Helicopter gunship attack

by Henry on April 6, 2010

Yglesias “if this is authentic, you have military personnel killing people without making any reference to the rules of engagement. … This obviously raises the question of how many broadly parallel incidents there have been that haven’t come to light since they haven’t happened to have involved a Reuters employee.”

James Fallows – ” 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. ”

Avram Grumer – “So, apparently if you’re a bunch of goofballs with a fake language who are just talking about killing a cop, waiting for people to show up at his funeral, and then shooting them too, all in the name of freedom from tyranny, that’s a serious crime, and the government will raid you and the media will post all sorts of stories about how scary you are. If, in the other hand, you’re a US military helicopter crew who actually kill a bunch of Iraqi civilians, including a pair of journalists, and then, when some people (including two children) show up in a van to help the wounded and collect the bodies, shoot them too, all in the name of freedom from tyranny, the government will spend two years blocking Freedom of Information Act requests for the video of the event, and when the story finally breaks on the Internet, the media will spend their time talking about Tiger Woods and the iPad.”

{ 274 comments }

1

bob mcmanus 04.06.10 at 4:33 pm

War is the health of the state.

The state is considered the sole source of the ‘right’ to use violence.

Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name.

2

roac 04.06.10 at 4:35 pm

Avram Grumer, in the quoted passage, connects two unrelated events in order to generate outrage against “the Government.” But there is no such thing as “the Government.” There is a lot of machinery set up by the laws of the United States, which has many, many separate levers which control separate functions and are in the hands of discrete organizations and individuals. (Many of which can and do routinely act directly at cross-purposes to one another). There are a very few persons with the authority to coordinate the functioning of all the different component parts — the President and his top advisers — but it is not actually possible to for them to do this except in a very small number of cases.

The decision to round up the Hutarees was made in the first instance by the local office of the FBI and the US Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Michigan. It is possible that they acted for discreditable reasons, e.g., the desire for publicity — lots of precedent for that. It is also possible that they genuinely thought that these people were on the point of actually killing somebody, and that pulling the plug on the organization was the prudent and responsible thing to do. Time will tell.

What is not credible is that the Bureau was directed to act at this particular point in time in order to distract attention from the actions of the military in Iraq. The DOJ and the FBI made a decision to act in one case; the DOD, at some level, made a decision to conceal evidence of gross wrongdoing in another. There is simply no meaningful connection between the two. If Grumer means to suggest there is, that is either cheap rhetoric or paranoia.

The comparison on which strikes me, which I have not seen elsewhere, is between the Army’s invoking secrecy to protect criminal pilots and the church’s invoking secrecy to protect criminal priests. there is ample evidence that this is standard operating procedure for all organizations that draw a fundamental line between Our People and any outside authority; e.g., any police force.

3

Henry 04.06.10 at 4:41 pm

bq. If Grumer means to suggest there is, that is either cheap rhetoric or paranoia.

I am pretty sure that Grumer intends to suggest no such thing – his point as I understand it is about the priorities of (a) the US political system, and (b) the media. He points out in an update that the _NYT_ put a story up about it after he had written the post. Still nothing on the _Washington Post_ online frontpage that I can see.

4

Frank 04.06.10 at 4:42 pm

Many now dead desereve life, we can’t give it back to them. That should have been at the forefront when the G.W. Bush and Richard ‘they will great us as liberators’ Cheney and the rest of the neo-cons began the drumbeat for war in Iraq. Those in the MSM, especially on the right, should be held to account to thier failures in 2003, not just to the failure in 2007 when this inident occurred.

5

roac 04.06.10 at 4:53 pm

Teh point about the media’s priorities is beyond dispute. But “the U.S. political system” is a fiction, like “The Government.” Is the argument that we should stop infiltrating groups of stupid people with guns in southeast Michigan in order to devote more resources to exposing Pentagon coverups of war crimes? If not, what does one thing have to do with the other?

6

Americaneocon 04.06.10 at 5:09 pm

Henry: As a political scientist, shouldn’t you be providing more balance, not to mention relevant research? I realize this is “The Timber,” but sheesh!

I posted on this yesterday, ‘WikiLeaks ‘Collateral Murder’ is Left’s Latest Attempt to Criminalize U.S. Wars’

7

Steve LaBonne 04.06.10 at 5:12 pm

Americanmoralcretin, fuck off.

Wars of choice ARE criminal precisely because this kind of stuff is guaranteed to happen.

8

Enzo Rossi 04.06.10 at 5:23 pm

Chilling. The helicopter crew clearly looked for excuses to shoot as many people as possible (so they were indirectly referring to the rules of engagement, pace Yglesias). It also seems as though they were deliberately ambiguous in talking to their CO when they said “van approaching, possibly picking up weapons and bodies”. Clearly they wouldn’t have been allowed to shoot if it was clear that the van people weren’t handling weapons, which they clearly weren’t. The legal battle will split countless hairs around the meaning of ‘possibly’, a little tree that will conveniently keep a very dark forest out of sight.

9

Hidari 04.06.10 at 5:35 pm

‘Henry: As a political scientist, shouldn’t you be providing more balance, not to mention relevant research? I realize this is “The Timber,” but sheesh!’

Americaneocon is a truly contemptible person as his worthless blog indicates, but undoubtedly we will be hearing milder versions of his ‘arguments’ from such great thinkers of our time as Glenn Reynolds etc.

To which the only real response is: if all the ‘rules of engagement’ were followed, and everything was above board……why did the Army lie about what happened, not once but over and over again?

10

Steve 04.06.10 at 5:38 pm

@4 – isn’t the point being made about the relative values shown by whichever relevant authority is dealing with the incident, in which the vague potentiality of one (presumably white) American policeman being killed receives a very energetic reaction from said relevant authority, while the certainty of numerous Iraqis, two Iraqi journalists and some Iraqi children having been provably killed (one might even say slaughtered) was instead met by obstructionism and blocking by its own relevant authority. It is a relevant comparison because it shows something depressing about American culture, not because of something it shows about American government, since as you say, any comparison is across different departments with utterly different agendas. I took it instead as a race-based, what’s-the-value-of-a-life point.

All that being said, his point about the media is stronger.

11

jacob 04.06.10 at 6:08 pm

I found the video to be one of the most upsetting things I’ve ever watched, largely because I don’t think I’ve ever watched real people be killed before. But Steve LaBonne is right, these sorts of things are bound to happen. What I found so upsetting is the way the American soldiers were so cavalier about it, taking such pleasure in killing people. I don’t really doubt that they thought the people they were shooting were armed, but it doesn’t matter, because I don’t think they cared, except legalistically. They’re joking, their pleasure at a kill, their laughter at the truck driving over a body–it suggests a profound dehumanization that happens in war. And that’s precisely why war should be avoided.

This is particularly true with this kind of war, waged by contemporary Americans. The soldiers in the helicopters were never threatened. They floated above the Iraqis, firing (in my mind, surprisingly and remarkably) accurate machine guns, totally insulated from their actions. They took on little or no risk; it was like a video game–which of course they grew up playing–with all the moral weight of playing a video game, which is to say none. How terrifying it must have been to be one of the wounded men, lying on the ground, listening and watching as the flying machines of death that had already shot you flew around and around over your head. In contrast, how profoundly unfrightened the Americans sound in their banter.

12

Steve LaBonne 04.06.10 at 6:13 pm

jacob- and of course in Afghanistan and Pakistan we’re making extensive use of drones, which take this tendency to its logical endpoint. Warfare that is efficiently lethal (much moreso than old-fashioned WWII-era bombing) to those on the receiving end but at little or no risk to those doing the killing, is a truly chilling, and morally / politically highly corrosive, development.

13

Ben Hale 04.06.10 at 6:13 pm

A lot is being made of the rules of engagement, but it seems to me that someone should mention the principles of just war. Here’s a quick attempt of mine that I spit out earlier this morning:

http://cruelmistress.wordpress.com/2010/04/06/rules-of-engagement/

14

Salient 04.06.10 at 6:14 pm

Thank you Henry (and CT generally speaking) for posting this.

So how exactly can we ordinary schmucks honor their memory and their lost life, as well as the lost lives like theirs that have probably happened unknown to us? Help this video go viral, organize some concerted has-a-shot-at-being-effectual protest? Any ideas? I want to help. To do something productive, effective. Surely many others feel that way too.

15

roac 04.06.10 at 6:18 pm

@10: It is demonstrably true that large segments of society value the lives of Americans over the lives of any foreigners, and especially dark-skinned foreigners. However, I still question the use of the Hutaree affair as a datapoint to support this thesis. Are you implying that if the group had been talking about targeting black cops, the Bureau would applied the “every dog is entitled to one bite” principle? I just don’t believe that.

As I have acknowledged, the Hutaree roundup may well turn out to have been an cynically calculated to obtain publicity, promotions, and funding. There is a depressing amount of recent precedent for that. The Bureau’s informant may turn out to have been acting as a provocateur in furtherance of those goals. But at this point, we don’t know. (On the evidence that has been shown, I can’t see that anyone will be convicted. But I think the authorities are obligated to put safety first.)

16

Steve LaBonne 04.06.10 at 6:21 pm

So how exactly can we ordinary schmucks honor their memory and their lost life, as well as the lost lives like theirs that have probably happened unknown to us?

I would say, by doing everything we can- letters to politicians, protests, political organizing, and of course voting- to demand that we IMMEDIATELY get the hell out of Iraq and Afghanistan. And using all those means to demand that there be no more such “force projections” or whatever the euphemism will be in the future. We probably won’t succeed but at least we’ll have tried. Nothing short of an end to imperial wars of choice will prevent such atrocities from happening over and over again.

17

Salient 04.06.10 at 6:28 pm

It’s the protests and political organizing that I want to contribute to. Specifically in response to this, as part of something productive that’s large enough and specific enough to draw attention.

I wrote out a letter longhand this morning, but my right-wing senators and reps stand no chance of listening whatsoever.

E.g. I would chip in to play this video, suitably introduced for contextual clarity, on TV ad spots, or something. I don’t really know. At least enough to force the cable TV media to start a running ongoing story on it, and keep up pressure. “Protesters continue to demand a draw-down in Iraq, responding to a video in which American troops are shown to be laughing as they fire on civilians…”

18

the teeth 04.06.10 at 6:31 pm

To which the only real response is: if all the ‘rules of engagement’ were followed, and everything was above board……why did the Army lie about what happened, not once but over and over again?

Because the ‘rules of engagement’ as constructed result in sickening & immoral slaughter?

19

yabonn_fr 04.06.10 at 6:40 pm

Surely there was a golden age, when militarists had the decency to disregard their own losses too.

The modern version is “invade, but no losses, we need the approval ratings”. So all you have to do is encourage the military to shoot if anything moves in a non-reassuring way (apparently a pleasant routine for these charming fellows in the helicopter), and cover up if you have to.

And that’s now, with an army made of people on the ground and in big, vulnerable helicopters that leak fuel and images all over the place. Just wait till everything is drones – cheaper, further from the target, better control of images.

Already nothing seems to really dent the amazing militarism of the us media/blogosphere (and let me say I support the troops), imagine this future bliss.

20

Substance McGravitas 04.06.10 at 6:49 pm

21

Steve 04.06.10 at 7:08 pm

@14 – You’re right, my comment was sloppily worded. I was trying to suggest that the value-distinction being made was between ‘American/Iraqi’, rather than between ‘white/black/middle eastern’, but that’s my fault. Of course, it would make no difference if the cop that had been threatened had been white, black, Hispanic or anything else.

On your point that the Hutaree case might have been publicity-motivated, I find that very interesting. Not wanting to hijack the thread at all with this, but can you tell me about any of the recent precedents you mention? Just some links or something, if you know of any; I’d be interested to read more.

22

Steve 04.06.10 at 7:09 pm

Sorry, that should obviously say ‘been hypothetically threatened’.

23

Ceri B. 04.06.10 at 8:24 pm

I’m going to cross the streams…

This incident demonstrates a principle that Glenn Greenwald thoroughly understands and Orin Kerr apparently doesn’t: this kind of constant deception is fundamental to the way the War Party (in both its Republican and Democratic manifestations) thinks. They always lie, they always seek to avoid accountability, and they’re consistently awful enough that a strong presumption of guilt is a very sensible stance. They deserve the best possible defense within the limits of law and morality, same as everyone else, but as citizens and human beings we should be judging them guilty and requiring them to prove their innocence. The only threat they respect is actually being stopped, and that isn’t happening much.

24

Americaneocon 04.06.10 at 8:40 pm

@ Steve LaBonne:

I guess you’re not a member of the “reality-based community.”

Anyway, an update on my reporting. Take a look Henry. I’ll be looking for a “political sciency” response: ‘Case Closed on ‘Collateral Murder’.

25

Hidari 04.06.10 at 8:50 pm

Hi Americaneocon!

It’s been great to know you but could I just echo Steve LaBonne and ask you to fuck off now?

There’s a good lad.

26

Anon 04.06.10 at 9:01 pm

A lot of fuss about the initial attack, which seems very overblown to me. Infantry were being engaged in the area, the crew thought that this group were armed, and one of the group unfortunately pointed what the crew thought (within reason) was an rpg at the helicopter. Sure it’s horrible, but it’s war, there’s no specific objection to be made here.

What’s also horrible (to a much lesser extent) is we have some of those who argued for the war now acting like this is such a dreadful thing, as if they thought that stuff like this wasn’t an unavoidable aspect of conflict. They ignored all of this when making their case. This is why the general rule of thumb for deciding whether or not to go to war is to sum up the costs and benefits, think carefully about what you see as the possible consequences, and then if you think the war is justified, to change your mind.

Too much talk about how the crew spoke to each other as well. That kind of psychology is pretty reprehensible but as I understand it it’s more or less necessary if you want guys who can go around shooting people (armed or not) on a day-to-day business. Most well-minded folk like aren’t up for that. Again, it’s awful for people to have to be like that, but it’s a general problem about war that this video just illustrates.

The criminal and inexcusable act was the second attack. Ignore the rest of the video.

27

Hidari 04.06.10 at 9:01 pm

I think it was on the Slate comments thread about the wikileaks extract (possibly it has been deleted) but for some reason someone thought this film extract from Full Metal Jacket was relevant.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S06nIz4scvI

No idea why.

28

Keith 04.06.10 at 9:08 pm

Good to see at least one Americaneocon admits to being pro child murder. Now if we could just get the rest to confess their loathsome inclinations, then maybe we could cart them all off to a nice comfy institution somewhere far away form the levers of political influence, where they can be safely studied, then sedated.

29

theAmericanist 04.06.10 at 10:40 pm

Lord, you guys miss the point. It’s not whether these things happen in war. It’s not why the first attack was legit, but the second was not. It’s not SLB’s ranting. It’s very simple:

Why hasn’t anybody court martialed the assholes who are losing us the war?

30

dsquared 04.06.10 at 10:58 pm

and one of the group unfortunately pointed what the crew thought (within reason) was an rpg at the helicopter. Sure it’s horrible, but it’s war, there’s no specific objection to be made here

A helicopter-based machine gun is arguably an “indiscriminate” weapon in the meaning of the Geneva Conventions.

31

Salient 04.06.10 at 11:12 pm

Sure it’s horrible, but it’s war, there’s no specific objection to be made here

Yes, there is: an objection to the war.

32

Es-tonea-pesta 04.06.10 at 11:19 pm

Too much talk about how the crew spoke to each other as well. That kind of psychology is pretty reprehensible but as I understand it it’s more or less necessary if you want guys who can go around shooting people (armed or not) on a day-to-day business. Most well-minded folk like aren’t up for that. Again, it’s awful for people to have to be like that, but it’s a general problem about war that this video just illustrates.

I think there’s a lot more “well-minded folk” who would be up for shooting people at no risk to themselves, and even talking about it dispassionately, than for doing so when there is some risk involved.

33

Salient 04.06.10 at 11:21 pm

More specifically and pedantically, even if this is to be shrugged off as an acceptable act in a just war (something I’m not ready to concede), that only obtains if the war itself is just.

34

Heur 04.07.10 at 12:10 am

It’s very sad, but it seems like an understandable mistake on the part of the soldiers involved. I suppose the story here is, “war is horrible” and sometimes innocent people get killed. Without trivializing it, that’s very true.

Not sure what Yglesias is talking about, re rules of engagement. It appears those were followed, with the soldiers asking for permission before engaging each target.

Grumer’s comment is simply bizarre.

Fallows is simply over-wrought. War is horrible, but there isn’t any deliberate abuse here as in Abu Ghraib. It’s somewhat strange that in war we distinguish between legal and acceptable horrific acts and illegal and unacceptable horrific acts, but we do.

35

Seth 04.07.10 at 12:14 am

You guys are swatting at gnats, while a grizzle bear is sitting in the corner licking its lips. Makes me wonder if Americans are even intelligent enough to even deserve not having their teeth knocked out by a bunch of ignorant tent dwellers.

Neither the first nor the second attack was “legitimate” because we had no right to be there in the first place. A.) This is not a “just war.” We were not attacked by Iraq, nor did Iraq have any potential or inclination to attack us. B.) This is not a legal war, but rather instead a clearly unconstitutional imperial usurpation of presidential authority, which neither Congress nor the Supreme Court have the balls to stand up against. 3.) Armed or not, no one in the first group, or in the van, was in any way threaten, most especially not threatening to a heavily armored and armed agile Apache helicopter hovering hundreds of feet in the sky above them. It is clear as day in the video that no one on the street had even taken notice of the helicopter. 4.) The audio of the tape make the intent crystal clear. Those boys were looking for prey and they out-and-out lied to their superiors in order to get permission to fire upon them. They lied about the number of people, they lied about the number of weapons, they lied about being able to identify the make and model of the weapons when, in fact, they couldn’t even identify the “weapons” as 35mm cameras. From start to finish they misrepresented the situation to the authorizing “gods” on the radios. Further, they comments, laughing, joking, and self-congratulatory behavior throughout the entire encounter demonstrated a clear disregard for human life.

This was not only murder, it was a war crime and one in which the highest levels of authority are implicated through the coverup. We’d be wise to stop quibbling about how WE think this should be viewed and to start facing up to the reality of how the rest of the WORLD is already viewing it — which isn’t good. On 9/11/2001, America tragically gained a level of international good will that it had not benefited from in almost a century. Within a decade, by 4/5/2010, America has become an international pariah, despised by all. Obama was suppose to help clean this up, but instead, he has only exacerbated it by continuing and even expanding the war, by continuing the coverups, and by essentially functioning, for the Neo-con corporate statists, as George Bush in an unconstitutional third term. The honeymoon is over, the goodwill has run out, America is about to be hung out to dry — and yet you guys are still arguing over the little things, as though the rest of the world doesn’t matter. Utterly clueless.

36

Stuart 04.07.10 at 12:36 am

I think the dark irony here is that many right wingers in the US are seriously upset that they can’t legally own automatic weapons, but will happily support executing people in a foreign country because they are carrying them (possibly for self defense, possibly because they intend to do something criminal, but there is no evidence of the latter in the video). And people that happen to be hanging around in their vicinity, or living in nearby buildings.

Strange how supposed inalienable rights for themselves become justification for slaughter of the other guy.

37

theAmericanist 04.07.10 at 1:05 am

LOL — this is why I observe that you guys miss the point.

It’s not whether WE think the killings were justified under the rules of engagement (much less just war theory).

It’s that the second attack is clearly questionable.

Yet nobody was made to stand tall before The Man.

Remember — that somebody could have been court martialed (most likely the officer who gave the go-ahead to fire), doesn’t necessarily mean that he would have been convicted. He might have been acquitted.

But the very fact of the trial is the sort of thing that could win us the war. The lack is what could lose it for us.

38

Salient 04.07.10 at 1:13 am

But the very fact of the trial is the sort of thing that could win us the war. The lack is what could lose it for us.

This makes no sense. There is no conceivable definition of “win” which allows it to make sense. In fact there is no conceivable definition of “win” which allows “win the war” to make sense. Remind me — we are waging war against which nation-state, precisely?

39

Salient 04.07.10 at 1:18 am

Or to be more careful about this:

The semantic trouble with calling the occupation of Iraq by the name “War in Iraq” is that it allows us to contemplate absurd notions like “winning” which would be immediately obvious for the nonsense they are if we were sticklers for vocabulary: how does one “win” an ongoing military occupation?

Atrios just a few hours ago: “The Logic Of Our Wars — It’s hard not to think that the goal is to stay until everyone who wants us to leave is dead, at which point we can finally leave.”

40

theAmericanist 04.07.10 at 1:30 am

You guys need to pull your heads out of your collective ass.

We win — when we leave.

Got it?

41

parse 04.07.10 at 1:33 am

Teh point about the media’s priorities is beyond dispute. But “the U.S. political system” is a fiction, like “The Government.”

If “the Government” is a fiction, what entity, beyond a single individual human, is not?

42

Russell L. Carter 04.07.10 at 1:56 am

“War is horrible, but there isn’t any deliberate abuse here as in Abu Ghraib. “

That’s so cool. It was just inadvertent.

43

Neil 04.07.10 at 2:04 am

parse, if the government is a fiction then there are good grounds for thinking that individual human beings are fictions too.

44

Salient 04.07.10 at 2:05 am

… oh.

It took me a lot longer than it should have to realize theAmericanist is fake trolling.

Look… watching people die turns off the sarcasm detector, ok? I’m sure there was some point to it. But still. Not cool.

45

roac 04.07.10 at 3:34 am

If “the Government” is a fiction, what entity, beyond a single individual human, is not?

I can only answer this with a specific example which involves revealing where I work — the Civil Rights Division. Its is an organization with a coherent defined function — enforcing anti-discrimination statutes. Over and above winning particular cases, our goal is to get judges to decide cases in ways that will make it easier for future plaintiffs to litigate successfully.

But the various agencies of the United States also get sued for discrimination all the time. There is another part of the Justice Department which is responsible for defending these cases; its overriding goal is to shape the decisional law to make it harder for plaintiffs to win these cases .

So we want to make arguments they don’t like; they want to make arguments they don’t like. These conflicts get resolved by a process of ad hoc negotiation; I am not involved and don’t know the details.

So the Civil Rights Division is a coherent entity unified by a goal, and so is the Civil Division; neither is a fiction in the sense I used the word. But it is not possible to say in general terms what the policy of the “government” is with regard to whether it should be harder or easier for discrimination plaintiffs to win.

Most especially, and to the current point, I maintain that nobody on either side of the conflict I have described bears any particular responsibility — over and above whatever guilt accrues to American society in general — when people in helicopters on the other side of the world blow up the wrong people, just because the US Treasury writes their paychecks as well as ours. We have no more control over their actions than you do.

46

Josh 04.07.10 at 3:37 am

Bob McManus: “Hope you guess my name.”

Wait, you’re Randolph Bourne? I thought you’d be shorter.

47

Heur 04.07.10 at 3:52 am

Russell,

In Abu Ghraib, soldiers deliberately violated the laws of war to abuse prisoners.

In the video, soldiers in good faith and in a lawful manner engaged a group they believed to be enemy insurgents, in the process killing two reporters.

The former is a crime, deliberately undertaken. The latter is a horrible mistake that is the inevitable accompaniment to any war.

What’s interesting to me is that most of the commentary (not as in comments above, but on blogs and columns elsewhere) I’ve read seems to need to find something beyond “this is an example of the horror of war” to justify giving it attention.

