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!