths and file FOIA requests?

Meanwhile the NYTimes reports that U.S. military has accepted responsibility for the deaths of three women (two pregnant women, a teenage girl) by the joint Afghan-international patrol searching for a Taliban insurgent. (the two men, who were later determined not to be insurgents). But it also seems there was a cover-up :
The Times of London reported that Afghan investigators claimed that American forces not only killed the women but had also “dug bullets out of their victims’ bodies in the bloody aftermath” and then “washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened."

Until this is confirmed or proven wrong, the suspicion remains. What a shame that the rage of many Americans should be about healthcare and not about what is being done in the world in their names!


themanbehindthecurtain said...

I think more people need to see the violence of war. Its easy to hear about numbers of people who died, but that is not remembered. You remember images of violence. This kind of stuff would never be put on the news in the U.S. It should be. If everyone was forced to watch the innocent people die on video, I think people's opinion of war would change.

I honestly couldn't make out the camera. I am extremely familiar with cameras and long lenses and i still couldn't really see it clearly. The part when he peeked around the corner was at the perfect moment that the chopper cam was swinging around. My guess is that the marines (the branch with all the choppers) were targeting groups of insurgents who looked exactly like what that group looked like, all day. I think that it was an honest mistake.

I don't think they should have shot the van. I don't know the details of the rules of engagement and the evacuation of the wounded. My thought would be to follow the van for intelligence not shoot it. I really couldn't make out the kids until they were pointed out. I am not trying to defend the actions, just giving my observations.

As for the attitudes of the marines...
They are trained to be killers and to lust after war. Making light of intense situations is a mechanism of coping. Their attitudes seem heinous and brash but it is necessary to carry out a job like a helicopter gunner. That one kid (probably around 20 years old) probably kills hundreds of people a day. Mostly enemy and people trying to kill his friends. You would have to think of it like a game, otherwise you couldn't live with yourself.

On that note, I don't think we should be in Iraq or Afghanistan. I think the U.S. should support the UN more and accomplish peace keeping missions that way. I am against war and think that its ridiculous that we still go to war in this day and age. The U.S has a lot of learning to do with foreign policy and solidarity amongst other nations.

I had a long though out post that I lost (closed the window before i put in the captcha words), so this was an abbreviated version. I have been a student of modern war as a hobby and have a lot of friends and family in the military. I definitely am not trying to defend/condemn I just wanted to state my observations. I am open to any and all opinions and statements. I definitely want to apologize on behalf of our military. It was a horrible mistake that affected the lives of so many innocent and wonderful people.

Jerome, said...

Yes, I totally agree with you on the need for people to see images of violence so they understand war has dire consequences. This, however, should have be done before the war and unfortunately in 2003, all people had in mind were the images of 911 and they would not have agreed to consider the pain and suffering potentially caused on others. (People also become selfish and insensitive when they are afraid ).
And yes, the first part of the video may be an understandable mistake, but the second part is harder to accept as an honest mistake. It seems to me that the rules of engagement must be at minimum in tune with the Geneva convention that you don’t shoot at wounded unless they threaten your life.
Of course, soldiers are not trained to be sensitive but to be more like machines and I can only fear the consequences on their long-term well-being. (No wonder why PTD is so high.). I thyink thatb unfortunately what goes around comes around.
As to whether these wars should have been waged in the first place, it seems to me that whereas the war in Iraq was baseless and rigged with ambiguous ulterior motive, the war in Afghanistan did make sense to me, even if personally, as a Christian, it goes against my core belief.
But besides the moral aspect, it seems the greatest mistake here is vanity and arrogance. The idea that the U.S. can wage two wars, without any international cooperation was bad political judgment. Hubris is definitely a major feature of the American right and the Bush administration was a good example of that.
By the way, I find your sensitivity very refreshing, and I love your openness and ability to consider other opinions. It is something that tend to be rare and thus more precious. I believe the Obama’s elections, despite the disappointment of some people, shows how things can change in the US and it is a great message to the rest of us.