48

Emma (the first one) 04.07.10 at 3:53 am

In fact, the connection has been explained by Avram further down the comment thread at Making Light : ‘For me, the similarity between the Hutaree’s alleged plan — kill a cop, then kill the people at his funeral — and the copter tactics — kill some Iraqis, then kill the people who show up to pick up the wounded — was very striking. That’s why they’re both in this post.’

It was the MO, not the responding authority that was analogous.

49

nick s 04.07.10 at 4:01 am

They’re joking, their pleasure at a kill, their laughter at the truck driving over a body—it suggests a profound dehumanization that happens in war.

Of course it is. And if, say, 0.001% of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan carry that esprit de corps back to the US, you’ll see the result splashed bloodily over local news broadcasts, and perhaps people will give a shit then.

50

parse 04.07.10 at 4:04 am

So we want to make arguments they don’t like

Aren’t there ever people within the Civil Rights Division that want to make arguments that other people within the Civil Rights Division don’t want to make?

Most especially, and to the current point, I maintain that nobody on either side of the conflict I have described bears any particular responsibility—over and above whatever guilt accrues to American society in general—when people in helicopters on the other side of the world blow up the wrong people

That strikes me as a far more defensible claim than there is no such thing as “the Government.

51

Heur 04.07.10 at 4:22 am

nick s: Of course it is. And if, say, 0.001% of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan carry that esprit de corps back to the US, you’ll see the result splashed bloodily over local news broadcasts, and perhaps people will give a shit then.

Because on your view, if a soldier doesn’t fully appreciate the humanity of the people his duty is to kill, then he cannot, and will not, appreciate the humanity of anyone else? You seem to think that a soldier’s attitude towards shooting what he believes to be the enemy will translate into his attitude towards all other human beings.

But, of course, the same soldiers who kill, day after day, also run into fire to help a fallen comrade, or put their lives on the line to escort vital equipment to a local hospital, or do a myriad of other things which indicate a great reverence for human life. The situation, I believe, is considerably more complex, and I think we oversimplify, if not demean, these soldiers when we decide that their jokes in combat must reflect the entirety of their views and emotions concerning human life.

52

Russell L. Carter 04.07.10 at 4:43 am

Heur carried a *lot* of water for Orin Kerr in that *other* thread.

I was hoping, in a morbid sort of way, that he would fling up a defense. And boy did he. I won’t participate further. This is despicable.

Henry, seeing a pattern yet?

53

Glen Tomkins 04.07.10 at 4:53 am

There’s a reason we stopped doing “counterinsurgency warfare” after Vietnam

Much is made of the The Man Called Petraeus writing a field manual on counterinsurgency warfare for an Army that had been without such before Iraq, as if this were some Promethean feat, bringing enlightenment to an institution hidebound by conventional thinking.

Actually, the Army once had a very extensive and robust doctrinal literature on the subject of COIN. That was back in the Vietnam era, when an insurgency was the big, overwhelming, problem the Army was handed, and the institution, understandably, felt it needed to be on a common sheet of music in handling that problem.

Well, after that Vietnam problem removed itself from our further intervention, and became no longer the Army’s problem, the Army concluded that being asked to do COIN in the first place was the problem, not the Viet Cong, and burned all the COIN literature. The idea, which is associated with General DePuy, but was a fairly clear consensus at the time, was to bring back the radical notion that the only legitimate purpose for the Army was to defeat the armies of enemy nations, not to wage war on “enemy” civilian populations. Not that anyone ever puts it that way, “waging war on civilians”, when they ask a real army to do COIN. The rationale is always that we are using the army to enforce domestic order in some country whose inhabitants “really” want us to enforce order in their country, despite the massive popular support for one or more sources of order competing with the folks we think are the legitimate authority. The DePuy solution was that we would simply bypass and reduce to irrelevance the obfuscations and self-deception of policy-makers who will always find some endangered regime somewhere that deserves the support of our military used in a “police action” — by the simple expedient of keeping the Army constantly at a high state of unreadiness to do this illegitimate thing, waging war on a civilian population.

As people have noted, yes, civilians in a combat zone in any war are at risk of being attacked by troops who mistake them for combatants. But in an actual legitimate war, one being waged by armies against armies, not armies against civilians, those combat zones are limited in extent, spatially and temporally. Civilians, wisely, do their best to vacate the combat zones, or at least lay low if escape is impractical, until the combat zone moves on with the tide of battle. But what we have in Iraq and Afghanistan, as in Vietnam, is no legitimate war of army against army. By deciding to pretend that it is a legitimate aim of war to subjugate an entire nation, that there is some legitimate role for our Army to do COIN, we made entire countries combat zones, for indefinite periods of time. The wealthy in these countries, wisely, have chosen to flee. But neither flight to another country, nor laying low in some basement, is possible for most Iraqis. They have no choice but to “bring their kids to a battle”, since we have made their entire country a battlefield, a free-fire zone, to use the Vietnam-era terminology, and that for years on end.

There is no reason to think that this video is at all an aberration, or that the participants whose words we can hear are at all unusual. Of course they have no idea who they’re shooting at. At the very highest levels, we have no idea who we’re fighting against (This wonderful “Sunni Awakening” was no more than a co-option of people with guns we once were convinced were our enemies. We met the enemy and he was us.) The pilots and aircrew would have no way to make sense of an American, much less Iraqi, street scene from their vantage point. But we sent them there, we put Eric Blair’s elephant gun in their hands, and when an elephant-like object lumbers into view, they have to pretend they know what they’re doing, so of course they shoot up people at random while convinced they are about the important COIN mission we set them on. Legal action against the participants would make no more sense than court-martialing the pilots we sent to bomb German and Japanese cities, war crimes though those actions clearly were.

Eventually we will once again burn the COIN books. But this time, let’s not rely on mere doctrinal unreadiness of the Army to do COIN, to somehow force policy-makers to stop and think through the consequences, so that hopefully the absence of a COIN capability will deter them from invading and occupying foreign countries where we don’t have a native government immediatley ready to hand off internal security to. That plan didn’t work last time we tried it. Next time, after the inevitable disillusionment that inevtiable failure in Iraq and Afghanistan will bring, let’s follow the wisdom of that disillusionment to its natural, and only firm, conclusi0n, the conclusion we always reached between all of our wars before the end of WWII. Let’s disband the Army down to the corporal’s guard strength it always before stood at in our peacetime history. Let’s create a situation in which there can be no foreign military adventures without the need to first rebuild an expeditionary force from scratch.

54

Americaneocon 04.07.10 at 4:59 am

55

Robin Datta 04.07.10 at 6:04 am

How different is the uS Army (lowercase “u” as in the Declaration of Independence) from the Wehrmacht?

56

Henri Vieuxtemps 04.07.10 at 7:00 am

A lot of fuss about the initial attack, which seems very overblown to me. Infantry were being engaged in the area, the crew thought that this group were armed, and one of the group unfortunately pointed what the crew thought (within reason) was an rpg at the helicopter.

How can you say this after watching the video? It was a group of people walking leisurely in full view of American helicopters. And this is what an RPG looks like.

57

Richard J 04.07.10 at 7:33 am

I’m not in any way condoning this attack, which is appalling, but it has to be said that if you look at 3:40-3:45 closely (and uncaptioned by Wikileaks) that one person in the group appears to be carrying a Kalashnikov and another person carrying something that looks very like an RPG.

58

NomadUK 04.07.10 at 8:05 am

that one person in the group appears to be carrying a Kalashnikov and another person carrying something that looks very like an RPG

And all of whom are wandering casually around on the street, fully aware that an Apache helicopter is circling overhead, and yet showing no signs of concern, and apparently having no reason to suspect that they should be considered targets. Clearly combatants.

59

Hidari 04.07.10 at 8:06 am

And so we come to the fundamental issue that so many of those who are implicitly or explicitly defending this atrocity are so careful to avoid.

If these civilians ‘appeared to be carrying a Kalashnikov’ and the soldiers were acting ‘in good faith’ and it’s all just a ‘terrible mistake’…..why did the Army lie about it? Why didn’t they immediately release this video and state openly that they were proud of the actions of the soldiers, who had nothing to be apologetic about? Why was it left to Wikileaks? And if Wikileaks are merely showing ‘a terrible mistake’ which we really shouldn’t be getting so het up about….why has the Pentagon stated that Wikileaks is a ‘national security threat’?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/7475050/Pentagon-deems-Wikileaks-a-national-security-threat.html

60

Richard J 04.07.10 at 8:53 am

FWIW, Nomad, I agree with you entirely – I’m just slightly narked that Wikileaks has left itself open to wingnut rebuttals by choosing to omit it – D^2’s principle about ‘good ideas don’t need lies told about them’ is vaguely valid here.

61

Luis Enrique 04.07.10 at 9:16 am

this response from someone who claims experience in these matters is worth reading I think.

62

ajay 04.07.10 at 10:30 am

if Wikileaks are merely showing ‘a terrible mistake’ which we really shouldn’t be getting so het up about….why has the Pentagon stated that Wikileaks is a ‘national security threat’?

That didn’t happen as a response to this video being released- the article you link to is dated 18 March and the video was released on 5 April.

63

Stuart 04.07.10 at 11:02 am

Although they announced they were releasing the video back in January, so it may or may not be related to the release of this video.

64

dsquared 04.07.10 at 11:17 am

why has the Pentagon stated that Wikileaks is a ‘national security threat’?

seriously, are we really being asked to spend time and effort thinking about the question why the Pentagon might regard a website that publishes officially classified documents as a national security threat?

65

nick s 04.07.10 at 12:08 pm

You seem to think that a soldier’s attitude towards shooting what he believes to be the enemy will translate into his attitude towards all other human beings.

You seem to have a comprehension problem. What I think, Heur, is that war is not easily left on the battlefield. My thoughts are based on conversations with people who provide VA mental health services, though for some reason they don’t have as much spare time to talk these days as they did seven years ago.

66

theAmericanist 04.07.10 at 12:21 pm

LOL — no, I’m not fake trolling. I’m asking the direct question you guys would rather avoid, and making the point that you guys deny.

It is pretty telling that you don’t notice either, even when they are stated plainly (another thing that ain’t your strong suit).

One thing most folks learn from difficult situations is humility — which is pretty conspicuously absent from the bulk of the comments here. How many of YOU guys have been in combat? I haven’t, so I try not to be too sure about what people in combat know, and when they know it, nor to judge ‘em by the details that we can study at leisure.

It seems fair to me to characterize the evidence in this case that the first attack was arguably justified, the second one much less so. It is also damned clear that, like other incidents in this war, this one has far greater significance because of its visibility — dead journalists, a video — than the many thousands of similar incidents that have happened in even modern wars.

So IMNSHO, I’m asking the right question, which you guys are studiously avoiding: Why isn’t anybody court martialing the assholes who are losing us the war?

It’s also telling the reaction that question gets. For one thing, nobody says: ‘We’re not court martialing them because they are actually doing what they are supposed to be doing…” which I hope would be wrong, but would at least be a reasonable response. Nor does anybody say: ‘We’re not court martialing them even though this was obviously a crime because criminalizing the wrong response in a combat situation would make it impossible to make war…’, although some of the right wingers come close (they just have trouble being so reasonable). There are elements of common sense in that response, which is doubtless why you guys shun it like the plague.

No, the response I got here was the utterly knucklehead idea that it is impossible to “win” the war in Iraq, since it is an occupation (which by definition cannot be won? Ever noticed Germany or Japan?)

So I made the obvious connection — which methinks is why you guys keep missing the point: cuz you can NOT acknowledge it. The possibility that America could actually win the Iraq War cannot be admitted — which says a lot more about you guys than it does about the war. (That lack of humility, again.)

The finest insight into the American war in Vietnam was Maxwell Taylor’s, who pointed out that it is essentially contradictory for a foreign army to simultaneously defeat an insurgency AND build up a domestic authority. Taylor noted that it can be done, and argued that it WAS done by the US military in Vietnam, but by the time the South Vietnamese government was capable of defending itself against its domestic enemies (the Viet Cong was essentially defunct by 1972), the US effort had lost public support for sustaining massive assistance to enable the ARVN to hold off heavy armor attacks from the NVA.

Of course, Iraq does not face a heavy armor invasion against US-backed troops — but, hey, why would any of you guys bother using facts in your arguments?

That’s why I noted that court martialing the guys who are losing us this war — like the officer who authorized the second round of shooting — wouldn’t necessarily lead to convictions.

But it COULD lead to us leaving: which is how we win.

Your collective blindness to this common sense leads us in the opposite direction.

67

Heur 04.07.10 at 12:36 pm

Hidari,

There have been some pretty gross instances of the Pentagon lying about events, but I’m not sure this is one of them. I’m open to correction though. What do you think they lied about?

If there was a cover-up, then that’s news in itself, but as far as I can tell the video is important in that it graphically depicts what engagements can be like in the kind of day-to-day “low intensity” urban warfare that was conducted in summer 2007.

Russell,

I’m sure this video stirred strong emotions in you, as it did in all of us. If you think I was wrong to disagree with Fallows about his analogy to Abu Ghraib, that’s fine. But there’s no reason to engage in personal attacks.

68

dsquared 04.07.10 at 12:38 pm

The Vietcong was not defunct in 1972, and just to prove it they inflicted 25,000 casualties on the ARVN during the period between the 1972 ceasefire and the end of 1974.

69

Steve LaBonne 04.07.10 at 12:49 pm

The Vietcong was not defunct in 1972, and just to prove it they inflicted 25,000 casualties on the ARVN during the period between the 1972 ceasefire and the end of 1974.

Shh. Don’t disrupt the LOL-troll’s cretinous fantasies about how the US coulda, shoulda, woulda “won” in Vietnam if it weren’t for those damned hippies.

70

Barry 04.07.10 at 1:08 pm

“If there was a cover-up, then that’s news in itself, but as far as I can tell the video is important in that it graphically depicts what engagements can be like in the kind of day-to-day “low intensity” urban warfare that was conducted in summer 2007.”

Even now, the Pentagon is claiming that they can’t find their copy of the video.

At this point in time, we’ve seen far too many lies, and far too many lies which were revealed and unpunished, to trust the US government when there is much of a question. S*cks, but that’s the way the world works.

71

Barry 04.07.10 at 1:09 pm

Americanist, I did write a long reply to your last post, but decided to shorten things by replying only to true statements which you made. That shortened it down to this:

72

theAmericanist 04.07.10 at 1:14 pm

LOL — seems more than a bit tendentious: Loc Ninh, An Loc, Kontum, Quang Tri, and so on weren’t Viet Cong operations.

73

theAmericanist 04.07.10 at 1:22 pm

ROFL — as a rule, Barry, sensible people recognize a distinction between what are known as “questions” even “challenges”, and “statements”. I realize this is difficult for you, but if you are going to try to reach beyond feeble in argument, these kinds of distinctions are important. Otherwise you will continue to confuse screwdrivers with hammers, as in #69. (Psst — a screwdriver is not an impact instrument. It won’t work well if you use it as one. That’s what your response was like.)

For example: I noted that humility is generally a good idea, and asked how many of you guys had been in combat? I added the true statement that I have not, which I cited as a reason not to be too sure what people in combat know, and when they know it.

I didn’t notice you answered the question: have you been in combat, Barry? Kindly form your answer to the standard of a true statement, as you suggested. I did — not that you noticed.

I also repeated my question: why isn’t anybody court martialing the assholes who are losing us this war?

I note you didn’t answer that one, either. But perhaps you’d like to crawl before you try standing up: let us know how much personal experience you have with people shooting RPGs at you, will ya?

See — if, for example, you are a four-tour guy, then you might have some useful insight into the question why the officer who gave the command to fire hasn’t been court martialed. But since you have trouble with even more basic stuff….

74

dsquared 04.07.10 at 1:26 pm

Well, that would make your statement about the South Vietnamese government having no problem with domestic enemies somewhat disingenuous then, wouldn’t it? Although since half your examples above a) are not from during the ceasefire period and b) did involve Vietcong divisions, it’s pretty clear you’re bluffing.

(Davies’ Guide To Trollology: Rare indeed is the troll who cannot be distracted by an argument about military history, allowing other participants to carry on with the thread)

75

Heur 04.07.10 at 1:38 pm

You can actually see what the photographer was taking pictures of in the military report, where a few of the photographs are published.

The military’s report on the incident is here: http://www2.centcom.mil/sites/foia/rr/CENTCOM%20Regulation%20CCR%2025210/Death%20of%20Reuters%20Journalists/6–2nd%20Brigade%20Combat%20Team%2015-6%20Investigation.pdf

Some additional context, based on that report: The helicopters were providing support to an infantry unit that had been engaged in combat for the previous 4 hours (which is why the streets are so empty) in the area. In the video, when you see the photographer peering around the corner with his camera, the infantry unit was directly in his line of sight, and the photographer was pointing his camera at them. See page 41 of the military report, showing still photographs retrieved from the camera. So the pilot or gunner thought the cameraman was engaging the infantry unit, and the pilot and gunner would have been sharply aware of the position of the infantry unit.

The weapons retrieved from the site of the attack include a loaded RPG and multiple rounds for it, which makes me doubt the notion that some of the men in that group were carrying weapons simply for self-protection.

From the helicopter crew’s perspective, then, they are 4 hours into an operation that has involved, apparently, continuous enemy contact. The streets are apparently empty of normal civilian traffic and pedestrians. They note a group of men moving toward the infantry unit, carrying weapons, one appearing with reasonable clarity to be a RPG. One man appears to crouch behind the corner of a building, and point his weapon at the infantry unit, raising it as though he were aiming.

76

Pete 04.07.10 at 1:40 pm

What would winning the Iraq war look like? You say “leaving”, so why doesn’t the US just leave?

“why isn’t anybody court martialing the assholes who are losing us this war?”

I’m not quite sure who you mean there, but my answer would be that that hardly ever happens. I don’t remember anyone being court-martialled over Vietnam.

As to why there wasn’t a comparable insurgency in Germany and Japan; this is because the Iraq war does not occur in a vaccum but in the context of events shortly after 1945 in Iran and Palestine.

77

Salient 04.07.10 at 1:44 pm

I am wondering how many times it is possible for a troll to begin posts with LOL on a thread which contains video of, and is about, civilians being murdered.

Are you really the same human being who generously shared an outline of your play about the Catholic church in America, and spoke considerately at length about the “American heresy” notion?

How am I supposed to reconcile your behavior here with the Americanist of, like, less than a week ago?

78

Henri Vieuxtemps 04.07.10 at 1:47 pm

Exactly, if leaving is victory, then “we” can make one phone call and it’s done.

In reality, victory entails installing an obedient puppet government and a number of permanent military bases.

79

Joshua W. Burton 04.07.10 at 1:53 pm

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.

Imagine if this film were from Gaza, and you were an Israeli professor who strongly deplored it. On sabbatical, in England.

80

ajay 04.07.10 at 1:54 pm

Who were the other men in the street – the ones accompanying the two Reuters journalists?

81

Salient 04.07.10 at 1:54 pm

I would greatly appreciate anyone (other than theAmericanist) who can point out the RPG in that video. Go for it, Heur.

The fact that an RPG was “found” frankly does not impress me, because the possibility that it was planted after the fact seems credible to me. After shooting up some reporters and two kids, one needs one’s cover story intact. I don’t have any evidence for this, and wouldn’t assert that it happened affirmatively; but I currently assign no credibility whatsoever to the original source of the RPG information.

82

Richard J 04.07.10 at 2:01 pm

Salient> As per Luis’s link, look at the guy in the white shirt at 3:40-3:45, particularly the moment when he spins round on the spot.

83

Hidari 04.07.10 at 2:32 pm

‘There have been some pretty gross instances of the Pentagon lying about events, but I’m not sure this is one of them. I’m open to correction though. What do you think they lied about?’

You are kidding, right? This is how the unofficial outlet for American military propaganda, the New York Times, reported the incident we have all now just watched.

‘The American military said in a statement late Thursday that 11 people had been killed: nine insurgents and two civilians. According to the statement, American troops were conducting a raid when they were hit by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The American troops called in reinforcements and attack helicopters. In the ensuing fight, the statement said, the two Reuters employees and nine insurgents were killed.

”There is no question that coalition forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force,” said Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, a spokesman for the multinational forces in Baghdad.’ (emphasis added).

Now, as we have all now seen, literally every single word of that statement is a lie, and, of course, as we have all seen the video (as, presumably, had Lt. Col. Bleichwehl) we know that the word ‘lie’ is appropriate, that is, it was a knowing and conscious falsehood.

So: to repeat: if there was no problem with the rules of engagement and it was all above board and no one had anything to be ashamed of….why the lie?

84

Down and Out of Sài Gòn 04.07.10 at 2:42 pm

It seems fair to me to characterize the evidence in this case that the first attack was arguably justified, the second one much less so.

Maybe the first attack could be justified under American rules of engagement – but that would only prove that American rules of engagement are fucked. I prefer my rules of engagement British or Australian.

85

Leinad 04.07.10 at 2:43 pm

I’ve watched a lot of morbid shit on the internet but this video is fucking horrible.

Not surprising, mind.

It’s pretty safe to say a lot worse has been done by Coalition forces in the conduct of this war, most of which we’ll be lucky to ever find out about; shit like this has been going on since an Italian guy in plane tossed a grenade at some Turks.

86

Steve LaBonne 04.07.10 at 2:49 pm

The fact that an RPG was “found” frankly does not impress me, because the possibility that it was planted after the fact seems credible to me.

A trick well known to every big-city cop.

87

ed 04.07.10 at 2:51 pm

The Medium Lobster:

Literally tens of Americans were shocked this week to discover that the United States military likes to kill people. Unsettling news, yes, particularly for those of us who had assumed in good faith that one million Iraqis had accidentally slipped on a banana peel one morning and fallen into a pile of mislaid cruise missiles, but before we leap to all sorts of unsightly conclusions, calling Our Boys “mass-murderers” just because they happen to enjoy the occasional mass-murder, let’s remember that in the fog of war with the eggs and the omelettes and the War Is Hell, who can say what’s right and wrong, what’s good and evil, who’s an unarmed pregnant woman and who’s a ticking time bomb threatening to produce future foreigners? Our troops have a job to do, after all – defending our country from those countries who would defend their country from our country – and if we hounded and nit-picked them after every little massacre, gang rape or atrocity, they’d hardly get any killing done at all.

Now, is this video disturbing? Of course. Were atrocities committed, innocents slaughtered, corpses desecrated and children maimed? Absolutely. But was it all done according to proper procedure? Ah, now, that’s the question. We should all certainly be willing to support a full and complete investigation into the possibility of an official recommendation for preliminary motions toward an investigation, looking into the matter of whether or not the people here were properly murdered in triplicate, signed twice on the goldenrod form, in accordance with the Code of Canon Law. And we shouldn’t rest until any guilty parties have been found, and strongly-worded disciplinary Post-Its firmly applied to their personnel files.

Apart from that, I don’t think we have to spend much time thinking about this sort of thing – this is an isolated incident, just like this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this – and one has to accept a certain amount of rape, torture and murder with one’s military. After all, if the military wasn’t free to rape and torture people, then it certainly wouldn’t be free to murder them; and if the military wasn’t free to murder people, then it wouldn’t be free to slaughter them en masse; and if the military wasn’t free to slaughter people en masse, then what would we even have a military for?

88

Steve LaBonne 04.07.10 at 2:54 pm

As per Luis’s link, look at the guy in the white shirt at 3:40-3:45, particularly the moment when he spins round on the spot.

I did, repeatedly. Sorry, not buying it.

89

ajay 04.07.10 at 2:56 pm

I’m still not sure who the rest of the people in the street were. They weren’t just passers-by – from the video, they were definitely moving along with the Reuters guys, as in they were all part of the same group. (In fact there don’t seem to be any unconnected passers-by on the street at all – which would make sense if it was just up the road from a four-hour firefight. All the locals would have got off the streets.) And they aren’t acting like locals who are reacting to the news team – they aren’t clustering round the cameramen and trying to get their story across, in fact some of them are pushed up 10-15m ahead and a few more are hanging well back.
But they weren’t Reuters employees – they aren’t identified as such on the video or by Reuters, and in any case there are too many of them. A TV news team is going to be 3-5 people at most – cameraman, reporter, producer, fixer, maybe a sound guy – and there seem to be more like 10 or 12 of them. And they seem to be in charge – they’re taking the Reuters guys by the arm, gesturing, leading them down the street, pointing where to go.

90

Hidari 04.07.10 at 2:56 pm

I can’t access the military ‘investigation’ of this issue. However, one of the wisest words about military propaganda is in Harry Collins’ The Golem at Large (page 10).

He writes: ‘To say that the first casualty of war is truth is to miss the rather more important point that the principal weapon of war is lies. Disinformation confuses the enemy while favourably biassed reports of success….demoralise(s) the opposition.’ (the ‘opposition’ of course, may be the ‘enemy’ or antiwar forces on ‘our’ own side).

Given that the phrase ‘the information war’ is no metaphor (and it’s not) it must be remembered that, just as with the war on the ground, the military has one objective and one only in the battle for ‘hearts and minds': to win.

Therefore, everything, literally, spoken or written by military spokespeople will have military, not, so to speak, ‘philosophical’ aims and objectives. The concern is always: ‘how will this help us win the war?’. It is never, and will never be: ‘is this true?’. And this is intrinsic to war, not extrinsic. As long as ‘we’ fight wars, military spokespeople will lie, because that’s what they are paid to do. On the contrary, they would be being remiss in their job if they told the truth.

In other words, military reports, ‘investigations’, answers, responses, press releases and statements should always be assumed to be 100% false until overwhelming evidence is produced as to their accuracy.

I might finally add that no one has pointed out the irony in naming a helicopter gunship used by The White Man against the Native….Crazy Horse.

91

Henri Vieuxtemps 04.07.10 at 3:19 pm

Ajay, journalists showed up and started taking pictures, and some of the locals came out to see what’s going on.

92

ajay 04.07.10 at 3:19 pm

I might finally add that no one has pointed out the irony in naming a helicopter gunship used by The White Man against the Native….Crazy Horse.

You know that model of gunship’s called an Apache, right? Compare with the UH-60 Black Hawk, the OH-58 Kiowa, the UH-1 Iroquois, the CH-47 Chinook, the UH-72 Lakota… this has been going on a little while.

93

sdr 04.07.10 at 3:44 pm

The RPG
i41.tinypic.com/343tb0j.jpg

94

daelm 04.07.10 at 3:52 pm

theAmericanist:

“How many of YOU guys have been in combat? I haven’t, so I try not to be too sure about what people in combat know, and when they know it, nor to judge ‘em by the details that we can study at leisure.”

i have. so fuck you.

you carry on believing what you want to believe. that video is your foreign policy in action. it’s repeated over and over. good luck dodging the blowback.

d

95

daelm 04.07.10 at 4:00 pm

theAmericanist:

” So IMNSHO, I’m asking the right question, which you guys are studiously avoiding: Why isn’t anybody court martialing the assholes who are losing us the war?”

there is no war. your country invaded another, over the protests of everyone in the world, and in direct contradiction to the advice of experts. your country made claims to be ‘doing good deeds’, none of which have materialized. every predictable failure has occurred, and your policy has been to militarize daily life, erect permanent military bases and fly goons aground the country for turkey shoots.

you can split hairs all you want, but no one outside your own tent buys your bullshit.

d

96

Aaron Kinney 04.07.10 at 4:32 pm

“theAmericanist 04.07.10 at 1:30 am
You guys need to pull your heads out of your collective ass.
We win— when we leave.
Got it?”

I got it, just like we won when we left Vietnam! What with those helicopters on the rooftop and everything.

When we leave Iraq, do you think the nationalists and anti-American groups will celebrate, or lament our departure? Would they consider us leaving a victory or a defeat for them?

There is no way to win in Iraq, actually. If we stay, we lose. If we leave, we still lose. Just like Vietnam.

97

theAmericanist 04.07.10 at 5:07 pm

Daelm — not know which armed forces you served in, it’d help if you also noticed that you missed the point. There is NO way to dodge the blowback from an incident like this, publicized as it’s been. That’s why I asked why nobody’s been court martialed for it.

Since you’re bragging you’ve been in combat, kindly explain what the Uniform Code of Military Justice prescribes for a case like this — and if you’re not familiar with the US laws on the subject, use your own nation’s military laws as an example.

Salient: you’re obviously skipping a few steps. Like daelm, you seem to think I’m arguing precisely the opposite of what I AM arguing, which may explain why (among other things) you seem to be among the many who don’t understand the relevance of the Vietnam experience here. But geez, I cited Maxwell Taylor’s insight and used short words and simple sentences. I can’t help it if you guys are educated past the capacity to understand what is obvious to lesser folks.

Which is why I begin many posts by laughing — y’all don’t notice it, like many folks who take themselves too seriously, but you are often really, really funny precisely because you are so clueless. And when you argue about how clueless you are, competing to see who can get the furthest from the point, you’re funnier still.

Back in the day, I never supported going into Iraq. But I did say that once Bush had said Saddam had to go — well, he had to go. I want bad guys to BELIEVE the President of the United States when he says stuff like that, particularly after 9-11. And I told folks who bitched about that uncomfortable bit of common sense at the time, that it would have been smarter not to elect the guy in the first place. (There were lots of Nader voters who were baffled at the connection between their vote and the guy in the White House.)

But I also said what I modestly consider to be an insight that has stood up kinda well ever since: Wars are easier to start, than to finish.

Any of you impressive thinkers dispute that?

Maxwell Taylor’s great insight into Vietnam was that the American war made sense on its own terms, until Diem was assassinated. That isn’t to say that it would necessarily have worked, just that supporting a regime (however unpopular) against an internal rebellion (the Viet Cong and the Buddhists) and an external invasion (the NVA) is a relatively straightforward proposition. Then Diem was killed, there was a sort of regime of the month for a couple years during the US escalation, and finally there was a new South Vietnamese government DURING a massive American war effort. Taylor pointed out this was a huge contradiction — building a independent government that can defend itself while defending it against both its internal enemies and an external invader is exponentially more complex than the previous mission. With the minimum respect to folks who are impressed that there was a whole division of VC (and you will believe anything) involved by the end of the war, in the end what crushed the South Vietnamese government was an invasion from the North, not an internal rebellion: QED.

So by any standard, we lost the war. I’d rather not replicate any part of that experience.

In Iraq, there is no external invader. (There is the complicating factor that Iran is mostly Persian Shi’ite, while Saddam ruled with the Sunni minority over the Arab Shi’ite majority.) So basically, what winning looks like for the US is simple: we leave. In fact, what makes it look like victory is that we CHOOSE to leave — the more it looks like it wasn’t our idea, the harder for us to do it.

Incidents like this make it harder to leave like it was our idea. Those of you who aren’t Americans can jeer as much as you like, but it’s pretty counterproductive: I’d rather that we win, and walk out, than that we stay — and lose.

Which is why I focused on THE question, the one you guys can’t ask cuz it never, ever occurs to you how much crap you take for granted (which is another reason you’re amusing): why hasn’t anybody court martialed the assholes who are losing us the war?

Daelm: kindly explain — and use your own experience, please.

98

roac 04.07.10 at 5:07 pm

Aren’t there ever people within the Civil Rights Division that want to make arguments that other people within the Civil Rights Division don’t want to make?

Sure. But if you are going to remain in the institution over the long term, you come to accept that you don’t win all the fights. You can do this and still believe in and identify with the institution. You trade off having total control over the position for the added weight that the position derives from being the Justice Department position. (Some people aren’t prepared to make this tradeoff and leave, because they value freedom over power; good for them, I say.)

99

Hidari 04.07.10 at 5:31 pm

‘In Iraq, there is no external invader’.

Let me just stop you right there.

100

theAmericanist 04.07.10 at 5:34 pm

LOL — see, this is why you guys are so amusing: “There is no way to win in Iraq, actually. If we stay, we lose. If we leave, we still lose. Just like Vietnam.”

Iraq isn’t much like Vietnam. (For one thing, the Kurds aren’t about to roll a heavy armor invasion, and I doubt the Iraqi Army would fight to the last bullet, even as the US cuts off supplies. And Obama already won the Nobel Prize, so there’s no way to repeat the Kissinger farce.) Those of us who actually think about parallels and insights already know that. Why don’t you?

As some of us noted at the time, we won in Iraq when Saddam lost power. Some of us figured that was the best opportunity, when we should have just left.

But we didn’t — that 2003 insight about how wars are easier to start than to finish begins to seem a little more useful, huh?

As daelm will doubtless tell us from his vast experience, the first military principle is the OBJECTIVE. What do you want to achieve? Our primary goal in Iraq was to knock off Saddam. We achieved that long ago.

But you don’t get to back and change things, so we’ve been stuck in the damn place for several years now. There’s a new President, facing the same problem: how do we get out?

I say we win. I also say that incidents like this make that harder. So I ask — again, cuz who knows? maybe even such highly educated folks as you all might actually catch on to the question, eventually: why hasn’t anybody court martialed the assholes who are losing the war for us?

101

theAmericanist 04.07.10 at 5:44 pm

ROFL — Hidari @99: okay, ya got me.

I meant, other than US. But as often happens when things go without saying, ya shoulda said ‘em.

Just to insist on the Vietnam lessons, basically we got caught between Senator Aiken’s solution (declare victory and go home), Taylor’s insight (the military did a contradictory job well, it just took too long, cost too much, and lost the support of the American public), and Kissinger’s vile “decent interval”, where we basically dropped our friends and allies and left them to re-education camps and, in Cambodia, an outright holocaust.

No, Iraq is not like Vietnam.

Basically, all we gotta do — is leave. We have pretty minimal needs and expectations for a post-American occupation Iraq. The late Jack Murtha’s proposal was not a bad idea — that we would take our capacity to kill people and destroy things (which the late Harry Summers liked to point out is the REAL, and very honorable purpose of the American military) over the horizon, with the ability to return quickly to blow a lot of shit up if people start doing stuff we don’t like. Given the amount of money and equipment we can bring to ambitious Iraqis, those are pretty powerful levers for a very small target: winning shouldn’t be that hard to do — if it wasn’t for incidents like this, without a court martial: the question you don’t answer.

A reasonable person might not be able to resist concluding that you want us to lose more than you want us to leave Iraq.

102

Uncle Kvetch 04.07.10 at 6:00 pm

DNFTT.

103

chris 04.07.10 at 6:18 pm

I say we win.

What do you mean by that? You must have some objective in mind (well, I certainly hope so, given your recognition of the importance of objectives), and it isn’t the death of Saddam. So what is it?

If you’re not completely brain-dead you must know that “we must stay until we win” coupled with a vague definition of “win” (or none whatsoever) is the leading justification advanced in public debate for prolonging the war indefinitely. So if that’s not what you intend, then… what is?

P.S. “Losing the war for us” isn’t actually a court-martialable offense, unless you’re doing it deliberately, and even then only in unsubtle ways like sabotage. In theory it’s court-martialable to lie about whether or not you think some guys have weapons so that you can receive permission to shoot them, but in practice you have to prove that it was a lie rather than a mistake, which is nearly impossible; and an acquittal would be perceived as a whitewash, which is in some ways worse than doing nothing. But, in any case, if we don’t know what “winning” means, then how can we determine who is “losing the war for us”?

104

chris 04.07.10 at 6:24 pm

Also: it seems worse than useless to describe members of the same nation with a different objective for that nation as “wanting us to lose”, even if their objective would be a “loss” by your terms. (There’s a fancy philosophical term for this problem, which I unfortunately forget.) It will only be perceived as an accusation of disloyalty, which lowers the discourse to no purpose.

105

Salient 04.07.10 at 6:28 pm

Apologies in advance to Uncle Kvetch for not following his admittedly sage advice. I realize this probably isn’t going to end well.

Salient: you’re obviously skipping a few steps.

I’m skipping the steps where you’ve become a [–] [–]. It’s like you’re visiting a funeral and taking the piss on attendees for not agreeing with you about who should be awarded inheritance. It has been completely irrelevant to me which positions we currently agree on, and it is in fact completely irrelevant to me what points you are attempting to assert.

What’s relevant to me is that you’ve been acting like a complete [–].

So please. Take your laughing [–] and go [–] along now. Whistle while you leave, if you must, in fact be my guest to spit on the [–] monitor while the [–] video’s running if that’s your [–] joy in life, but afford us the [–] decency of getting the [–] out of here and taking a breather for a couple days. I’ll be happy to offer to do the same, if that’s what gets you out of here long enough for your conscience to regain control of your giggling.

106

Substance McGravitas 04.07.10 at 6:43 pm

I say we win.

Attempted crimes are sad: follow-through is so much more satisfying.

107

theAmericanist 04.07.10 at 6:44 pm

Chris: I’ll grant that there probably is a fancy philosophical term for two Americans, say, who disagree about what we should want regarding Iraq. But I’m not sure that it’s worth looking too hard for it. This isn’t complex.

For one thing, of all the umpteen problems that can be described for the collision of foreign policy goals with military force, this one has to be among the easiest: like I said, our primary mission in going into Iraq was to knock off Saddam. That’s done.

How hard can it be to get out?

Put another way, I MEANT it when I observed that a lot of folks want us to lose more than they want us to leave — if leaving means we win.

LOL — I think that’s why you guys are fighting so hard against a simple question about court martials. You have a horror of the possibility that just maybe, we really are the good guys.

I don’t agree that an acquittal would necessarily be perceived as a whitewash. I think it’s telling that you figure that, and even more that you imagine the potential perception of a whitewash is a more important problem than, for example, that it could be a fair trial and the guy gets acquitted.

See what I mean about the crap you guys take for granted?

I ask why the assholes who are losing us the war aren’t being court martialed precisely because court martialling, let’s say, the officer who gave the okay to fire in this case would require a review of the facts. Enrique posted a link at #61 that goes into some detail about how a good deal of what the WikiLeaks video claims to show is actually a lot more ambiguous than virtually all of you take for granted.

My point is simpler: WE’RE a nation that holds itself accountable. Why not put the officer on trial? He says — look, here is where the good guys were, here’s where the bad guys were, this is what we saw, this is what we had to do: I’ll take the consequences.

That’s how we win. Cuz that’s how we can get out of Iraq. I don’t want us to ‘stay until we win’. I want us to win — which is how we get out.

And no, he wouldn’t put tried for ‘losing the war’. He’d be tried for violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice and his standing orders for determining when it is lawful to open fire. If he didn’t do either of those, that’s what a trial would show.

And if he did — he’d be convicted.

Look — I interviewed Anwar al-Awlaki in 2002, so I know something about American citizens who betray their country. I’m not saying that folks who want the US admit that we lost in Iraq are disloyal.

I AM saying that they’re arguing a pretty stooopid case: we won the day Saddam lost power.

All we gotta do now, is leave.

There are a handful of NEGATIVE conditions that would determine that we hadn’t won, so we couldn’t leave. Incidents like this foster those conditions.

A court martial — even including, imagine, an acquittal from a fair trial — would alleviate those conditions.

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theAmericanist 04.07.10 at 6:49 pm

LOL — aw, Salient: you accuse American soldiers of murder, but you’re upset cuz I laugh at you when you won’t answer a simple question? When you take yourself sooooo seriously, that laughing at YOU must be the same as laughing at killing?

Something to bear in mind: not just lots and lots of Iraqis have been killed in this war. A fair number of Americans have, too.

I’ve had family there. God forbid any of ‘em should fire a shot they shouldn’t have.

And God save ‘em if they don’t fire one, when they needed to.

Salient: grow the fuck up.

109

Heur 04.07.10 at 6:57 pm

Salient,

Per comments above, see the full version, at 2:10-2:12. As the individual spins around, you can see the RPG quite clearly.

Hidari,

The statement seems accurate to me: the ground forces had been receiving small arms and RPG fire. The group containing the Reuters photographers were about 100m from the ground forces. The Reuters photographers were killed during an engagement. What the statement doesn’t say is that the Reuters photographers were misidentified as insurgents.

This excerpt from David Finkel, a Washington Post reporter who was embedded with the ground unit, tells the story:

What’s helpful to understand is that, contrary to some interpretations that this was an attack on some people walking down the street on a nice day, the day was anyting but that. It happened in the midst of a large operation to clear an area where US soldiers had been getting shot at, injured, and killed with increasing frequency. What the Reuters guys walked into was the very worst part, where the morning had been a series of RPG attacks and running gun battles.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2010/04/06/DI2010040600750.html

And I think that contextual reset is important. When I first saw the video, it really did look like the helicopter was simply scanning an urban neighborhood on a “normal” day, saw a group of men that had some weapons, and engaged them. Learning that this is an area which had been the scene of combat for the previous 4 hours (and the streets seem deserted with the exception of this group), that the group of men was about 100m away from the ground unit, etc., changes things considerably.

110

Malaclypse 04.07.10 at 6:58 pm

My point is simpler: WE’RE a nation that holds itself accountable.

Since when? Who was held accountable for slavery? For the Trail of Tears? For stealing half of Mexico?

Also, apologies for not following Uncle Kvetch’s fine advice.

111

Hidari 04.07.10 at 7:18 pm

‘The statement seems accurate to me: the ground forces had been receiving small arms and RPG fire.’

You see, now you are being silly. The military description is clearly false in every respect, and what was happening elsewhere in the area (or what had been happening a few hours before) is completely irrelevant. It’s a particularly ridiculous excuse in terms of Iraq because (except for parts of Kurdistan) by 2007, almost every urban centre in Iraq was the scene of almost constant ferocious violence, so to point this out is ‘straw-manning’ of an extremely unpleasant variety.

112

chris 04.07.10 at 9:07 pm

like I said, our primary mission in going into Iraq was to knock off Saddam.

It was clear at the time that many people thought that was not a goal the U.S. should have, either because the decision of whether or not to wage a war to remove Saddam was properly one to be made by the Iraqis themselves (since they were the ones that were going to do the bulk of the dying in such a war), because Iraq would go from bad (dictator) to worse (civil war/anarchic hellhole/etc.), or both.

Disagreeing with the nation’s goals is one of the prerogatives of a citizen of a democracy. Do you agree?

Put another way, I MEANT it when I observed that a lot of folks want us to lose more than they want us to leave—if leaving means we win.

Most people want a certain set of results (e.g. fewer U.S. casualties, a more democratic government in Iraq, a less religious government, a less Iranian-influenced government, or whatever) more than they care whether those results are labeled a “win” or a “loss”.

“Wanting the U.S. to lose”, as an actual goal in its own right, is a strawman (at least as it applies to differing views within the U.S. — there certainly could be people like bin Laden who have defeat of the U.S. as a goal, but expecting them to have significant support *inside the U.S.* is a loony conspiracy theory).

Resorting to it as an explanation is an attempt to replace debate over what the U.S.’s goals should be (which is a decision ultimately to be made by the American people) with conformity enforced by accusations of treason.

I don’t agree that an acquittal would necessarily be perceived as a whitewash.

I don’t think it would necessarily BE a whitewash, but it would inevitably be perceived that way by at least some, and probably the vast majority of, Iraqis. (Many of whom probably aren’t real clear on the concept of “fair trial” as it is idealized in the West — they know by experience that a trial turns out the way the government wants it to turn out, and they’ll apply that mental model to the results of such a court-martial.) Therefore, it would undermine any attempt to influence Iraqi public opinion in a favorable direction, in addition to the undermining already caused by the incident itself.

As for “being a country that holds itself accountable”, surely you jest. The risk of whitewash-perception is elevated precisely because of historical background like the Nuremberg Trials trying only the losers.

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theAmericanist 04.07.10 at 9:14 pm

See, the last two posts demonstrate why you guys are genuinely ridiculous, as a rule.

Exhibit A: “Who was held accountable for slavery?”

It’s always impressive to witness genuine, profound ignorance on the hoof, particularly when gallivanting about in the public dress of an intellectual. Perhaps you’ve heard, Mal, that the original draft of the Declaration of Independence SPECIFICALLY held the British Crown responsible for introducing African slavery to the US. This was taken out of the draft at the behest of South Carolina in particular (the only colony explicitly founded on slavery), but a better educated person than you (or perhaps a smarter one, with the benefits of your, ahem, education) would have sensed the irony in demanding who was held accountable for slavery, when the principal who brought it to these shores lost his empire, in part, because of it.

And as for the broader question who was held accountable for slavery, there was this Lincoln fellow (you’ve heard of him, no?), who spoke to it thusly: “It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

There were these places — Antietam, Gettysburg — any of them ring a bell?

Then there’s Hidari’s notion that what goes on in a war zone has nothing to do with the way warriors act in it.

114

Heur 04.07.10 at 9:39 pm

@ Hidari 111:

I don’t think either of us is being silly; we simply disagree.

The group of men identified by the helicopter were about 100 meters from elements of the ground unit. The ground unit had been taking small arms and RPG fire for four hours, i.e. all morning since the operation began at dawn. Indeed, if you watch the full video, there continue to be reports of small arms fire after the engagement depicted in the shorter video. So the military statement is, in my view, accurate though incomplete, and obviously it is relevant.

Do you mean that the military statement is inaccurate because you read it as implying that the group of men observed by the helicopter were in the course of firing upon the ground forces, and that the helicopter, having observed this, was returning fire?

If so, then I understand your view, though I don’t think the statement has to be interpreted in the way that you did (I, for instance, did not).

115

Salient 04.07.10 at 9:45 pm

See, the last two posts demonstrate why you guys are genuinely ridiculous, as a rule.

I will grant that this is a true statement.

In fact, given that we can’t get you to leave, the fact that anyone is still here other than you is a demonstration of how genuinely ridiculous we are. (Though “ridiculous” is a poor substitute for “hopeful for a civil discussion” here.) It’s not often that that’s true for a CT thread, even one with a substantial troll presence, or extensive heated argument. So, congratulations, I guess.

I feel for Henry, who will probably at some point feel a need to step in and invest time and resources warning and/or banning you (and probably me for my [–] comment — I’m sorry, Henry).

It’s too bad you’re choosing this route, tA, because I’m fairly certain that had you been more polite, you’d find us happy to listen thoughtfully to your perspective. But yes, I should grow up. I am young; growing up takes time — years, I’ve heard. I’ll get my coat.

116

Malaclypse 04.07.10 at 10:25 pm

Perhaps you’ve heard, Mal, that the original draft of the Declaration of Independence SPECIFICALLY held the British Crown responsible for introducing African slavery to the US.

Good thing we had nothing to do with it. That is exactly the kind of accountability we exercise – it is always some foreigner’s fault. I don’t think a country where Confederate Heritage Month is celebrated can claim to have held itself accountable for slavery.

117

theAmericanist 04.07.10 at 11:01 pm

LOL — as noted, you guys are pretty silly. I gather that the post I made responding to Chris, which noted among other things that “the last two” did not refer to 112, has gone aglimmering… perhaps I’ve already been banned for being uncomfortably clear about your errors.

Can’t have that.

I had noted in that post that I draw the line somewhere between dissent and treason, and I cited as an example of treason the interview I did with Anwar al-Awlaki in 2002.

I also noted that the Nuremberg Trials prosecuted for waging aggressive war and the holocaust, and asked Chris for evidence that America’s WW2 allies had done either of those.

As a further f’r instance: at the time of the American Revolution “we” would have referred to colonists who were also British subjects. The document that changed this was the Declaration. The original language of the Declaration, which included a long series of charges against the Crown, included: “He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither.”

So it is simply a fact, which you guys rather oddly deny, that the Declaration was originally drafted to include slavery as one of the reasons why the Crown was no longer fit to rule America. Since Mal is demonstrating his ignorance, I suppose this explains why he doesn’t understand how listing slavery as one of the crimes in an indictment that led to the loss of the first British empire is precisely holding the culprit responsible for slavery.

Cuz, ya know, it was not the AMERICAN navy that was running the slave trade before 1776.

LOL — ah, you guys are priceless.

And, Mal: if you weigh “Confederate Heritage Month” in Virginia heavier than 600,000 dead guys, perhaps you should learn a bit more about humility and what’s important in life.

118

Steve 04.07.10 at 11:07 pm

Americanist:

“I can’t help it if you guys are educated past the capacity to understand what is obvious to lesser folks.”

Perhaps I can help; speaking as a mid-20s, unemployed, bedroom-dwelling fuck-up, I’d like to clear up why it is that nobody has answered your ‘court-martialling’ question (repeated 10 times now, to greater effect each time!) to your satisfaction:

1) Your question is tangential to the subject of the thread,
2) You’re acting like a pompous oaf,
3) You haven ignored the answer that has been given, that court-martials are unusual in the American military, without providing an argument against it,
4) You haven’t defined who “the assholes who are losing us the war” are, so, for the benefit of those of us without phd’s in Reading Between The Lines, please feel free to do so, and finally
5) You have managed to launch a personal attack on the one commenter (Salient) who found you genuinely interesting in the Catholic Church thread, and who actually showed quite uncommon kindness for a blog comment thread.

ROFL that.

119

weaver 04.08.10 at 1:38 am

the Declaration was originally drafted to include slavery as one of the reasons why the Crown was no longer fit to rule America

The clause you’re referring to also bitched about George III offering freedom to slaves who came over to the Loyalist side. The clause was deleted because (a) not all slaveowners were as keen as the Virginians to see the trade abolished, as, unlike the Virginians, they didn’t have more slaves than they needed which could be traded within the colonies; and (b) ulterior motives aside, it was felt that simultaneously complaining about the King starting the slave trade and the King offering freedom to slaves required an intellectual agility probably only a brilliant hypocrite like Jefferson could manage.

So a that removed element of an early draft of the Declaration isn’t quite the smoking gun you think it is. On whatever point it was you were trying to make.

120

theAmericanist 04.08.10 at 1:58 am

(wicked grin) See, this is yet another reason why I find you guys funny.

“whatever point it was you were trying to make”

I noted that WE are folks who hold ourselves accountable. Hell, that’s the point of democracy — we elect the government, and when they fuck up, we fire them.

Somebody challenged that, with the brilliant non sequitur: well, who was held accountable for slavery?

So I pointed out that, in fact, slavery was originally in the list of things for which the colonies not only held the Crown accountable, but by which the Crown lost the colonies.

Going too fast for you guys?

I also quoted a fairly lengthy chunk of Lincon’s Second Inaugural, in which he spoke directly to accountability for slavery and (for smarter guys than weaver), made subtle reference to the failure to eradicate slavery at the Founding.

LOL — but of course, weaver doesn’t notice how clear my point is: not so much because he doesn’t agree with it, as because he cannot imagine that there IS one, or his head will explode.

See — weaver is like Mal: he imagines that it is somehow more significant for “accountability” (a concept I made explicit in this thread, for those of you who imagine I’m OT) for slavery that Virginia has restored Confederate Heritage Month, than that 600,000 Americans died in the Civil War.

And — like a lot of you guys — he imagines that it is somehow more important that I’ve offended folks (who have accused American soldiers of murder), than that I actually asked the simple, direct question: WTF are you supposed to DO about that?

The answer, for you clowns, is known as a “court martial”.

But, hey: that’s too common sense for you guys, so it must not be relevant.

You’re like folks who watch Colbert and don’t get the joke.

Psst… it’s on YOU.

121

Steven 04.08.10 at 2:00 am

In war, you get to kill people who are merely holding RPGs and small arms. They do not get a pass because they are next to people who are not holding them. In war, those people are very foolish for standing near the RPG and small arms people. For example, US soldiers do not get a pass at being killed if they drape unarmed US citizens from their kit.

This bit of wisdom applies to war photographers as well. Plus the additional wisdom that these people should wear extremely conspiciously clothing and emblems that normatively identify them as such.

So, good kills the first go-round. Another day at war. ho-hum.

Now, the second part. You do not get to kill people who show no indication of being armed and who are merely trying to evacuate the wounded from the battlefield. It is foolish for the evacuators to show up with children in the van, and it is unrealistic to expect the helicopter guys to see the kids, but all of that is irrelevant because in the first place it’s wrong to shoot a van with or without kids when the only act witnessed is a removal of wounded people.

Conclusion: US Army guys committed unjust killings. They reflect shamefully on the US Army. They should be held accountable.

Everyone can go home now.

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Steve 04.08.10 at 3:00 am

“See—weaver is like Mal: he imagines that it is somehow more significant for “accountability” (a concept I made explicit in this thread, for those of you who imagine I’m OT) for slavery that Virginia has restored Confederate Heritage Month, than that 600,000 Americans died in the Civil War.”

It IS more significant, because the Civil War is history while Confederate Heritage Month is current affairs. Sometimes, when people get angry about current affairs, they can change the world around them. That’s the definition of ‘holding someone to account’. On the other hand, there would be about as much point in your interlocutors getting angry about Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address as there would be in me raging at the Norman Conquest.

Back to the actual point of the thread – which, once upon a time, was about the Iraq war – you still haven’t informed us who “the assholes who are losing us the war” are. Who is it you want to hold ‘accountable’?

123

Donald Johnson 04.08.10 at 3:33 am

If people have something interesting to say about the video, I’d be happy to read it, but if it’s just going to be troll feeding then time to abandon the thread.

124

weaver 04.08.10 at 3:46 am

Er, no, dude, I was pointing out the foolishness of your historical interpretation that the signatories of the declaration were motivated by their disgust at the Brits starting the slave trade (more influential, for most of them, was the desire to preserve the institution of slavery itself).

But I take Mr Johnson’s point.

125

dilbert dogbert 04.08.10 at 4:11 am

Sure a lot of dust flying.
I won’t look at the video.
All I can think of is; This is going to come home.

126

merca2wurld_gtfqd 04.08.10 at 4:30 am

This entire incident regarding the outpouring of hot lead and hellcat missiles on the heads of innocent civilians is a terrible mistake just like every other slaughter perpetrated by the heroic troops. Do not these people appreciate our good intentions? Wanton and joyous killing of innocents is being misinterpreted. The murder of innocents is always done with the best of intentions. Why do they always misunderstand our good intentions?

127

Jack Strocchi 04.08.10 at 4:35 am

Henry embeds a video with the inflammatory title:

“Collateral Murder”

The wikileaks video is deliberately misleading as it has edited out footage showing that weapons (AK47 & RPG) were being carried by members of the party that was attacked by the US helicopter gunship. The wikileaks editor has now admitted this, acknowledging that:

it’s likely some of the individuals seen in the video were carrying weapons.

After the action a US patrol recovered weapons from the scene which, were later documented in an incident report by US military authorities.

So it looks like the journos went to investigate a street-level contact and happened to meet some armed Iraqis who were likewise involved. Got caught in the cross-fire.

This fact does significantly mitigate the US pilots culpability for this tragic incident. Although shooting up an ambulance looks pretty cold.

Its disappointing, but not surprising, that the intensely ideological academics who populate this site did not see fit to bring up these inconvenient facts. Not the way to show disinterested pursuit of truth.

More generally, this incident shows that war inevitably produces atrocities. War itself is an atrocity, only justified by the likelihood of greater atrocities.

That said the US military does a fair and reasonable job of trying to minimize civilian casualties. The use of smart weapons is part of a more general effort to reduce collateral damage.

But the US military has an awful lot of fire power at its disposal. So even with the best will in the world its inevitable that civilians will be killed in large numbers when the fighting moves to built up areas.

So best not to go there in the first place.

128

geo 04.08.10 at 4:37 am

129

Down and Out of Sài Gòn 04.08.10 at 5:30 am

This thread is probably as dead as the dodo. But I just wanted to note something I found interesting about theAmericanist’s writing style. He uses “LOL” and “ROFL” and “(wicked grin)” in a thread about a helicopter gunship murdering civilians. He comes off looking quite the sociopath.

130

toby 04.08.10 at 7:42 am

Just watched the video.

The first shooting, at a stretch, might just fit under the rules, but the second did not. It was a case of trigger-happy, gung-ho soliders itching to add to their kills.

It also suggests that it is past time the US got out of Iraq. Saddam Hussein has been removed but geopolitically it has created no long term advantage for the US. If anything, it has created an Iranian dominated Iraq.

I hope Obama has teh sense to keep drawing down the troops, no matter what happens. There is no future for the US in Iraq.

131

Kevin Donoghue 04.08.10 at 9:24 am

Donald,

I’m not sure that anything I have to say about the video is interesting, but it does illustrate some points which we’ve discussed ad nauseam on Deltoid:

1) The ratio of wounded to killed doesn’t match that of the Battle of the Somme, as so many people seem to think it must.
2) Presumably Dr L’s survey team would call this an airstrike, but AFAICT the military reserves that term for USAF attacks.
3) Although the military claims to have been in action in that area for several hours prior to the attack, these killings seem to be the only ones that made it into media reports.

132

Pete 04.08.10 at 10:37 am

Thought I made a comment here? Something about the Iraq war being different because of events in the middle east since the 50s?

So far as I’m reading this, LOLamericanistROFL takes the view that this is an isolated, ambiguous incident, those involved should be court-martialled, and that if everybody followed the legal rules of engagement then peace would break out and the US could go home?

133

Steven 04.08.10 at 11:17 am

It’s a shame this thread is, indeed, dead, because once again many of the scholars here have commited the amatuer scholarly pratfall of seeing one important kernel of truth and using it to do way too much work. And yes, I mean pratfall, as in an embarassing fall on the buttocks.

It’s clear as day the gunship has no business shooting at people who are working from the van (no, not am ambulance; a van- if you call it an ambulance then you are admitting that the occupants were profoundly at fault for allowing children in a vehicle that intended to go to places where combat had recently occured to evacuate its victims, who may still be in danger). The van didn’t seem to have weapons in it, nor were the people who trying to pick up and move the injured to safety. We get all indignant and incensed when somebody shoots at a medic or corpsman treating a wounded soldier or Marine, so it’s fair to be angry and demand answers when our helicopters do the same.

No matter what else happens to them (a trial or tribunal might be nice), the officers in that gunship should never be trusted with the responsibilities of combat again, and the video should be used to train new gunners about their moral responsibilities during war.

But, still, I cannot overstress the fact that the first round of shootings is apparently justified by almost every norm and law of war I can think of. A group of men, several of them armed with the standard weapons of war in their theatre (and not relics, or hunting rifles, or small target pistols), is part of a larger group of men, some of whom are unarmed. All of them are associating voluntarily, at close quarters, demonstrating engagment in some common project on the battlefield, right then and there. They know they are in a war zone. Nobody eles is hanging out in the street. There is no civic life around them. Each one of them is free to leave. These are legitimate targets of war, no matter who is waging it. So as I said above, the first round of gunfire was hard to watch but still just.

As for the photog, there is no way to know he is a photog. Seems foolish of him not to wear conspicuous marks. And anyway, if he was an embed with US troops who was shot by an insurgent sniper from an equivalent distance, I have a feeling the intuition pumps at work here would see my line of thinking.

By dismissing the entire video as a series of completely unjustified war crimes, it is hard to take a protest agaisnt it seriously. The average person with access to the facts will see it this way, the correct way, hence the pratfall. Academics and activists, who rightfully care a lot, once again overraching.

As for the commentary by the pilots, it makes perfect sense and they are perfectly acceptable. Think of what you’ve muttered to yourself when you’ve failed a student who needs to be failed but who is otherwise nice and agreeable. It would be interesting to play that stuff on youTube, in your own voice, ripped from you as you said it: “Idiot made himself fail. Deserves it. Nothing I can do. That’s what you get for daddy paying tuition and baby not giving s ahit about school. Too bad…” These pilots know they are doing something truly wicked and unfortunate and their utterances are the beginning of a lifetime of trying to live with it by distancing themselves from their acts, rationalizing them, and dehumanzing the people they’ve killed. This is as old as humanity itself and we can only demand it is done in the larger context of a just war. That is another discussion.

134

Salient 04.08.10 at 11:19 am

More generally, this incident shows that war [and occupation] inevitably produces atrocities.

Which is a really, really good second reason to oppose a morally unjustifiable occupation!

1) It’s unjust. (Morally unjustified, or unjustifiable, if you prefer.)

2) It’s not just some harmless mildly unjust thing; it will result in atrocities.

135

Ceri B. 04.08.10 at 11:23 am

Another bystander here who was very interested in Americanist’s comments in the recent discussion of Catholic history and utterly repelled now. LOL and ROFL do not belong in a discussion like this. At all. Anyone who can grin and giggle through this kind of thing is suffering a moral breakdown, and deserves, at best, some condolences and best wishes for a speedy recovery.

136

Salient 04.08.10 at 11:29 am

Steven, my thinking is this: I’d be more willing to grant benefit of the doubt to the first incident, if the second incident hadn’t happened.

It’s like, suppose a hypothetical you concealed-carries, and all of a sudden you draw and shoot two people, then a few moments later, while in a pleasant mood and sound mind,^1^ you shoot two more people who rushed in to tend to the wounded you shot. If pressured about it, you might say, “hey, that pencil in the first guy’s hand looked an awful lot like a drawn pistol, and I did verify that they were packing heat by noticing their holsters,” and while it would seem horribly suspicious, perhaps in theory there could be some benefit of the doubt to afford you, etc, etc. (In a war zone, this benefit of the doubt could conceivably be amplified substantially.) But the fact that you shot the third and fourth persons means we could not possibly afford you any benefit of the doubt whatsoever regarding the first and second persons.

^1^This is really important, the crux of the matter. The ‘copter guys didn’t suddenly go insane and start shooting at anything, or panic and start shooting at anything, either of which might explain/justify the 30mm fire on the van. They chose to engage and commit an atrocity.

And if that’s just a normal consequence of occupation, then the occupation has to be justified along the lines of “even though these things will happen, we still ought to occupy, because…” Many of those of us who are horrified at this might be more circumspect about it if we deeply felt the occupation was just and were advocates of it.

137

Jack 04.08.10 at 11:56 am

sdr, heur,

I don’t see an RPG. I see a spade. I’m not suggesting it’s a spade; I’m just suggesting that this is the picture my visual cortex constructs out of the limited data.

Then again, I’m not looking to see any specific thing.

I suppose people who have an idea about what they will see might be more likely to see a confirmation of their expectations.

Could be wrong, but I didn’t go looking to see any one thing.

~ Jack

138

Steven 04.08.10 at 12:01 pm

Salient,

I see your line of reasoning, and there is something to it, but I prefer the approach that every attack must be justified in and of itself. Other attacks do not bear on a particular one in this scheme. Sometimes mean and crazy people can kill people who it was okay to kill, and if it was okay to kill them, even if it was incidental to their crazy and meand plans, then for better of worse we can’t impugn them for that. In war at least, anyway. We may only go after them when the kill someone who shouldn’t have been killed.

I think the invasion was a huge mistake, and continues to be one, however. So I will not explore the things that put a gunship over Baghdad in the first place.

139

theAmericanist 04.08.10 at 12:41 pm

Man, you guys are just… precious.

126, 129, and 132 all agree with points I’ve been arguing — citing FACTS (like the video editor’s confession), no less.

But you know what upsets you guys?

It’s not that WikiLeaks edited the video to exclude what they’ve now admitted, that the crowd fired upon had weapons.

It’s not that you’ve all obviously committed, as steven notes at 132, the kind of intellectual sin that the teachers among you routinely (I hope, anyway) correct when your students do it.

No, what upsets you guys is that I find YOU funny for it.

Ceri, I’m not laughing at the killing. I’ve known a couple people who were killed in Iraq.

I’m laughing at you guys.

But, geeze, that cannot be admitted because then YOUR self-righteousness would have to be considered separately from the fact of the war. I pointed out that the objective for the American invasion was knocking off Saddam. Having achieved that, we can and should get out with the most minimal expectations for what happens after. We should have done it years ago, and we could do it on Obama’s timetable, even now. Recognizing that we won, long ago, makes that easier.

Demonstrating typical intellectual brilliance, somebody actually argued with me about the objective, rather than accepting the obvious that, regardless of whether you or I or anybody else AGREED with that objective: that’s what it was — which is what sets the bar very low for getting out. That’s why I noted that a lot of you clearly would rather that America lose the war, rather than leave.

Which is why I keep pointing to the lack of a court martial in cases like this (not just this one, for the fools who imagine that I know even less than you do about war zones) as the key to why we haven’t gotten out yet.

Hell, you guys can’t even focus on the underlying moral issues, because you confuse self-righteousness (e.g., Salient) with philosophy.

Here is a simple test (and the kind of thinking I’d commend to you, as academics): you want to sort out what the moral line is here?

I noted that I’ve had family in Iraq (and will likely have another nephew deployed soon), people in the circumstances of this video. I said upthread that God forbid any of ‘em ever fire a shot they shouldn’t have — and if ever they do NOT fire a shot when they need to, God save ‘em.

The test for where you draw the moral line is right there: when an American soldier is in harm’s way (as in this case, simply by being in an Apache above an area where there has been an exchange of fire recently), which do you consider the greater sin — for a commander to order fire when it MAY not be justified (which is what a court martial would determine, as a matter of fact and law), or for a commander to refuse when that may cause the American to be killed?

Lord, folks: you’re supposed to be scholars and intellectuals — and it takes 138 posts and considerable mocking at your self-righteousness before anybody engages the central moral question?

Since you were all taken in by the selective editing of that video, perhaps at long last you might take my advice, waaay upthread: and practice a little humility.

140

Henri Vieuxtemps 04.08.10 at 12:42 pm

They know they are in a war zone.

No they don’t. They see American military helicopters hovering over them, but manifest no hostility, or anxiety.

141

Henri Vieuxtemps 04.08.10 at 12:55 pm

According to Greenwald here:

From the very beginning, WikiLeaks released the full, 38-minute, unedited version of that incident — and did so right on the site they created for release of the edited video. In fact, the first video is marked “Short version,” and the second video — posted directly under it — is marked “Full version,” and just for those who still didn’t pick up on the meaning, they explained:

WikiLeaks has released both the original 38 minutes video and a shorter version with an initial analysis. Subtitles have been added to both versions from the radio transmissions.

142

Kevin Donoghue 04.08.10 at 1:07 pm

They see American military helicopters hovering over them, but manifest no hostility, or anxiety.

Indeed the fact that they show no anxiety seems to annoy the pilot. Also, few (if any) of them are armed and they are quite close to each other. That makes no sense if they were planning any kind of ambush. It’s possible that they were members of a “friendly” militia, watching the progress of a fight between their sectarian enemies and the Americans. I’m speculating of course, but that would explain their rather casual behaviour.

143

theAmericanist 04.08.10 at 1:12 pm

So, answer the question. Draw the line.

Even kibitzing about killing imposes certain moral obligations.

144

Heur 04.08.10 at 1:48 pm

Jack,

Did you expand the video to full screen when you watched the 2:10-2:12 (thereabouts)? As he swings about, the shape is extremely distinctive, and does not appear (to me) to be a spade.

Henri,

The area was the scene of an ongoing, at that point 4 hour long, large military operation, with combat throughout; the area was, notoriously, controlled by a militia that had launched multiple attacks on coalition forces. The streets at the time seem otherwise deserted. The group of men were clearly pointing and directing the photographers towards elements of the American ground force, of which one of the photographer took pictures. Judging from those pictures, they all seem to have been within 100 meters, or less, of those elements. To me, anyway, it’s clear that the men were aware of the situation.

The helicopters were not hovering above the group. They seem to have been fairly distant, and flying at very low altitude.

@theAmericanist,

I’m not sure a trial is the appropriate way to adjudicate every instance of a use of force that may have been mistaken or borderline. Why do you think it is?

145

Steve LaBonne 04.08.10 at 2:15 pm

As he swings about, the shape is extremely distinctive

Bullshit. You’re seeing what you want to see. And yes I have watched that segment repeatedly on full screen.

I don’t know what the object was and neither do you. And neither did the pilots. Have you ever, for example, seen a telescopic camera lens?

146

Henri Vieuxtemps 04.08.10 at 2:50 pm

The area was the scene of an ongoing, at that point 4 hour long, large military operation, with combat throughout; the area was, notoriously, controlled by a militia that had launched multiple attacks on coalition forces.

How do you know all that?

The helicopters were not hovering above the group. They seem to have been fairly distant, and flying at very low altitude.

“circling around” would probably be a better description. Still, how far could they be; is it really possible not to notice them? If you were an armed resistance fighter, would you ignore them and carry on as if they are not there?

147

theAmericanist 04.08.10 at 3:06 pm

A court martial is neither necessary nor indicated in EVERY instance. I’m suggesting that it seems indicated in this one — but my point is broader, and distinct: the LACK of a court martial in an instance like this is why we’re still in Iraq.

One of the truly baffling things about American politics is how kibitizers with no real power can nevertheless influence the perception of what is possible. For example, take SLB’s bizarre idea that because he doesn’t know a shovel from an RPG, the guys who might have been killed by the latter should never, ever, fire in self-defense.

Since you guys pride yourselves on intellectual clarity and force, I’m asking IMNSHO the right question: when a commander can order what MAY be an unjustified shooting, OR can refuse permission to fire when it MAY get Americans killed — which is the moral choice?

No, you don’t get to be sure about the facts. It is abundantly clear that you guys aren’t all that interested in facts, as SLB demonstrates.

In many circumstances, a court martial isn’t appropriate: when the facts cannot be clear because there’s nothing but garbled eyewitness evidence (any of you who have investigated crimes will know there ain’t nothing as unreliable as an eyewitness), when the situation itself was ambiguous (e.g., civilians in a firefight), when what was clear to the shooter wasn’t clear to the commander, etc.

I don’t think those apply here. So not so much what the results of a court martial of THIS case would be, but the fact that none was initiated, strikes me as good a piece of evidence as any (and better than the half-assed argumentation in this thread) for why we’re still there.

Cuz we haven’t won.

148

theAmericanist 04.08.10 at 3:10 pm

And btw, since you guys are so all-knowing: hasn’t it ever occurred to you that if you were an anti-American insurgent on an Iraqi street when an Apache appears overhead, the LAST thing you’d do is to act like an insurgent?

It’s not like diving behind a parked car or into an alley is gonna help you when the thing opens up.

LOL — I just read a telling little example of real combat tactics in an account of the 17th century King Philip’s war in New England, where a colonist and an Indian on the English side were still alive at the end of what was rapidly becoming a total massacre of the English forces. It is not recorded which of them had the idea, but the friendly Indian, who had been shooting at the hostile Indians, simply grabbed a hatchet, turned to his friend — and started chasing him, waving the hatchet.

They made it into the woods, where they sneaked off together to tell the tale.

149

gray 04.08.10 at 3:12 pm

Packer’s article makes much of the commentary here academic.

The video was edited by wiki leaks. So to come to a conclusion based on that sole piece of evidence suggests people are doing some heavy duty filtering of their own. The bar stool experts here are either in denial (Well “I” don’t see an RPG) or using a red herring (the war was illegal)

The video is pretty grim stuff and other boards – more able to deal with the facts – the have raised serious questions about the 2nd engagement. But the first attack wasn’t – by the evidence available – a war crime.

150

Steven 04.08.10 at 3:14 pm

Preface: at 3:41 in the video above, there are two men with AK-47s standing there, plain as day. Not cameras, or tripods. They are apparently the gorilla in the middle of the basketball game for some participants here. Then at 4:08, what they see looks plausibly enough like an RPG that the pilots could be expected to have little doubt this was a group of armed insurgents with unarmed, voluntary associates among them.

********

There is a huge gap of practical understanding here that impedes the conversation, as it has in other cases on the site. It probably has to be learned organically.

People don’t understand that the helicopters were quite far away and flying low, as evidenced by the low camera angle of the gunsight and how long it took the rounds to impact after we hear them fired, rounds that easily travel well over a thousand, up to maybe two thousand, feet per second (someone can look this up and do the math, I think they were about three to four thousand feet away). There is no reason for the armed insurgents in the video not to feel relatively at ease. They are not disciplined soldiers and they do not apprehend the danger of the distant helicopter barely in their field of vision.

There are two things to discuss, one of which Salient is right about. This one is that the second attack demonstrates that even during the first one, the pilots likely had what lawyers, those usually harmful and useless people, would call a culpable mental state. They were callous and wicked in both cases, minutes apart, as evidenced by what they did in fact do in the latter case. This is important for pointing out the general problems with using trained killers to solve international problems and improve a deeply troubled nation.

On the other and, the second point is that for someone to have done something wrong, something prosecutable or for which we may otherwise judge them, we have to show not only the guilty mental state, but the guilty act as well. In the first part of the attack, the pilots had adequate reason to open fire. Given widely-accepted laws and norms of war, there was no guilty act. Nobody would want norms or laws that would prohibit killing men armed with the weapons commonly found in the theatre of operations to be off-limits for attack simply because people who were voluntarily associating with them in an area otherwise bereft of civic activity happen not to be armed, or are only carrying cameras.

Anyway, doubtless many of you have watched insurgent-produced war videos that document insurgent attacks, killings of US soldiers, snipings, etc. Having a camera does not make you less of a target in this case. Going native to get better shots works quite well, but carries huge risks. Anyone who slings a telescopic lens over his shoulder in a war zone without conspicuous markings that express his status as a noncombatant journalist is imminently risking his life.

So let’s just be annoyed that these pilots shot at people who were doing nothing more than driving a van to get the wounded out of harm’s way. That is an entitlement in war and something that, barring accompanying hostilie acts, exempts you from being a target. It turns my stomach.

And the kids? It’s everyone’s fault. It’s horrible. It’s why war sucks. But nobody wants to see children get hurt. You know those pilots will take that to the grave, no matter how cavalier and dismissive they try to sound in the video.

151

theAmericanist 04.08.10 at 3:20 pm

Why stop at annoyed?

152

JJ 04.08.10 at 3:26 pm

Rolling on the floor and laughing out loud at the hilarious spectacle of academics kibitzing about the killing of people who try to remove their wounded from the killing zone to safety…

Yeah, this guy is way wack.

153

Steven 04.08.10 at 3:32 pm

“Why stop at annoyed?”

A very little league instance of why the linguistic turn had its uses.

Meaning, limit our annoyance to the second attack, not limit our reaction to the second attack at mere annoyance. Stronger feelings about it are certainly warranted. I am trying to be less emotional than I could be in deference to British participants here.

154

Henri Vieuxtemps 04.08.10 at 3:40 pm

Nobody would want norms or laws that would prohibit killing men armed with the weapons commonly found in the theatre of operations to be off-limits for attack simply because people who were voluntarily associating with them in an area otherwise bereft of civic activity happen not to be armed, or are only carrying cameras.

For the kind of scene that I saw in the video, I certainly want norms and laws that would prohibit killing men armed with any weapons, unless they demonstrate the intent to use these weapons; unless they appear to be sufficiently dangerous. Isn’t that the law?

155

Steven 04.08.10 at 3:41 pm

The muzzle velocity of the rounds fired from the cannon used in the video is 805 m/s (2,641 ft/s). The helicopter was very far away when it fired at the group of guys, at least three thousand feet by my crude estimates. This explains their casual posture, despite being armed insurgents.

156

Kevin Donoghue 04.08.10 at 3:46 pm

Steven: There is no reason for the armed insurgents in the video not to feel relatively at ease. They are not disciplined soldiers and they do not apprehend the danger of the distant helicopter barely in their field of vision.

Several of these “armed” men are carrying nothing whatever. But to you they are “insurgents” despite the fact that they never take aim with anything more lethal than a telephoto lens. And the helicopter is “quite far away” and “barely in their field of vision” by which you apparently mean four thousand feet away, which is uncomfortably close AFAIC. At that range a helicopter is not only clearly visible, it makes quite a loud noise. My hearing is defective but I can hear the damn things a lot farther off than that.

I think you are quite right in saying that there is a huge gap of practical understanding here, but you may be mistaken as to who has the most homework to do.

157

Steven 04.08.10 at 3:49 pm

Henri- Not the laws of war, no. You can kill the enemy when he is asleep, and running away, for example. Insurgencies are the murky middle, seeming to rely on norms more so than laws, but I think you’re ceding way too much to the insurgents.

So you could make the argument you are making, namely that US soldiers may only shoot at people roaming otherwise deserted streets in Iraq with rockets and machine guns in close proximity to US combat operations only if those people are actively engaging or preparing to engage with US troops, but I think you would have a hard time selling it to more than one or two people who are reasoning in good faith but have a genuine stake in the issue.

What if US soldiers on a rooftop peer over it and see three guys in civvie clothes with AKs and a rocket walking through the alley below? Do they just watch them walk and hope they aren’t noticed? Ask probing questions? Wish them well? Tell them to “freeze!”

People carrying machine gungs and rockets who don’t want to be mistaken for insurgents and killed should probably put these things down, and people standing next to them who don’t want to get killed should leave their side. Seems more reasonable.

158

Steven 04.08.10 at 3:54 pm

Standoff and safe distances for fixed wing aircraft and helicopters are much different, due to their airspeeds and the differences in the lethality of their munitions. And helicopters hover over baghdad at all hours, day in, day out. Fixed wing craft swoop in and out for strikes. If insurgents felt the need to run/hide from every low-flying helicopter four thousand feet away, we would have won this thing for better or worse in 2004 simply by flying around. They’d be fatigued to death or submission. Again, I repeat my argument about large gaps in practical understanding.

159

Steven 04.08.10 at 4:02 pm

And to clarify and restate: a person with a telephoto lens standing next to men with machine guns and a rocket is not absolved of the suspicion of being a combatant solely because he only has a telephoto lens. Many a US combat photographer is buried somewhere for this very reason. And his presence, as well as that of other unarmed men in this area otherwise bereft of civic activity, does not provide an adequate reason not to fire. This is my case regarding the first incident, explained in more detail above. I will have to abandon it and hope it does well. As for the second shooting of the van, I cannot defend it. It is important to be mad about the right things.

160

Steve LaBonne 04.08.10 at 4:15 pm

And to clarify and restate: a person with a telephoto lens standing next to men with machine guns and a rocket is not absolved of the suspicion of being a combatant solely because he only has a telephoto lens.

Objection: assumes facts not in evidence. Your assertions as to what the men were carrying are just that, your assertions. All I see- after repeated full-screen viewings- are guys with what could just as well be tripods and a telescopic lens. Not one of whom was making a threatening gesture towards the copters with whatever those objects actually were, or even acting like they were paying the slightest attention to the copters. This is all uncomfortably reminiscent to me of how unjustified shootings by cops are rationalized after the fact.

161

Christian G. 04.08.10 at 4:24 pm

There are some additional details in the official army report, including a picture taken by one of the Reuters cameramen showing a US vehicle not far away.

162

Henri Vieuxtemps 04.08.10 at 4:44 pm

What if US soldiers on a rooftop peer over it and see three guys in civvie clothes with AKs and a rocket walking through the alley below?

I get the impression that AKs mean nothing there; it could be some neighborhood watch or something. Just someone with an AK-47. I remember watching a video on CNN before the invasion, it was about Saddam winning an ‘election’ – even back then everybody was carrying an AK-47 and shooting into the air. A guy with AK-47 is probably as remarkable as someone with an iPod in the US and Europe.

Now, an RPG, yes, that would certainly be a clue, but certainly not enough to mow down a dozen people with a machine gun just because one of them is carrying an RPG (not using it). Not to mention that you better be sure that it really is an RPG and not an exhaust pipe of something.

163

Bunbury 04.08.10 at 5:02 pm

Steven, is your surname Gerrard? The pre-emptive understanding of self defence seems the same.

Even if the possibly armed guys were insurgents (which means what exactly?) they almost certainly didn’t have WMDs or work for Saddam or Al Qaeda and therefore they might be owed an explanation of what on earth the guys in helicopters from 6,000 miles away think they are doing deciding who lives and dies in their home town.

To all those whining about the biased portrayal of events in Iraq the question is does its existence improve our understanding or not? Of secondary importance is the question of whether it is more or less biased than what had previously come out of official channels. Only then is it really worth worrying about whether the film is balanced or not.

Does the presence of two guys possibly carrying guns (weren’t they more or less a necessity for moving about Baghdad at that time?) mean the initial engagement fell within the officially sanctioned levels of paranoia? Not the most important question. The first is what the foreign helicopter was doing there at all, the second is what do we hope to achieve by leaving the population of Iraq to such tender mercies. The third is who thought shooting the van was OK and didn’t take action against the helicopter guys. Only then do questions of whether the helicopter guys were acting within orders or not really apply and what is more, the jury is already in — they were investigated and not disciplined so it was within the rules. Knowing that just kicks the questions upstairs, it doesn’t dismiss them.

164

virgil xenophon 04.08.10 at 6:44 pm

Having read this entire thread with fascination let me make a few factual points knowing full well I’m not going to disabuse most of the lefty academic crowd here of any of their ideologically conditioned perceptions.

First, the fact that cameras were present cuts no ice with me as so the “innocence” of those involved. Even a casual persusal of video on You Tube will reveal videos shot for propaganda purposes by Iraqui insurgents in the process of killing Americans. With life & death matters involved the “better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6″ doctrine applies. Hesitation in combat can be fatal. Second. Has anyone here ever seen what a single RPG round can do to a Bradley let alone a scantily armored Humvee? Would you prefer the possible incineration of your fellow countryman–any one of which could be a relative–while the Helo crew plays Hamlet? The approaching American ground forces were well within the lethal range of an PRG.

I would also point out that US ROEs are roughly based on US Civil statue law. Carried over from England is the firmly well established (and frequently applied) doctrine in American statute law that those associated with murder in the commission of a crime are equally complicit/guilty even if sitting unarmed as unknowing passengers in the car while some hot-head friend kills the 7-11 clerk in an impromptu spur-of-the-moment stick-up. (That the English themselves have long since abandoned this principle as a matter of law and that many–including me–view it as archaic and a needlessly blunt instrument which can ensnare the truly innocent is beside the point) American juries (i.e., our own countrymen) seem to have no qualms about sentencing such unarmed associates/bystanders to death on a daily basis across the length and breadth of the land–so why so squimish when this principle is applied to our enemies in the middle of a war-zone? Especially when those they are accompanying are unlawful combatants to begin with?

Which brings me to my third point about the van. Oneof the reasons that the laws of war PERMIT/ALLOW (some interpret it to REQUIRE) the summary execution of un-uniformed armed irregulars on the spot when captured is because such irregulars–by these very measures put the entire civilian population of otherwise innocent men, women and children under suspicion and at risk of the most ham-fisted dragnets and interrogation techniques as well as in danger of being shot by frustrated uniformed soldiers/police unable to sort out mortal threats from the innocent. The frequent and well documented use of Mosques, schools, hospitals, etc., as bomb factories, ammo depots and hardened fighting points/terrorist assembly places puts ALL such places under suspicion–which is why such uses are expressly forbidden by the rules of land warfare. It has been noted that the long vid shows the van previously stopping by a Mosque where it could reasonably be inferred it was picking up and transporting armed insurgents/equipment for future, immanent use against US forces, as this activity was taking place in the middle of active combat and like-such vans had been observed doing such things all day and in previous days.

Should the helo crew have been more circumspect? Perhaps so–but it can just as easily be argued that the insurgents have/had long ago forfeited the benefit of the doubt by their previous perfidiously unlawful and deceptive-on-purpose actions which has seen the documented use of even clearly marked ambulances as disguised combat transport for insurgent/terrorist fighters in total disdain for the rules of war.
The 1st President of my alma mater said it best: “War is Hell!” And is yet another thing besides making sausage and laws that viewing the making of up close is not for the faint of heart…

165

Salient 04.08.10 at 7:00 pm

The 1st President of my alma mater said it best: “War is Hell!”

And an unjust war (or occpuation) continually wreaks Hell on a populace for no justifiable reason!

I mean, don’t get me wrong virgil, glad to see you commenting on CT again. But why o why does anyone think that saying “well atrocities happen in war” is at all a convincing argument to an audience who believes the war shouldn’t be happening.

Really, the conversation’s like this:

* Person A: This war should end! It will cause horrible things, and given the poor arguments for going to war we’ve seen, the war is not morally justifiable!

* Person B: …

* {some time elapses} {atrocities occur} {some are recorded + disseminated}

* Person A: An atrocity happened! Isn’t this horrible!

* Person B: Well, you know. War is hell. What did you expect?

* Person A: I EXPECTED THIS AND THAT IS WHY I AM OPPOSING THE WAR

* Person B: Just because bad things happen in war, doesn’t mean you should oppose it. Bad stuff happened in WW2.

* Person A: Well, uh, in order for that to make sense, there must be a satisfactory justification for us to continue the war in the first place. And there’s not.

* Person B: …

I have no idea who Person B might be, it might be a straw man, but up through “war is hell” seems to be coming up continually. As if that should prompt us to shrug our shoulders and let it go and not care. That makes no sense.

166

virgil xenophon 04.08.10 at 7:01 pm

SteveLaBonne@148,

Suggest you mosey over to the comments section on this subj at 11D and see what “Amy P” has to say about how much her amateur astronomer husband’s portable telescope looks ever so much like a mortar tube w. tripod to the police from a distance–might give you pause to think you are being overly harsh in your criticism of the helo pilots…

167

Salient 04.08.10 at 7:08 pm

Steven, that makes some amount of sense to me: though I’m not willing to make judgments according to that criterion, I can see why others would. And if I were assigned to jury duty, I’d consent to abide by your metric.

What interests me most is this paragraph:

I think the invasion was a huge mistake, and continues to be one, however. So I will not explore the things that put a gunship over Baghdad in the first place.

The first sentence is kind of the whole point for me. If these things are being done kinda in my name, or whatever the phrase is, I really really need to revisit the things that put a gunship-in-my-name over Baghdad in the first place.

If I’m supposed to nod my head and say “well these things happen in war” it seems quite natural to wonder: ok, so, given the horrors our involvement allegedly causes because war is automatically hell, why don’t we stop creating hell, and withdraw from the war? What objectives are we currently fighting for, and does our chance of success justify committing atrocities? That’s not at all a trivial question to me.

168

Henri Vieuxtemps 04.08.10 at 7:20 pm

The war ended in 2003; this incident occurred in 2007.

169

theAmericanist 04.08.10 at 7:22 pm

LOL — you see, Salient, this is a perfect illustration of why you are inadvertently funny. (It’s like the old story about the ostensibly Irish invention of the bagpipes and the car bomb: the Scots still haven’t seen the joke, but the Middle East takes the latter far too seriously.)

A more accurate illustration of the dialogue would be along these lines:

Enlisted soldier: I volunteered to put myself in harm’s way to protect the kind of innocent people murdered by the thousands on 9-11 — and in Spain after, etc. There are seriously bad people in the world who want to blow up airliners, who believe that the world is ‘us vs. them”.

Knucklehead academic: I’m against the war in Iraq.

Enlisted soldier: You don’t seem to understand the sacrifice a soldier makes. I don’t choose where they send me.

Knucklehead academic: Then you’re a criminal.

Enlisted soldier: Bold talk for someone who sleeps safer because I’m not safe at all.

Knucklehead academic: You’d be safer if you weren’t in Iraq. Did I mention I am against the war?

Enlisted soldier: So what? When I’m on patrol, I’m not debating the war. I’m trying to win it.

Knucklehead academic: And that’s why you’re a criminal.

Enlisted soldier: You should probably be talking to an officer.

Knucklehead academic: That’s right. And not just officers — generals, admirals, and Presidents should be listening to me, because I know what to do in any circumstance.

Officer: So why aren’t you in charge?

Knucklehead academic: How can you justify a shooting like this?

Officer: (detailed explanation of the tactical situation, the available intelligence, and the risks faced by American personnel)

Knucklehead academic: None of that matters, because the war is wrong.

Officer: Perhaps you should be talking to the President, or the UN, or somebody. Me, I’ve got lives to save.

170

virgil xenophon 04.08.10 at 7:29 pm

Well, Salient, I really didn’t want to wade into the fever swamps of the justification/legality of the war “en grosso mondo” (I expect we’ll argue forever about that) so much as the particular facts of this instance, the psychology of the participants in their decision-making process and the ROE/laws of war as applied at the time (2007) as well as the combat circumstances then extant. One can argue logically and fervently that the war was unwise and perhaps only marginally justifiable (but NOT illegal by any measure–a point of endless dispute, but a separate subject) without this incident being considered an atrocity on its’ face–unless one considers the entire war illegal–in which case one could argue that any and all subsequent actions by the armed forces of America were, ipso facto, atrocities by definition. (This does not mean that atrocities can not, and have not, been committed by US personnel–only that IMHO I don’t feel this incident meets the test by any number of markers–intent, disregarding of rules, “unlawfull” “rules” or anything else one can thing of.) The second, van shoot? Hasty perhaps. Unwise, perhaps, and demonstrating something less than a judicious clinically “professional” approach of which it can be argued they had plenty of time to observe and double-check–perhaps warranting administrative discipline. But nothing “illegal”–though much that was unfortunate. And yes an atrocity–but only in the sense that W.T himself meant.

171

Uncle Kvetch 04.08.10 at 7:49 pm

Enlisted soldier: Bold talk for someone who sleeps safer because I’m not safe at all.

You’re not making me any safer by being in Iraq.

There. That was easy.

172

Henri Vieuxtemps 04.08.10 at 7:55 pm

Officer: Perhaps you should be talking to the President, or the UN, or somebody. And now me and the Enlisted, we’ve gotta go kill us some towelheads.

173

JJ 04.08.10 at 7:55 pm

Still kibitzing about the academics.

What a putz.

174

Salient 04.08.10 at 8:03 pm

Officer: Perhaps you should be talking to the President, or the UN, or somebody.

Knucklehead academic: I was.

Officer: Then why are you talking to me?

Knucklehead academic: I haven’t been.

Officer: You mean I’ve imagined this whole conversation?

Knucklehead academic: No no no, the part about your pet dinosaur all actually happened. And you did walk past someone that more or less looks like me in the hall a while ago, chatting with someone else. It’s just me and the conversation with me that you’ve been hallucinating.

Officer: Really?

Knucklehead academic: … yeah. Sorry man.

Officer: This hallucination sucks. Sorry to have brought you into being.

Knucklehead academic: It’s cool. I mean, I don’t mind existing, even as a figment of your imagination. I’ll go hang out with the philosophers and we can discuss whether I’m entitled to an independent existence. But maybe you should take a breather, hey?

Officer: Me, I’ve got lives to save.

Knucklehead academic (backing away slowly): Well, uh, good luck with that, sir.

175

Salient 04.08.10 at 8:15 pm

Knucklehead academic: Tell you what. You’re the one making this about my personal safety, which by the way is quite a kindness to extend to an apparition of your own imagination. But given that my existence depends on your countenancing me, I’m game for whatever you have to say. Present to me a credible threat to my person that Saddam Hussein, or would-be-Iraq-insurgents, presented between 1990 and 2003.

Officer: What? Why?

Knucklehead academic: Well, if this is about keeping me (and my compatriots) safe, I deserve to know what threat we faced and continue to face, so I can assess whether the threat prevention is effective, or worth the cost, or etc.

Officer: Sure, ok. It won’t be you personally, but Americans in general.

Knucklehead academic: Well, sure, that’s understandable. Go ahead.

Officer: {some details about Saddam’s weapons plans}

Knucklehead academic: {some refutations and follow-up questions}

Officer: {some details about treatment of the Kurds}

Knucklehead academic: {some qualifications}

… {hours of intense conversation} …

Knucklehead academic: Well, shucks. You’ve convinced me.

Officer: It’s amazing how much easier it was to do once I pulled my gun on you!

Knucklehead academic: Yep! That’s been working in Iraq since 2003!

Officer: Oh, and the fact that I figured out how to literally put words in your mouth.

Knucklehead academic: Turtle turgid knuckle sauce!

Officer: Say it.

Knucklehead academic: (whimpers)

Officer: SAY IT.

Knucklehead academic: …

Officer: {aims gun}

Knucklehead academic: thankyouforsavingmeandkeepingmesafe

Officer: I couldn’t hear you…

Knucklehead academic: THANK YOU FOR SAVING ME AND KEEPING ME SAFE

Officer: … heh

Knucklehead academic: Can I go now?

Officer: Oh, no. I plan to toy with you quite a bit more before you disappear.

176

theAmericanist 04.08.10 at 8:17 pm

Y’all do realize you keep making my point?

I noted that THE question about this incident is why there’s been no court martial. None of you guys has much to say about that, although you’ll insist on your own excellent judgment of the combat situation in a heartbeat.

I also noted THE moral question in this incident, which is simply whether a commander should be more willing to risk the wrongful death of people his guys shoot, or the death of his own guys who get shot by somebody whom he did not authorize them to shoot first.

Well?

Salient, et al, would rather preen along the lines of Uncle Kvetch: HE doesn’t feel any safer because Americans are in Iraq — and Salient actually thinks the idea that officers who can authorize or refuse the use of lethal force save lives every day (notice there was no UN-authorized firing in this incident) is hallucinatory.

Riiight. Perhaps you should take a look at what these weapons can do when they are used WITHOUT the multiple levels of constraints imposed on ‘em: I keep suggesting humility, folks. It’s good advice.

177

Uncle Kvetch 04.08.10 at 8:32 pm

Salient, et al, would rather preen along the lines of Uncle Kvetch: HE doesn’t feel any safer because Americans are in Iraq

Not preening, just stating a fact.

I keep suggesting humility, folks. It’s good advice.

Ah…finally, a joke to break the ice. Now tell the one again where you’re rolling on the floor laughing about how smart you are.

OK…we’re dealing with either a parody troll or some kind of traumatic head injury that produces a complete and total lack of self-awareness. Either way, we can all go home now. DNFTT.

178

Salient 04.08.10 at 8:32 pm

None of you guys has much to say about that,

Correction: we do not have much to say about that to you.

We do not have much to say about anything to you, except go-away-please.

This is because you are being an intolerably abrasive person.

Love,
Salient

P.S. Yes, an officer who is witnessing a knucklehead academic wandering around in the middle of a war zone is probably hallucinating. We all know real knucklehead academics would run and hide and stuff.

P.P.S. Congratulations on perpetrating one of the most successful acts of trolling ever sustained on CT. You have successfully hurt people and driven them away, and have managed to dodge a ban. And all it cost you was our respect! Small price to pay, as who cares what a bunch of knucklehead academics think, right?

179

Steve LaBonne 04.08.10 at 8:37 pm

Yes, this guy is a seriously wacko troll and will only regurgitate more of this stuff the more you bait him- I’ve seen him in action on other blogs. Indeed, DNFTT.

180

Salient 04.08.10 at 8:58 pm

I don’t think DNFTT applies when the troll barges in to drop additional rather extensive narrative attacks on you after you’ve stopped interacting with them.

(At that point, it’s not trolling. Trolling is about dropping general bait and seeing if other commenters bite. What tA is doing is bullying rather viciously.)

I’m pretty sure the only answer at that point is to leave theAmericanist alone in the wasteland of a thread he has successfully and single-handedly created. But that’s not even advisable, because there’s no telling what tA will be spewing at me in my absence. I’m not exactly free to go,^1^ which is the point I was trying to make in #175.

^1^Well, of course I’m free to do whatever except insofar as I do want to defend myself from charges of saying what I didn’t say, believing what I don’t believe, etc, etc. That’s the weird thing about the Internet; I can continue to get beat up in my own absence, so exiting this particular situation is not advantageous.

181

Alice de Tocqueville 04.08.10 at 9:21 pm

I wonder, Americanist, what you think the reason that “we’ haven’t declared victory and left Iraq actually is. Your statements about why “we” can’t leave yet are opaque to me.
The idea that “we” invaded Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein makes no sense. I’m surprised no one here has challenged it. Maybe they’re trying to stay on topic.
This incident, by itself, neither condemns nor justifies the invasion and occupation. It’s so far from being the worst atrocity committed there, almost daily, that it’s trivial.

Funny; no one, especially in the MSM, EVER mentions one little word, you know, the reason they couldn’t name the invasion ‘Operation Iraqi Liberation’.

Yes, I believe the whole fiasco is an atrocity, it’s plain armed robbery on an unbelievable scale. Even if you just count the Americans killed there who will never go to college, even if the state pays; they can no longer learn with what’s left of their heads. Just that much. Not to mention much of Iraq radioactive forever, birth defects up 600% or more, the same for leukemia, a million or more dead, 2-4 million driven from their homes – a country ruined. And “we” helped Hussein get into power.
Tell me the US is not ‘the great Satan”.

182

Alice de Tocqueville 04.08.10 at 9:24 pm

And I put “we” in quotes because that’s not my government. In the country where I was born, we elected the presidents by popular vote. GWB was never elected.

183

Henri Vieuxtemps 04.08.10 at 9:31 pm

It was quite interesting, actually. In the beginning it was about “the assholes who are losing us the war“; I’m assuming that’s the pilots. Then in the middle it was “WikiLeaks edited the video“, and finally it has become about “whether a commander should be more willing to risk the wrongful death of people these guys shoot, or the death of his own guys who get shot by somebody whom he did not authorize them to shoot first.” – no assholes in sight anymore. Other than knucklehead academics, that is.

Clearly, we’ve witnessed a metamorphosis here.

184

Old-Timer 04.09.10 at 3:40 am

Dolchstoßlegende rears its head:

“but by the time the South Vietnamese government was capable of defending itself against its domestic enemies (the Viet Cong was essentially defunct by 1972), the US effort had lost public support for sustaining massive assistance to enable the ARVN to hold off heavy armor attacks from the NVA.”

This starts from the throughly discredited premise that there was a country named “South Vietnam” that was being invaded by a separate country named “North Vietnam.”

South Vietnam was an American creation. As far as the Vietnamese were concerned, sending troops south from the North to throw us out was no more problematic than our using troops from New York to repel an invasion of California.

And they were going to keep coming as long as they had a single soldier left. Having been under colonial occupation for a good long time, throwing the foreigners out was a goal for which they were prepared to pay any price necessary. This was widely appreciated at the time, which was a major reason why American domestic support for the war had evaporated.

185

Glen Tomkins 04.09.10 at 5:27 am

Irrelevant

The US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan likely set an unprecedented standard in care exercised by an occupying military force to avoid civilian casualties in a war zone. That’s what this video shows.

But what this video also shows is that all of that is completely irrelevant. It is a war crime, pure and simple, to make of a whole country a war zone for years on end. To do so simply erases the fundamental distinction of combatant vs non-combatant on which all civilized, legal, limitations of war rest. No amount of care to avoid particular incidents of “collateral damage” under those conditions of the universal exposure of an entire country to being treated as potential combatants 24/7, can prevent systematic and cumulatively massive loss of non-combatant life. This is genocide that this video documents, a genocide in which scrupulously careful procedure only serves to insure that the genocide only happens one drop at a time.

186

Alison P 04.09.10 at 7:02 am

Yes, that’s what I have been thinking too. All people all day and everyday have to behave ostentatiously as ‘not an insurgent’ . And yet, nothing the populace do can sufficiently convince. The whole country has ‘forfeited the benefit of the doubt’, and each person must ‘convince (foreign soldiers) they are not a threat’ or be killed without warning. Even if they do not know the soldiers are watching them. Must refrain, for example, from acts such as running to a person who is bleeding which all of us would do without a thought – and this blanket surveillance operating in all areas at all times, and enforced by gun ships. This is what we have become.

187

Martin Wisse 04.09.10 at 7:06 am

The war and invasion were illegal, so any time the US, or the British, or the Dutch, or … kileld anybody in Iraq it’s murder, whether justified by rules of engagement or not.

Quibbling over whether or not some particular set of murdered Iraqis were carrying weapons or not and whether this made them legitimate targets is missing this vital point.

The Iraqis had a right to be there, the US did not.

188

NomadUK 04.09.10 at 7:31 am

Just in case anyone’s interested:

Rate of fire for the M230 is 600-650 rounds per minute […]. Each round takes approximately 2 seconds to travel 1000m. However, as the shell’s energy dissipates, it takes some 12.2 seconds to cover 3000m.

The ammunition typically used by the M230 is the 30mm M789 HEDP (high explosive dual-purpose). Each shell contains 21.5g of explosive charge sealed in a shaped-charge liner. The liner is designed to collapse into an armour-piercing jet of molten metal, capable of penetrating more than 2 inches of armour. The shell is also designed to fragment into shrapnel, deadly to unprotected targets, out to a distance of over 10 feet. […]

Given that the time from firing to striking the target appears to be (if I recall from the video correctly) about 2 seconds, it seems the helicopter was at most 1000 m away.

And then there’s this:

WITNESS 1: [translated] The helicopter came yesterday from there and hovered around. Then it came right here where a group of people were standing. They didn’t have any weapons or arms of any sort. This area doesn’t have armed insurgents. They destroyed the place and shot at people, and they didn’t let anyone help the wounded.

WITNESS 2: [translated] I swear to God it was helicopters that attacked us. These people are all witnesses. They attacked us twice, not once.

RICK ROWLEY: Another resident went on to describe what happened to the man who tried to help the wounded.

WITNESS 3: [translated] The driver went to carry the injured, who had been shot in front of his eyes. While he was going to pick them up, the pilot of the helicopter kept flying above, watching the scene. They started firing at the wounded and the dead. The driver and the two children were also there. The helicopter continued shooting until none of the bodies were moving.

RICK ROWLEY: We asked the crowd of people what might have prompted the attack, and they said that when the journalist arrived, residents quickly gathered around him.

WITNESS 2: [translated] The group of civilians had gathered here because people need cooking oil and gas. They wanted to demonstrate in front of the media and show that they need things like oil, gas, water and electricity. The situation here is dramatically deteriorating. The journalists were walking around, and then the Americans started shooting. They started shooting randomly and targeted peaceful civilians from the neighborhood.

189

virgil xenophon 04.09.10 at 7:54 am

Here we go again. Another “The war was illegal” argument by assertion. By any standard of measure the war was both justified AND “legal”–whatever THAT means. Iraq was in so many violations of the Gulf War I cease-fire document that I’ve lost count–from firing at US and Allied patrol aircraft in the no-fly zones to failure to document disposal and disposition of stocks of chemical artillery warheads . There were some 14 Security Council UN resolutions threatening dire consequences for non-compliance, IIRC, And Congress authorized the President to use “All means available in a bi-partisan vote to green-light military operations. Just because some here think it SHOULD have been illegal doesn’t make it so.

Further, wasn’t the take-away–one of THE central take-aways of WWII–that France and England should have actively, forcefully, opposed Hitler’s re-occupation of the Rhineland? And that the UN’s Article 51 right of self-defense–collective and otherwise–strongly implied the right to take just such pro-active “preventative” steps using military force to keep “small” problems from growing into big, uncontrollable ones? Pray correct me if I am wrong..but wasn’t the pre-emptive use of force by Israel in 1967 to keep the assembling Arab armies from overwhelming that small nation thought by the civilized world to be entirely justified? In this day and age of hi-tech it’s a little late to wait until one can see the whites of Muhammad Atta’s eyes..

190

Martin Wisse 04.09.10 at 8:02 am

Not a war in self defence nor sanctioned by the UN = illegal war.

HTH. HAND.

191

Martin Wisse 04.09.10 at 8:03 am

And only a moron would still compare in this day and age the war on Iraq to WW2. But then you have to be quite the mouth breather to still support the war in 2010.

192

John Meredith 04.09.10 at 9:27 am

“The war and invasion were illegal, so any time the US, or the British, or the Dutch, or … kileld anybody in Iraq it’s murder, whether justified by rules of engagement or not.”

Not if those killings were not done in the course of the war. The current actions of the US in Iraq are, by any definition, legal, mandated by the elected Iraqi government and the UN. You may not think they should be there but I don’t think there is any question that they have a legal right to be there, unless you hold to some weird notion that Iraqi sovreignty can only reside in the person of Saddam Hussein, and I don’t think even he believed that.

193

Hidari 04.09.10 at 9:36 am

This thread, with its persistent trolling, reminds me of why I generally avoid the blogosphere nowadays, and why (normally) CT comments threads are head and shoulders above the norm.

However, some guidelines.

1: Anyone who, in 2010, defends the invasion of Iraq is a troll.

2: Anyone who attempts to defend the invasion by (implicitly or explicitly) stating that ‘we’ lost Vietnam and therefore ‘we’ must learn the lessons and win this time…..is a troll.

3: Anyone who defends the invasion by (explicitly or implicitly) putting forward the ‘Iraq is World War 2 and Saddam was Hitler, and if you opposed the invasion you are, essentially, a Nazi’….is a mega-troll.

Oh and anyone who denies that the war was illegal: don’t bother posting on blogs. Instead, why not write to Kofi Annan? He, the poor benighted soul, was under the impression that the war was illegal, and yet he ran the UN. I mean, what would the man who ran the UN know about the UN? Clearly, you all know better. You must write to him immediately (over and over again) to point out your own superior knowledge of international law. This is if you can find time, between writing to Roger Federer about your own superior knowledge of the rules of tennis, and phoning Tiger Woods to tell him exactly what he is doing wrong with his golf game.
Anyway I’m off skiing. Enjoy the shouting match.

194

Kevin Donoghue 04.09.10 at 9:39 am

I don’t agree with the line of reasoning which says that because the invasion was illegal there is no point in discussing whether these killings were murder. Even if this had happened in Michigan, where the right of the US government to rule is not in dispute, it would surely be wrong to open fire on a group of men with so little evidence that they were actually a threat.

195

Pete 04.09.10 at 10:22 am

If it’s an illegal war according to the UN, why is the UN taking no action on that basis?

196

John Meredith 04.09.10 at 10:24 am

Has anyone posted the rules of engagement on here? I would be interested to see them but haven’t time to read right through.

197

NomadUK 04.09.10 at 10:54 am

If it’s an illegal war according to the UN, why is the UN taking no action on that basis?

The great tragedy of the UN (and, of course, this was deliberate) is that, for almost all practical purposes, the Security Council — and, more specifically, its permanent members — is the UN. The fact that something is illegal makes little difference if any of the permanent members don’t want to discuss it.

But, of course, you knew that when you asked the question, and I really don’t know why I’m bothering to answer.

198

John Meredith 04.09.10 at 10:59 am

“and, more specifically, its permanent members — is the UN.”

That is not really the case is it? The non-permamnet members can make a lot of noise even if they cannot push anything past the veto if it comes to it.

199

Kevin Donoghue 04.09.10 at 11:42 am

Has anyone posted the rules of engagement on here?

I gather that detailed rules of engagement are generally classified so you’ll have to wait until Wikileaks gets them. Apparently they vary quite a bit according to local conditions.

200

Heur 04.09.10 at 2:22 pm

LaBonne @ 145, regarding whether a man seen at around 2:10 (full-version) was carrying an RPG:

Bullshit. You’re seeing what you want to see. And yes I have watched that segment repeatedly on full screen.

I don’t want to see or not see it. However the shape appears quite distinctive. That I can see what looks like an RPG on the video, that this was in an area controlled by hostile militia, and the site of an ongoing US operation, which was taking fire from small arms and RPGs, and that an RPG was recovered immediately thereafter by US ground forces (who were not involved in the helicopter attack, and so have no personal incentive to plant items), seems to me, cumulatively at least, to establish that the group probably did have an RPG. Keep in mind that this is summer 2007.

Henri @ 146 writes, regarding how we know about the context of the attack (the nature of the area, the ongoing operation, the attacks received over the last 4 hours, etc.)

How do you know all that?

It’s covered in David Finkel’s Q&A, a Washington Post reporter embedded with the ground unit involved in the operation that day. You can also find a description of it, called Operation Ilaaj I believe, in the Centcom report linked above. The nature of the neighborhood in summer 2007 would, I’d imagine, be reported elsewhere as well.

Henri also queries why the group was not worried about the Apaches, if they were insurgents: Still, how far could they be; is it really possible not to notice them? If you were an armed resistance fighter, would you ignore them and carry on as if they are not there?

Steven, @ 150, provides an excellent answer.

The equivalent to seeing helicopters above Baghdad would be hearing sirens in New York City. Also, keep in mind that at the low angle with which the group could see the helicopter, they may have suspected it to be involved elsewhere. Clearly, though, there was a perception of some danger within that group. The journalist very carefully peers around the corner to take pictures of American ground elements, and the men, though they directed him to the corner, do not peer around themselves (looking intently instead at the pictures the journalist took afterwards).

Much has been made of the second attack. I think it important to note that the pilot relayed, “picking up wounded AND weapons,” that we do not know what other information the officer may have been receiving at the time, or what else was observed with respect to the van. Unless it were clearly marked as an ambulance, I suspect the US forces were within their discretion to choose to engage (which is not to say they would have been wrong to choose NOT to engage). Noteworthy that the crew demonstrated close observance of known rules: they radioed for permission before each and every engagement; they did not fire upon a wounded man without a weapon. While some were taken by the urging of the crew for the man to pick up a weapon, the point here is that they followed the rule closely.

I still do not understand Americanist’s point regarding a court-martial.

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Salient 04.09.10 at 2:23 pm

In some sense, I don’t care about whether the war occupation is illegal so much as I care about the fact that the war and occupation were clearly at the time they were initiated, and clearly continue to be, wrong.

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Barry 04.09.10 at 2:41 pm

Pete 04.09.10 at 10:22 am

“If it’s an illegal war according to the UN, why is the UN taking no action on that basis?”

http://www.lmgtfy.com/?q=UN+Veto

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theAmericanist 04.09.10 at 2:44 pm

LOL — Salient: if you were as clever as you evidently think you are, you’d notice that most folks responding have engaged points I’ve made. You don’t — but it’s not because I’m obnoxious.

That’s your excuse for refusing to recognize when your intellectual bluff has been called. It’s pretty obvious, yanno.

HV — if you were paying attention, you’d have challenged your blithe assumption that by “assholes who are losing us the war” are the pilots. For one thing, the pilots are not always, much less generally, the officers who authorize firing various weapons. Psst — they have a different job, relating to the name of their job description: “pilots”.

This is the sort of thing that makes you guys ridiculous. You get simple, obvious stuff wrong, mischaracterize and distort (when you don’t outright lie) what people say — and then you have solipsistic arguments among yourselves about whether you are just all right or ALSO all-knowing.

I’m not defending the war. I never advocated for the war. I did say in this thread — and I didn’t have to be honest, I just wanted to set an example for you guys — that once Bush said Saddam had to go: he had to go. You guys may not much like that, but it is a radically different thing than defending the clusterfuck the war promptly became.

It is also directly related to the actual problems of the war, and of this incident, which somehow HV hallucinates is a change in my position or argument.

In fact — at least, for literate people — I’ve been completely consistent and reasonable in this thread, as elsewhere.

The failure to court martial anybody in this incident (and others) really is the key question. There are basically just two answers, I think (although I’m open to others if anybody can think of some): EITHER, despite WikiLeaks’ slanted take on this incident, it is so clear cut a legal shooting that the military FAIRLY and LAWFULLY closed the after action investigation, OR even though there is enough evidence (particularly in the second part, which I also noted way upthread) that a court martial should have been initiated, even though it is possible, even probable that the officer(s) would be acquitted, the military decided not to court martial anybody for reasons that are worth discussing.

None of you engaged these obvious insights. I don’t recall anybody even offered a reason why there has been no court martial. I referred to the question, I dunno, a half-dozen times? Nope — you guys are much more interested in bragging about how you understand this incident well beyond the actual evidence, and besides: the war is illegal anyway, and you can’t miss an opportunity to remind everybody how righteous you are for recognizing that.

Folks with an actual sense of perspective might have noticed that there are still American troops (among other countries) getting shot at, as well as shooting in Iraq, so there are practical moral questions which are not exactly engaged, much less resolved, by your circle jerk.

So I noted a second point: the failure (or inability, if you like) to court martial these guys is not only what is losing the war, it is also why we haven’t left.

I realize this is a subtle point, and you guys don’t do subtlety. (It’s not conducive to a circle jerk, I suppose.) But it’s not THAT difficult — as I pointed out, since the objective of the invasion was to knock off Saddam, we won the war long ago (as somebody other than I noted above: another example of Salient’s inability to recognize even the blindingly obvious — there have been a lot of folks in this thread responding to points I’ve made: Salient’s inability to do so says much worse about his capacity for substance than it does about my rhetoric). That sets the bar quite low for getting out.

And it begs some real questions: with a new President, who ran on the pledge to GET out — why haven’t we done it already?

I’ve noted the reason: to leave, we have to win. To win, we have to leave. You all may not LIKE that insight — but it happens to be inconveniently true.

And suddenly, the truth of my observation becomes clear, because it is the basic organizing principle of you guys in this thread: you would rather than America lose, than leave. You’re nowhere near as against the war as you think you are.

I expect that in the end — for real intellectuals, as opposed to academic knuckleheads — the difference is that responsible folks see the war in Iraq as a practical moral problem, rather than an opportunity to preen an already over-polished sense of self-righteousness as if killing and dying was mere philosophy.

For soldiers, it does not matter whether you or I or some ephemeral objectivity determines that the war is illegal. They are in harm’s way. That’s the practical matter. (That is why it also does not matter if Kvetch doesn’t feel safer that American soldiers are in Iraq. The truth is — whether he continues his insane denial or not — he is safer because American soldiers will go risk their lives where they are sent.)

So I asked the real moral question, which I note you guys have also ducked: the closer folks look at it (read the link @61), the more clear it is that you guys are all so many folks in the mezzanine, hollering that the second baseman missed the tag when the umpire with the best angle called the runner out.

So it really is simple: should a commander authorize lethal force when it MAY not be justified, or should he refuse and put Americans at risk when it MAY get them killed?

HV — the questions I’m asking are complementary, not contradictory, and they follow, one from another, the way you guys have consistently evaded 1) your own lack of knowledge, viz your inability to tell a shovel from an RPG , 2) your urge to be irrelevant, e.g., “the war is illegal”, and 3) your compulsion to self-righteousness (any of SLB’s posts), much less 4) the desire you have, which in its own way is far greater than mine, to mock those who ask you hard questions, viz. Salient’s reaction when I called his bluff.

I mock folks who EVADE hard questions — which I find a more sound approach: afflicting the comfortable, cuz that is often a more effective route to comforting the afflicted.

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Salient 04.09.10 at 2:55 pm

Henry — even insofar as you feel theAmericanist’s conduct to be sporting, I’d greatly appreciate it if you can get theAmericanist to knock off continuing to come after me here.

I just don’t have the time or energy to defend myself, and hell, if it seems like I’ve brought it upon myself, I acquiesce, I’ll happily accept a reciprocal ban, if that’s what it takes to ensure I don’t feel like I have to keep checking back to this thread to witness the next round of abuse I’ve taken.

I tried to play along. Didn’t work. Tried to ignore tA and engage others on the thread. Didn’t work.

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Brett 04.09.10 at 3:01 pm

Somebody asked about the rules of engagement — those in force at the time (and before, and after) are on the Collateral Murder website:

http://collateralmurder.org/en/resources.html

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Henri Vieuxtemps 04.09.10 at 3:09 pm

The truth is—whether he continues his insane denial or not—he is safer because American soldiers will go risk their lives where they are sent.

There is no doubt whatsoever that anyone living in the US, or abroad with the US passport, is in much greater danger because American soldiers will go risk their lives where they are sent (i.e. Iraq). It’s not even controversial.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/sep/25/usa.iraq

The [National Intelligence Estimate] report, Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States, points out the “centrality” of the US invasion of Iraq in fomenting terrorist cells and attacks. One section of the 30-page report, Indicators of the Spread of the Global Jihadist Movement, describes how the American presence in Iraq has helped spread radical Islam by providing a focal point for anti-Americanism.

Is this authoritative enough for you?

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Anderson 04.09.10 at 3:21 pm

I’d greatly appreciate it if you can get theAmericanist to knock off continuing to come after me here

Salient, why on earth do you care what that goofball writes about you?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 04.09.10 at 3:27 pm

I don’t recall anybody even offered a reason why there has been no court martial.

The only reason this particular incident has been publicized is that the Reuters agency is involved; Reuters people got killed there.

Incidents just like this one happen 50 times every day. If they court-martialed for doing this, in a couple of weeks they’d have no military.

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Anderson 04.09.10 at 3:30 pm

Incidents just like this one happen 50 times every day. If they court-martialed for doing this, in a couple of weeks they’d have no military.

“Like handing out speeding tickets in the Indy 500,” is the classic expression.

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theAmericanist 04.09.10 at 3:44 pm

HV, it really helps to develop a sense of perspective, especially right after people URGE you to do so.

Since you guys are soooo intellectually demanding, perhaps somebody could defend HV’s spectacular resort to the Fallacy of Accident: I noted that he is safer because American soldiers will go where they are sent. He replied: “There is no doubt whatsoever that anyone living in the US, or abroad with the US passport, is in much greater danger because American soldiers will go risk their lives where they are sent (i.e. Iraq). It’s not even controversial.”

For one thing, HV doesn’t seem to know the difference between “i.e.,”, that is to say, and “e.g.,” which cites an example. That American solders are in Iraq because they were sent there is an example. That American soldiers will go where they are sent is not limited to Iraq.

For another, a smarter person (or perhaps merely one with less education) would have considered what he meant before rejecting the idea that soldiers go where they are sent, and consider what it would mean that soldiers should refuse lawful orders.

Which gets us back (again!) to the question I keep asking: why haven’t we court martialed the assholes who are losing us the war?

LOL — see how it works, Salient? Ask the right questions, and engage people who say stupid stuff in reply — and you come back to the right questions.

HV has the peculiar idea that the reason no one has been court martialed for this incident is that it was … publicized.

I am most thoroughly impressed with his capacity to miss the point. That particular non sequitur approaches idiot savant quality.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 04.09.10 at 4:20 pm

“i.e.”, because Iraq is what we’re talking about.

before rejecting the idea that soldiers go where they are sent

Remember, you responded to Uncle Kvetch saying “You’re not making me any safer by being in Iraq.” with “…he is safer because American soldiers will go risk their lives where they are sent.

If your response was a sneaky attempt to change the subject, that’s your problem; I’m still on the subject.

HV has the peculiar idea that the reason no one has been court martialed for this incident is that it was … publicized.

No, you misunderstood. Try reading again, it’s not complicated.

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Heur 04.09.10 at 4:34 pm

Americanist,

As disturbing as the video is, I’m not sure I see-as someone who is not a military lawyer-a good reason to bring charges against any of the soldiers involved. Can you tell me what I’m missing?

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theAmericanist 04.09.10 at 4:42 pm

LOL — naa, the excuse that you mis-used the English language because you didn’t bother to read what you were reacting to doesn’t cut it: “he is safer because American soldiers will go risk their lives where they are sent…” says precisely what I meant. Nothing sneaky about it — at least, to somebody intelligent and honest enough to READ it.

That you’re both illiterate and opinionated doesn’t alter the meaning.

See, this is another old habit of the over-educated: you want to talk about a particular incident (which you misunderstand) to make larger points about the conflict (because you are oh-so-righteous in opposing it), AS IF the two are the same.

I keep pointing out that they’re not.

So HV promptly proves my point, by misusing ‘that is to say’ when what he meant (that is, if he’d had a clue) was ‘for example’.

This proves my point (again!) because in Iraq as a whole in 2010, much less in this particular incident, the practical moral problem is not resolved by the easy way you guys blur all distinctions except the ones that you make up, to show yourselves in the best light. I noted way upthread that even kibitzing imposes moral obligations — that you dislike the war in Iraq doesn’t relieve you of moral obligations for those fighting it, especially when (as in this thread) you’ve decided to accuse them of murder: ya bought the ticket.

Take the ride.

C’mon, HV. You can do it. Try starting a sentence with ‘I think there was no court martial in this incident because…’

You might consider a few clauses along the lines of ‘the factual evidence of the exchanges of fire that had occurred earlier that day in the area, the immediate risk to the aircraft and to American soldiers in the vicinity, and…’

Perhaps even one or two like: ‘but the second incident…’

Yanno, for folks who like to brag about your fearless intellectual self-awareness, you are awful reluctant to consider extensive evidence documenting the possibility that you’re willfully ignorant in order to be self-righteously wrong.

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theAmericanist 04.09.10 at 4:45 pm

Heur: I’ve consistently asked about the officer(s) who gave the order to fire, not the enlisted men.

Then again, if you don’t think there is any evidence that the soldiers involved did anything wrong, nor that the officers made any mistakes, given what they knew and when they knew it: you might also answer the moral question I keep asking — is it better to order a shooting that MIGHT not be justified, or NOT to order one, and get the soldiers who obey your orders (including not shooting) killed?

215

Jack 04.09.10 at 5:25 pm

Heur @ 1:44,

Yes, I did. Then I asked a combat Marine to look at it. His answer: “I don’t know what it is. Could be a shovel, could be a telescoping camera tripod. Probably not an RPG, since it has a very distinctive look.”

I don’t know what it is. I do know that a number of people reject the automatic assumption that it’s an RPG:

“Defense analyst Pierre Sprey, who led the design teams for the F-16 and A-10 and who spent many years in the Pentagon, stresses two particularly damning features of the footage. The first is the claim that Noor-Eldeen’s telephoto lense could be mistaken for an RPG. A big telephoto for a 35mm camera is under a foot and half at most. An RPG, unloaded , is 3 feet long and loaded, 4 foot long. These guys were breathing hard to kill someone.’ ”

http://www.counterpunch.org/cockburn04092010.html

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Henri Vieuxtemps 04.09.10 at 5:38 pm

@213
I am not overeducated. I did bother to read what I was reacting to; did you? I am not illiterate. I’m not righteous or self-righteous. I’m not misusing. I didn’t blur all distinctions except the ones that I make up. I didn’t brag about my fearless intellectual self-awareness.

OK, what’s left? Ah, yes: I think there was no court martial in this incident because there’s nothing remarkable about this incident. If they court-martialed for doing this, in a couple of weeks they’d have no military.

I’ve consistently asked about the officer(s) who gave the order to fire, not the enlisted men.

What “enlisted men”? I reckon both the pilot and co-pilot in these helicopters are officers.

217

Henri Vieuxtemps 04.09.10 at 5:51 pm

…oh, and also, please don’t lecture me about moral obligations. Remember, it’s you who is concern-trolling here (albeit clumsily) to whitewash mass-murder.

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Salient 04.09.10 at 6:30 pm

Salient, why on earth do you care what that goofball writes about you?

Used to get bullied about in school, and developed a thin skin to it that I haven’t outgrown and shed.

I’ll accept responsibility for being inappropriately oversensitive on the Internets, then, and retract my request to Henry, or whatever. The thread will get closed out in a week anyway and life will go on.

I am most thoroughly impressed with his capacity to miss the point. That particular non sequitur approaches idiot savant quality.

See, tA, this shows up immediately after you lecture me about the benefits I would obtain from engaging with you. To answer your question, yes, I do see how your bullying “works.”

219

Salient 04.09.10 at 6:55 pm

Also, Anderson, I was not completely out of line in making my request:

If your comments are blatantly racist, sexist or homophobic we will delete them and ban you from the site. The same goes for comments which are personally defamatory or insulting or which seek to derail a thread through provocation of one kind or another.

Maybe it’s fair to say that applies to me more than it does to tA, I can’t really be a fair judge of that. But I would note for the record that I do try to engage civilly with anyone who is civil, and theAmericanist doesn’t seem to particularly care what kind of pain he inflicts in my direction (or others’ direction); at least, perhaps he thinks that any harm done is fully warranted, and at worst, he seems to be taking pleasure in it, regardless of whatever topic is allegedly being discussed.

220

Kevin Donoghue 04.09.10 at 7:01 pm

Salient, it can be helpful to have in mind an appropriate picture of your interlocuter. If nothing else it ensures that you don’t have unreasonably high expectations from the discussion.

Henri is quite right that the helicopter was crewed by officers: chief warrant officers according to their statements. One statement suggests that they were about 800 metres from the Iraqis. That’s closer than Steven suggests upthread (and closer than I would have guessed). I think we can dismiss the notion that the Iraqis were unaware that they could be killed at any moment if the Americans perceived them to be hostile. In fact the Iraqis’ behaviour is quite consistent with the story of the local witnesses: they wanted to take advantage of the Reuters reporter to draw attention to the way their lives were being disrupted by the fighting. The thought that the Americans could view them as a threat doesn’t seem to have occurred to them.

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NomadUK 04.09.10 at 7:19 pm

One statement suggests that they were about 800 metres from the Iraqis. […T]he Iraqis’ behaviour is quite consistent with the story of the local witnesses: they wanted to take advantage of the Reuters reporter to draw attention to the way their lives were being disrupted by the fighting.

All of which is quite consistent with what I posted earlier, based on the muzzle velocity of the cannon and the statements made to a reporter by locals the day after the incident.

222

theAmericanist 04.09.10 at 7:38 pm

LOL — so Salient thinks he should be excused for joining in what amounts to a sort of mob accusing American soldiers of not just murder, but mass-murder, so he can work out his tender feelings from having been bullied in his youth?

Man up, already.

I could be wrong, but it is not my understanding that the pilots make the call on the tape. It is my understanding that the chain of command for the use of lethal force in Iraq, as in most dangerous situations, proceeds like, well, a chain: the guy at the bottom with any weapon, including just a rifle, is authorized to kill in self-defense, but is trained to ensure they understand genuine self-defense circumstances are extremely circumscribed.

Thus, contrary to all you guys seem to think about this incident and, evidently, many others, it is significant that they do not fire until they are authorized, in a process that moves up the chain of command and involves an assessment of the tactical intelligence available — which is, after all, why there is a video at all.

The pilots have multiple responsibilities in a case like this, notably to protect their crew by escape and evasion if fired on as well as to gather tactical intelligence. They are authorized to use lethal force — but (unless I misunderstand the evidence here), I don’t think they acted on their own authority, either.

Going too fast for you folks?

That’s why I answered Heur’s question about officers, rather than enlisted men. I have been considerably more humble and candid about what I don’t know than a rather long list of you guys, e.g., Salient (but hey! he does know he was bullied as a kid, which is obviously critical to a discussion about a lethal incident in Iraq), HV (who somehow “knows” that I’m whitewashing mass murder, when a literate person would have noticed that I’ve kept a very narrow focus: why no court martial in this case?), etc.

Just to be considerably more clear than is your habit — the issue isn’t the rank of the pilots, but whether they are the officers who authorized the use of lethal force, particularly in the second attack.

So as a thought experiment (you guys surely could do with a dose of both concepts in the term): what if when I noted in my first post (without laughing, only observing that you miss the point) somebody had actually responded to my question why no court martial, instead of skipping it to argue (as Salient promptly did) that America cannot win this war? (As noted, that led me to conclude that you guys aren’t as against the war as you claim to be: you’d rather that America lose, then leave.)

That’s what provoked me first to laugh, and then to mock you guys: it’s such an obvious question, and your collective evasion of it and the downright weird turns you will make to avoid recognizing how you confuse your self-righteousness with any factual perspective on this incident, or the broader issues of the war today, really is funny.

What if somebody had actually addressed the question the first (never mind the second and fifth) time I asked it?

LOL — Salient figures that I’m bullying him. Yet it never occurs to y’all that making every question about the war into a ritual for how many times informed people must bow to your superior opposition to it, YOU guys are the moral bullies?

And downright ludicrous at it.

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Ceri B. 04.09.10 at 7:43 pm

I second any request that the Americanist be invited to shove off, at least from this thread.

224

theAmericanist 04.09.10 at 7:46 pm

(low bow) Hot house flowers, in a cold and windy world.

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clod Levi-Strauss 04.09.10 at 7:54 pm

you’re all missing the point. The war is the crime.
Meanwhile life goes on ignored:

“US special forces soldiers dug bullets out of their victims’ bodies in the bloody aftermath of a botched night raid, then washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened, Afghan investigators have told The Times.

Two pregnant women, a teenage girl, a police officer and his brother were shot on February 12 when US and Afghan special forces stormed their home in Khataba village, outside Gardez in eastern Afghanistan. The precise composition of the force has never been made public.

The claims were made as Nato admitted responsibility for all the deaths for the first time last night. It had initially claimed that the women had been dead for several hours when the assault force discovered their bodies.

“Despite earlier reports we have determined that the women were accidentally killed as a result of the joint force firing at the men,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Todd Breasseale, a Nato spokesman. The coalition continued to deny that there had been a cover-up and said that its legal investigation, which is ongoing, had found no evidence of inappropriate conduct.”

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Heur 04.09.10 at 7:57 pm

Jack @ 215: Yes, I did. Then I asked a combat Marine to look at it. His answer: “I don’t know what it is. Could be a shovel, could be a telescoping camera tripod. Probably not an RPG, since it has a very distinctive look.”

Take a look at how the individual picks up the object from 2:21-2:24. It’s not a shovel.

Also noteworthy: the ground element reports almost immediately that they found an RPG round, at 19:20-19:22 in the full video.

I don’t know what it is. I do know that a number of people reject the automatic assumption that it’s an RPG: “Defense analyst Pierre Sprey, who led the design teams for the F-16 and A-10 and who spent many years in the Pentagon, stresses two particularly damning features of the footage. The first is the claim that Noor-Eldeen’s telephoto lense could be mistaken for an RPG. A big telephoto for a 35mm camera is under a foot and half at most. An RPG, unloaded , is 3 feet long and loaded, 4 foot long. These guys were breathing hard to kill someone.’ ”

The analyst should watch the video again. The soldier calls out RPG when the journalist is kneeling around the corner of the building; the soldiers have only a partial view of the lens extending from the corner of the building. Obviously they did not see the rest of it.

As far as the other object, I suppose we can agree that it could be mistaken for a RPG, then, even if we disagree as to the actual identification?

Kevin @220:

I suspect the helicopter was at least around 1200m away initially, at an angle of 15-30 degrees from the group. The group likely thought the helicopter was involved with whatever the ground elements were doing. Clearly the group perceived a danger from the American ground element, given that none peeked around the corner though they directed the journalist as to where to look, and the journalist himself was very careful to keep as much cover as possible while taking the pictures.

Given the reported ubiquity of helicopters over Baghdad, the distance of the helicopters, etc., I don’t think much can inferred. Keep in mind that this area had been the site of a 4 hour old US military operation, with small arms and RPG fire throughout. It would actually be bizarre if they thought that the Americans could NOT view them as a threat–and, again given their care regarding the ground element, I don’t think that’s a likely interpretation.

If you watch the rest of the video, there is a fair amount of chatter about maneuvers to cut off enemy personnel, and you can watch additional buildings being raided and attacked. The context of an ongoing combat operation in an area reportedly controlled by hostile militia, imho, is really vital to understanding the manner in which the helicopter crew viewed the group of men.

Kevin, I don’t know whether any of this is correct. But from the perspective of the helicopter crew, I think we can all easily understand why they believed what they did.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 04.09.10 at 8:01 pm

Personally, I apologize for not answering The Question promptly, and thus confusing my self-righteousness with any factual perspective, or the broader issues of the war today.

Won’t happen again. Peace? No hard feelings?

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theAmericanist 04.09.10 at 8:08 pm

HV — you guys are collectively chasing me out, e.g., Ceri. So I’m leaving. Yet the VERY NEXT POST confirmed the point I’ve kept making about the weird perspective so common here — “the war is the crime”, indeed. (About a different war, in fact.)

Heur notes (again!) that in fact the preponderance of evidence is that this particular incident was a legitimate act of war, particularly the first part.

I don’t engage in arguments like this over feelings — mine or someone else’s. I want to know if somebody can assemble evidence and argument to convince me I’m wrong.

Evidently you guys have a different motivation.

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Salient 04.09.10 at 8:12 pm

Congratulations, theAmericanist, you’ve single-handedly established a new standard for what level of aggressive behavior is condoned on CT. Goodbye now.

230

Substance McGravitas 04.09.10 at 8:18 pm

I don’t engage in arguments like this over feelings

Thus the absence of LOLs and ROFLs.

231

Alice de Tocqueville 04.09.10 at 8:37 pm

And here I was feeling guilty for feeding the troll yesterday!

Truly, Salient, you’ve no reason to feel the he deserves an answer anymore. It’s obvious that he is desperately seeking validation of some kind by staying here, engaging people he’s constantly saying aren’t worthy opponents. He’s destroyed his own point there. And he ignores points he doesn’t want to answer, busily complaining he needs HIS questions answered. All he has to fall back on is jingoism.

In my head I condemn soldiers for being tools, yet in my heart I know that they pay a horrible price for their mistake. A couple of times I helped set up a display of combat boots to remind ‘citizens’ (I always put that word in quotes because so few seem to care that they are) of the American lives sacrificed for the military. We affixed a name, rank, etc. and age of those who won’t come home to each boot; Gonzalez, 19; Herndon, 18; _____, 22; I wept the whole time (hours).

Not to mention those who return without the ability to engage in a discussion like this with what is left of their head.

We on the left tear ourselves up because we haven’t stopped it, but we have a president who was never elected, a self-serving Congress, and ‘citizenry’ that is muddled, misinformed and mute. Plus our opponents, not to say, ‘enemies’, don’t care what is moral (that would cost them money), don’t care what we say, or what the populace wants, and they own everything, including nuclear weapons, which they DO use ( ‘depleted uranium IS radioactive). Not an easy challenge.

But we can’t be silent.

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Salient 04.09.10 at 8:40 pm

For the record, I have not joined “any mob accusing American soldiers of not just murder, but mass-murder.” Insofar as the word “murder” can be used to denote any killing of a civilian, sure, these soldiers murdered people. If we’re insisting on using a phrase like “kill” or “shoot dead” instead — well, ok, I might respect that technical request and abide by it and retract my earlier colloquial use of the word “murder” IF THE PERSON MAKING THE TECHNICAL REQUEST HAD NOT BEEN BULLYING ME (AND OTHERS) ON THIS THREAD FOR DAYS NOW.

This is so unbelievably stupid. I’m sitting here at the computer with stuff to do, putting off obligations, writing and editing responses to theAmericanist (and to his accusations) that can’t possibly do me any good and then deleting them, for maybe the fifth time this week. That’s hours of my life lost to this. This is just so unbelievably unbelievably stupid and sad.

I guess I should just ignore it, but you know, the principal at the school where I used to teach said the same thing about the student who would chalk pictures of genitalia, together with epithets and perversions of my name, on my classroom door each morning, as I’d have to sit there and watch him do it, because the kid was on probation and they didn’t want to press charges because they couldn’t afford (in terms of graduation rates) to lose another kid to jail. “Yeah, look at that, mmhmmm. Do you want a suck?”

I seem to consistently find myself in a position where I’m supposed to just bow my head and ignore aggressive abusive people. It’s frankly hard to do, and not a terribly kind thing to ask of someone. (My sincere respect and admiration goes out to the rest of you who have done so quite well.)

I guess I’ll say this, theAmericanist. From the beginning I’d have seen your perspective on the war as understandable, though I’d mildly disagree about ‘needing to take out Saddam’ and whatnot. It’s your aggressive and provocative (in the sense of provoking a fight) tone, and not at all your underlying perspective on the war, which have caused so much harm to this thread. I feel like I got cowed and bullied into admitting that you have a reasonable underlying point. I feel like I could have been persuaded to accede much more readily, had you more respectfully posted your views, or had you at least initially demonstrated a gravity appropriate to this thread, which was not an appropriate place to giggle on for hours.

You’ve ruined my experience of the week, and you have single-handedly exhausted my trust that CT is a reasonably safe place to comment and participate as a community member. For all your complaints of being “chased out,” the option to exit is all *I* really have as the primary recipient of your aggression. The level of direct aggression you’ve sustained without moderator interference strikes me as unprecedented for CT, and clarifies a quite sharp revision to my understanding of the policies which govern our participation.

I hope that I may never encounter you again or hear from you again, theAmericanist, and reassure myself with the fact that you surely don’t have any of my identifying or personal information. You have validated my decision, long ago, to participate in online discussions through my nickname rather than my full name.

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virgil xenophon 04.09.10 at 9:13 pm

Easy, there Salient, or we’re gonna have to up your blood pressure meds.. :)

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Alice de Tocqueville 04.09.10 at 9:20 pm

Salient, I meant to mention that I think your imaginary dialogues were very good.

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Salient 04.09.10 at 9:37 pm

Easy, there Salient

I know, I’m sorry! I should’ve left off after #229. Felt good to type out though. Rereading it (at home now and less nettled), the only part I regret is potentially implying an imputation of Henry as moderator, which wasn’t intended, and which would be unjustified as well as ungracious of me. theAmericanist is responsible for his own [–] behavior.

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Kevin Donoghue 04.09.10 at 10:10 pm

NomadUK @221: indeed it was your link which brought me to to the local witnesses’ contemporaneous account – I should have acknowledged that. Obviously that evidence has weight because the people interviewed had no means of knowing what the helicopter crews saw, but their story fits the video very well indeed.

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Kevin Donoghue 04.09.10 at 10:42 pm

Kevin, I don’t know whether any of this is correct. But from the perspective of the helicopter crew, I think we can all easily understand why they believed what they did.

Of course I can understand why they believed what they did. They saw a group of men who were taking an interest in a firefight instead of keeping safely out of sight. They immediately thought “gotcha” but they were well trained and, following SOP, they set about making the case for opening fire before “lighting’em all up”. In that frame of mind they naturally saw what they wanted to see. Cops exhibit that mentality too sometimes, with the result that innocent people get locked up for crimes they could not have committed.

It didn’t occur to the aircrew that the Iraqis might be explaining to a reporter how the fighting was affecting their lives and taking him to a suitable point for getting pictures of the fighting. I’m sure I wouldn’t have thought of that either. If they had thought of that possibility, it would certainly have been easy for them to see how the Iraqis might feel safe in the company of a photographer, because Americans don’t make a habit of killing civilians accompanying newsmen just for the hell of it, do they?

On that level the story of the initial attack is simply one of a tragic failure on the part of the aircrew to visualise what the people on the ground might be doing and thinking. (The killing of the wounded man and his would-be rescuers is something else again; I’m not discussing that here, because I’ve nothing to say to anyone who would seek to justify it.) Like thousands of colonial policemen before them, they were on the lookout for troublemakers and, like thousands before them, they killed a bunch of natives who aroused their suspicions. Eric Blair would have understood their situation and their thinking very well. But discussion of the incident doesn’t have to stay on that level.

BTW, you remark on how careful the Iraqis become as they approach the corner where they could be killed by the ground troops. Is it really so noteworthy that Iraqis are not especially stupid?

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Heur 04.10.10 at 12:30 am

Kevin, without knowing the full context, i.e. what they were told to look for, what their experience of previous attacks has been, what the actual nature of the area was, WHY they were looking at that particular area, I don’t think we’re in any position to conclude that “like thousands of colonial policemen before them, they killed a bunch of natives who aroused their suspicion.” That’s quite an indictment of the soldiers in that helicopter, and it is made, in my opinion, not only without sufficient evidence to sustain it, but in the face of substantial contradictory evidence.

What we do know is that the helicopter crew saw things which, in good faith, appeared to be weapons and saw actions which, in good faith, appeared to be hostile towards American forces. We know that those weapons which were recovered from that group are not consistent with the interpretation that these were simply a group of men that wanted to show the journalists the American ground forces; and we know all the other details provided amply in the comment thread above regarding the nature of events that day. None of this justifies a narrative in which “colonial policemen” are simply out to “kill natives,” see some, come up with a pretext, and let loose, which is what your comment seems to imply. Am I misreading you?

Finally, regarding the attack on the van, I think we should hold our judgment in abeyance. While, as I understand them, the laws of armed conflict forbid one from intentionally targeting noncombatants, we do not know what additional information the officer who authorized the attack had, what the pilot of the Apache saw, etc. We should be unwilling to leap to quick judgments about a complex situation, many of the facts of which we are simply ignorant.

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Charles Peterson 04.10.10 at 6:12 am

theAmericanist:

“Basically, all we gotta do—is leave.”

Hey, I agree completely, at least with the last six words. But isn’t that Senator Aiken’s idea for Vietnam, with which you also seem to disagree? So what else is there to do, except just leave?

I like the Court Martial idea too. Who should be included?

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NomadUK 04.10.10 at 7:03 am

What we do know is that the helicopter crew saw things which, in good faith, appeared to be weapons and saw actions which, in good faith, appeared to be hostile towards American forces. We know that those weapons which were recovered from that group are not consistent with the interpretation that these were simply a group of men that wanted to show the journalists the American ground forces; and we know all the other details provided amply in the comment thread above regarding the nature of events that day. None of this justifies a narrative in which “colonial policemen” are simply out to “kill natives,” see some, come up with a pretext, and let loose […]

We know no such things, least of all the ‘good faith’ you impute to the men flying that helicopter. It’s an interesting term, which carries with it the connotation that the men are ‘good’ — not an impression I share.

All the evidence to date justifies precisely Kevin’s narrative.

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sg 04.10.10 at 10:15 am

Heur, Steven, et al. There are no gun laws in iraq. So a person wandering around with any weapon is not an insurgent by definition. A group of people standing around holding RPGs in Iraq does not count as insurgents. As others have observed, it’s funny to see the American right justifying murder in Iraq on the basis of a right they want Americans to have.

virgil, I see you’re still reading, I was amused by this:

Hesitation in combat can be fatal.

because that’s exactly what the helicopter crew did. They spent several minutes waiting for the men to gather in one spot so they could kill them all. This action was not justified by their fear for their fellow soldiers, and this fact is patently obvious from the video.

Finally, I would like to add my voice to the calls for theAmericanist to be banned. His manner is insulting and patronising in a way that I have never seen from any other right wing person on this blog (and boy, haven’t we all seen them!) If David K can be banned for being obstinate and obtuse, surely the people running this blog can ban this scumbag for being the stony end of humanity?

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theAmericanist 04.10.10 at 1:17 pm

LOL — since I’ve been asked a question…

But first, I’m not a right wing person. I have lefty credentials that are considerably better than most of you guys. It is a mark of how insular your discussions are, and how little real attention you pay to folks who aren’t echoes, that you’d think otherwise.

The Aitken solution to Vietnam wasn’t exactly a serious proposal, of course. He himself said it was far-fetched, and it was a measure of how desperate folks were in 1966 that people paid more attention to the first part “the United States could well declare unilaterally … that we have ‘won’ in the sense that our armed forces are in control of most of the field and no potential enemy is in a position to establish its authority over South Vietnam…” than to the second, which was that once US troops were gone, “political warfare” would resume in South Vietnam.

Which was the point. And it’s still the point that you guys keep missing.

To the extent there are parallels between the US war in Vietnam and either Iraq or Afghanistan, that’s where they line up — we leave, and they go back to misruling themselves. So long as they don’t invade Kuwait again (as Iraq did under Saddam, which folks seem to have forgotten), or bring bin Laden back and re-open al Qaeda training camps (remember them?), how they run their own countries is pretty much their own business.

But there is an obvious dissimilarity: as noted, what finally did in South Vietnam was not the internal rebellion of EITHER the Buddhists or the Viet Cong, but a heavy armor invasion from the North. That’s nothing like either Iraq or Afghanistan.

LOL — and for the record, as long as Salient is airing his childhood trauma, it seems worth noting the different ways we respond to correction. When somebody caught me for skipping a step and saying that there was no foreign invasion of Iraq, I just laughed @101: “ya got me.”

It is unsound both emotionally and intellectually, Salient, to drag your personal issues into a discussion of this kind. In fact, you are guilty of bullying to a far greater degree than I am, because you’ve essentially insulted tens of thousands of Amerian soldiers, and many millions of Americans, and when challenged, you’ve resorted to the most puerile sort of ‘don’t pick on me because I’m wrong’ snivelling.

On the court martial: there is a question of fact here. I do not know — and SFAICT, neither do any of you — who authorized the second shooting. I’m guessing that it was not an officer in the helicopter, that the procedure in this case (which seems pretty standard) is that the guys in the chopper asked for permission to fire, which was relayed to officers with access to tactical intelligence, who gave the order after review. It also seems likely to me that that review involved not only the camera from the helicopter, but also whatever reports were coming in from boots on the ground in the area, as well as the history of what had been going on in the vicinity over the past several hours — not to mention the general tactical course of the war.

Then again, I don’t know, so I could be wrong. But a pretty strong piece of evidence for my view is that nobody fired a round until they got permission.

So IF that’s more or less correct, and IF there was no intelligence to contradict what seems clear from the video, THEN it would be that officer (or officers) whom it would be useful to put on trial, most likely for the second shooting.

The reason I asked what HV has now acknowledged as The Question (even as he doesn’t answer it, cuz it’s too real for him), is that the goal in Iraq (and in a different way, in Afghanistan) really is to return the country to what Aitken described 44 years ago as “political warfare”.

And that is because it is unlikely that either country will be over-run by heavy armor, the way South Vietnam was. That is where the parallel with Vietnam as it actually happened does not apply (and why the Aitken solution was ultimately no solution at all, even when Kissinger renamed it “a decent interval”), because the attempt to return South Vietnam to political warfare was crushed by the NVA’s heavy armor.

But the lack of a court martial (even one resulting in an acquittal) in cases like this tends to make it more difficult for the US to win the war (Aitken’s definition isn’t bad, and of course we long since achieved our primary objective of knocking off Saddam).

That’s why I’ve noted from this thread — most especially from Salient’s narcissism, but he’s had lots of help (e.g., Ceri) with his preening — that it is more important to you guys that the US lose, than that we leave.

You’re not as against the war as you think, because it reassures you of your own self-righteousness.

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virgil xenophon 04.10.10 at 2:52 pm

sg-

Good point. I made a careless, over-broad and unqualified statement–although the underlying truth still applies. What I SHOULD have said is there is usually a”sell by” date/time for decision-making. A point beyond which any further Hamlet-like delay in taking action means risking the lives of one’s own troops in the sense that theAmericanist poses@214: Take action or no? In this instance, yes, the Apache crew had time –SOME time, at least–to both a) analyze and b) wait for all to neatly assemble. But they didn’t have ALL DAY. American ground elements were approaching down the street a few blocks away . Ultimately a decision had to be made to “fish or cut bait.” What if they had ignored the assembled group and one of the group proceeded to incinerate the crew of an approaching Humvee with an RPG? How would the decision to have “checked-fire” and abort any leathal action looked then?

What this video DOES demonstrate is the need for closer cooperation between the American forces and their Iraqi counterparts. Better integration of Iraqi advisor s/laison officers would possibly have helped to either a) avert this incident or b) confirm that the group were indeed valid targets, as the case may be.

This whole incident once again validating the accuracy of the phrase “the cruel calculus of war” i.e., the inevitable, eternal question of how many of “their” lives are worth how many of “ours.”

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Heur 04.10.10 at 3:19 pm

@ sg:

My information is that Iraqis in that area were restricted from carrying arms, though they were permitted to keep ONE weapon at home. I strongly doubt they were permitted to possess, much less carry, RPGs. If you think about it, it would be remarkable if, during a counterinsurgency in an urban environment, the open carrying of arms were allowed.

@ Nomad: I’m sorry, I see almost nothing that would justify Kevin’s narrative, although I agree that it’s possible for it to be true, and I’m sure we all disagree in good faith. I think part of the problem may be that, having made a cognitive commitment to what happened after watching the short, well crafted Collateral Murder video, it is difficult for some to reset one’s viewing with new contextual facts in mind. The mind prefers to hold to the initial narrative, and discounts information that conflicts with it. This is the only explanation I have for why so many in the thread above seem to not fully grasp the importance of the information concerning the neighborhood and the nature of events that day.

@ Americanist: I’m curious as to why you think the U.S. is “losing” in Iraq, given the improvements that have occurred since the aggressive operations of 2007, BUT that’s highly tangential to this issue.

On the question of court martial, I presume the investigator had access to the ROE in place for that operation. In addition to the factors you mentioned, there would also the question of how forces distinguish noncombatant rescuers from insurgents who may be engaged. I’d think that distinctive markings for rescuers would play a large role in that. Perhaps, since the law of armed conflict is designed primarily for wars between nations, with uniformed personnel, issues of identification become particularly tricky in the context of a counterinsurgency; and consequently an application of the LOAC may not be straightforward.

Given what we do know about the context, I suspect the finding would be that the call was reasonable at the time, which means that the issue, if there is one, is with the ROE in place at the time. If the military wished to tighten the ROE to prevent questionable calls like that, that might be a more appropriate response than a court martial.

As one commentator knowledgeably points out, a tightening of ROE would be consistent with certain aspects of COIN; and once a certain point is reached in the campaign, that may be important to achieving the desired end-state. However, to my mind this is highly dependent on the individual situation. Speculating entirely, I would think that where attacks are sporadic, and damaging primarily in the civilian casualties caused by the response, ROE should be tight. Where an area is not controlled, and attacks are frequent, then looser ROE should probably be used, as the priority would be to diminish an adversary’s existing capability. But I defer completely to those with far more knowledge on this than I have.

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sg 04.10.10 at 3:54 pm

xenophon, self-serving twaddle. that gunship gave those guys plenty of time to separate, take up combat positions, and cause trouble. It waited for a particular moment – when everyone gathered.

heur, if only one person had an rpg, why did the gunship crew wait for all of them to gather, including the identifiable press guy, before firing? It could have killed the rpg guy straight away. They were waiting to maximise the kill, i.e. to maximise the collateral damage.

self-serving arguments to justify murder are never very endearing. It’s okay lads, occasionally admitting that your soldiers did a bad thing doesn’t make you a traitor.

theAmericanist, you are the most obnoxious, arrogant, unpleasant person I have ever seen on the internet. You really are a nasty piece of work.

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theAmericanist 04.10.10 at 3:55 pm

That seems reasonable, although it sorta begs the question why the Pentagon tried to hide this rather than release its own bad news — which is precisely the habit that I think is causing us to lose the war.

Suppose (this will all be speculative) that this was a complicated, murky situation where the immediate intelligence for the Iraqis on the ground was that they were dangerous, but a second look would have made that uncertain, while other information sent from Americans on the ground in the area was telling the officer making the call that that the general situation in the area meant the safe call was to kill them — at least, in the first shooting.

Having opened fire once, the second order to fire gets easier — and yet all of the (let’s say) three levels of intelligence make it less certain: the Iraqis on the ground look a little less surely dangerous (the van), a second look maybe says there isn’t such an immediate risk to Americans (nobody has run out heroically to aim the RPG, er, shovel), and the American commanders on the ground aren’t being shot at right then — or perhaps they ARE, but from a different direction, so in either case they’re not helping with the decision that Some Officer has to make for the second order to fire.

As you say, the Rules of Engagement might have been too loose for the tactical situation as it apparently existed from the available evidence — but (let’s say) everything about both incidents was entirely within the Rules. That still leaves the actual decision to open fire up to Some Officer.

Like I said upthread, I’m not at all sure that any court martial must be a whitewash and (unlike Salient, I think it was) I regard the fairness of a trial more important than the perception of it, particularly when (as he was) you’re talking about the perception of our enemies.

Supposing the guy was put on trial, and he actually answered the question I posed as the central moral issue: it’s not hard to imagine an officer saying — the Rules of Engagement gave me discretion to decide that I’d rather that I was judged by 12 than walk behind some of my guys carried by 6 — so I gave the order to fire.

It’s also not hard to imagine that a court martial would review the intelligence, and conclude that the preponderance of evidence is that the guy made the right call.

And then — as you point out — the military might well revise the Rules of Engagement. There would be much talk, but what’s more important than the kibitzing would be the vivid example that 1) America takes our ideals seriously enough to put ‘em on trial, 2) the guy was acquitted, and 3) that’s precisely the example of accountability and an impartial judiciary we want to set for Iraq’s future.

Which are three BIG steps toward leaving — which is how we win.

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theAmericanist 04.10.10 at 4:33 pm

LOL — yanno, after reading that I’m the “stony end of humanity” and a “nasty piece of work”, I’m just gonna repost what I said @ 108:

theAmericanist 04.07.10 at 6:49 pm
LOL —aw, Salient: you accuse American soldiers of murder, but you’re upset cuz I laugh at you when you won’t answer a simple question? When you take yourself sooooo seriously, that laughing at YOU must be the same as laughing at killing?

Something to bear in mind: not just lots and lots of Iraqis have been killed in this war. A fair number of Americans have, too.

I’ve had family there. God forbid any of ‘em should fire a shot they shouldn’t have.

And God save ‘em if they don’t fire one, when they needed to.

Salient: grow the fuck up.

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Heur 04.10.10 at 4:48 pm

@ sg: the gunner wanted to fire immediately upon seeing (what he thought was) an individual pointing a RPG at the American ground element; the pilot stated to wait, as the gunner did not have a clear shot at the individual with (what they thought) was a RPG. In the view of that crew, all the individuals in that group were insurgents; keep in mind that they firmly believed that they just witnessed one of them firing a RPG at the American ground element. You may also want to look at Centcom’s report to which I linked at @75. It contains still photographs of the men carrying a RPG, a RPG round, and rifles (Exhibit B); it also contains a brief summary of events, which includes the expectation that there would simply be very few, if any, noncombatants in the area (on pdf page 12) for reasons which are not described. I do not know if those expectations were correct, of course, but they would shape the manner in which the soldiers evaluated the observance of a group of men, some armed.

@ Americanist: If the decision does not violate LOAC and is within ROE, then what basis is there for charges? If the intent is to use the military justice process simply as public diplomacy, and as a vehicle for stimulating discussion about ROE, then I’d say neither end is well served by the military justice process, and to be honest I think it would be an abuse of that process.

I think the moral question you raise is an interesting one, though.

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Salient 04.10.10 at 4:56 pm

Henry, if you consider theAmericanist’s conduct on this thread to be within the bounds for contributions to a CT thread, please post a comment which says so. It would be nice to know your perspective on this explicitly, rather than have to guess at it from your absence on this thread and continued participation on others.

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Salient 04.10.10 at 5:03 pm

I kinda thought I could safely leave this thread for the weekend and put it behind me. Please note that after others attacked him, theAmericanist decided to repeat an attack against me. It’s very hard for me to comprehend this as appropriate behavior on CT, and I’d at least like confirmation that it’s something to anticipate in the future.

Also, Henry, I am regretful making a request which cuts into your time and is surely unpleasant to deal with, as well as for any contributions I’ve made to the mess in the posts above, which is surely nontrivial.

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theAmericanist 04.10.10 at 5:12 pm

Heur: you’re probably right that it would be an abuse — but the key to the “if”, as I understand it, is a set of facts that are not entirely visible to the public record.

I am presuming — but at least I am doing it openly — that those facts are at least sufficiently murky for the second attack that Some Officer could be put on trial for them.

So maybe the place to draw the line is that it WOULD be an abuse to have in effect a sort of fair show trial: where the facts and the law are so clear that an acquittal is certain, but you have the trial anyway.

But I don’t think this is a case like that, because of the murkiness of the facts (or more precisely, the tactical intelligence available at the time) for the second attack, and the discretion for Some Officer.

What bugs me about this thread (besides the usual gratuitious personal attacks, which I recognize that I provoke cuz I mock folks when I find their self-righteousness funny), is how resolutely these guys resist focusing on ACTUAl questions that aren’t designed and arranged to reinforce their self-righteousness.

Making your vision of your own self-righteousness the sole perspective cannot be a good idea in a war.

Daniel Ellsberg famously said about Vietnam, IIRC, that he considered it first a distraction, than a problem, and finally a crime. These guys start with the idea that Iraq is a crime, and won’t be distracted into the REAL moral issues — which all focus on problems: the most important one being how the US gets out, which IMNSHO requires winning — yet all winning really requires, is leaving.

Rejecting that is a profoundly irresponsible perspective, especially for folks who pride themselves on intellect.

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theAmericanist 04.10.10 at 5:19 pm

Oy — Salient: I re-posted what I said at 108 because it is typical of what you and others have found so distasteful — I invited you bluntly to grow up.

I realize you find that unpleasant: but it is still good advice.

I also noted that I’ve known people killed in Iraq. I’ve had family deployed there, and have a nephew who is quite likely to be deployed shortly to either Iraq or Afghanistan.

So the two prayers I posted in 108 — that God forbid any of ‘em ever fired a shot they shouldn’t have, and if they ever don’t fire a shot when they needed to, God save ‘em — are not abstractions.

They also set up precisely the moral question that is central to this whole thread, as well as issues much broader than we’ve talked about here.

Yet all you can see is… you.

Typical: and another instance of why what I am saying to you is very good advice, and long over due.

GTFU.

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Arif 04.10.10 at 6:03 pm

Given
– all the context for why the people firing believed as they did and why the rules of engagement are as they are
– that the results witnessed through the video only came to light through a combination of chance and fanatical campaigning
– were it not for Reuters staff being among the casualties, those dead would still be counted (if at all) as insurgents fighting (what they see as) occupation

It seems fair to assume that far more civilians are being killed (by mistake, in good faith) by the US army than they themselves realise, let alone the wider public.

I also expect this to continue because of familiar processes by which we are invited to move through a multiplicity of self-presentations:
– we are the injured party
– we are responding to an irrational force and only using violence as a last resort
– we are using targeted violence which tries to spare the innocent
– the “innocent” who are killed bear some responsibility as we warned them in some way not to be where they were, or they should have realised the danger they were putting themselves in
– all this concern for the innocent… do you think the other side cares as much as we do? By making it a consideration we give them a tactical advantage and an incentive to use human shields
– we are killing fewer innocent people than would die if our opponents were in charge

I think it is within this discourse that the rules of engagement seem to end up in it not mattering who you actually kill and how, so long as you believe in your own good faith/intentions.

More cosmopolitan discourses which assume (for example) that legitimising such arguments for one side also legitimises the same arguments made by its opponents, or that an Iraqi life and an American life lost in war are equally to be mourned are probably the ones which find this video and its implications more disturbing.

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Henry 04.10.10 at 6:04 pm

theAmericanist – speaking of growing up, I think it is time for a time-out. You’re banned from commenting on threads here for the next 72 hours (i.e. until 2pm ET Tuesday), and I expect you to be calmer and more considerate to your fellow commenters when you come back. Any efforts to post in the interim will be considered grounds for a permanent ban.

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Heur 04.10.10 at 6:08 pm

@ Americanist and Salient: Leaving aside the question of who is right or wrong in the above thread, perhaps you can agree that, going forward, here or elsewhere, an effort will be made to avoid personal attacks and comments? Surely that would make for a better discussion.

@ Americanist: These men were placed in a situation where they are forced to make difficult judgment calls in sometimes ambiguous circumstances. I don’t think it fair to charge them criminally when it looks like things might be murky, so long as the decisions are within their sphere of discretion. I also don’t think it conducive to encouraging better decision-making.

Leaving aside the question of what counts or doesn’t count as “winning,” I’m less certain than you are that some type of total withdrawal would be good for anyone.

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Salient 04.10.10 at 6:28 pm

perhaps you can agree that, going forward, here or elsewhere, an effort will be made to avoid personal attacks and comments?

Certainly.

(It’s probably also fair not to ask tA questions on this thread, or discuss him further, given what Henry said.)

To answer your question posed earlier, I think it’s entirely

I haven’t called for (or at least I haven’t intended to call for) some specific trial of these soldiers, which I think would be scapegoating. I am willing to accept the statement that this sort of attack happens in war and occupation, though I’m still pretty chilled about them lighting up the van. But I’m not willing to accept this as a specific argument for the innocence of these soldiers in this situation, unless we extend the claim as a powerful additional justification for ending this particular war and occupation.

Either this kind of thing is categorically unacceptable for occupiers to do during an occupation, and garners court-martial with life sentences, or this kind of thing is conditionally acceptable during occupation, which ought to immediately raise severe limitations on what kinds of occupations can be justified. I’m kind of willing to bow in either direction, at least for the purposes of discussion, as to how we interpret this incident. If the soldiers committed an act of murder, they ought to have been, and still ought to be, prosecuted (or court-martialed) accordingly. If this is instead an act of war (or of occupation) for which the soldiers bear no individual responsibility, then it’s all the more reason this war and occupation of Iraq needs to end immediately.

In particular, this incident puts a severe burden^1^ on anyone who would attempt to justify our continued presence in Iraq; they have to put forth a compelling argument that convinces us (us broadly speaking) that the benefits derived from occupation justify the regular occurrence of horrendous events like this one.

If we’re going to use cost-benefit analysis to determine whether this war and occupation are “worth continuing,” then the proposed fact that incidents like this one will happen regularly should count as a tremendous weight in the cost column.

^1^I guess more technically, this incident exemplifies the severe burden inherently and automatically placed on those who would justify the war in Iraq and argue that the U.S. ought to continue its occupation… I am aware this is not the only time in history that an incident like this has occurred.

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David 04.10.10 at 6:46 pm

Now that theAmericanist is gone, can someone sum up the moral of this thread?

My vote is that if you find yourself writing posts composed of LOLing and ROFLing personal attacks that construe the understandably angry and indignant reactions of other commenters to a graphic video of senseless killing as “self-righteousness,” you should pause and reflect on how you might be failing, at life.

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Heur 04.10.10 at 7:34 pm

@ Salient: My last post crossed with Henry’s; I didn’t see his until after I submitted mine.

As to the broader question of occupation, I’m not sure the video adds much. Leaving aside what I view as the irresponsible spin that Wikileaks has put on it, the video doesn’t provide us with much new information in this respect. There are estimates available for the number of civilian casualties, and this video does not affect them. As I learn more about this, Wikileaks release of this strikes me as increasingly sensationalist, designed more to attract attention to Wikileaks as an organization than actually add to any public discussion.

For all the horror of that video, the decision to increase the number of troops in Iraq has had the effect of dramatically reducing violence there. Those larger numbers are what is necessary for an accurate appraisal of whether the US chose correctly in staying involved in Iraq.

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David 04.10.10 at 7:42 pm

Ace trolling, theAmericanist. You’re the Red Baron of trolls. You’ve made Americanneocon look good. Congratulations, for being the most contemptible ass on this site since Abb1.

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Arif 04.10.10 at 8:00 pm

The moral question the Americanist poses as central (shoot and risk them, not shoot and risk us) arises from both being in a position where people in all the way in Iraq want to fight American soldiers who want to fight them. Maybe that’s why people focus on a very different question about whether the war was legal, therefore implying that the American soldiers should not be there, in which case the central moral question their colleague face would not arise.

If it really were only a moral question, rather than also an institutional and discursive/legal one, then the soldiers in US helicopter gunships could also legitimately target other US soldiers who pose a potential danger to Iraqis (whether insurgent or civilian) just as legitimately as they target Iraqis who pose a potential danger (to soldiers or to civilians). But this moral question does not arise.

If we imagined someone in a US gunship taking such a moral decision, targeting US soldiers to save the lives of Iraqis, it would be more than just a case for a court martial and I doubt theAmericanist would pray for them in having to make these tough moral decisions. It’s unjustifiable in terms of wider discourses which have already seemingly settled the question of the identities and moral value of goodies and baddies and appropriate behaviour within an army.

And our discourses can make almost any action towards Iraqis justifiable as long it can be interpreted as within formally defined rules of engagement by the very institution whose members undertake it: the US army. The army’s legal framework, technologies, strategies and political objectives create the tactical/technical decisions which face gunship operator, and in the video they do not appear to interpret it as a weighty moral decision (as theAmericanist does) .

So I’d suggest, at the very least, such decisions (on acceptable rules of engagement in Iraq, and whether or not these rules have been breached by the US army) should be a matter for the Iraqi government. That at least would be consistent with any discourse that this is not an occupation, but security action undertaken on behalf of a sovereign State (defined as the power which claims a monopoly on legitimate violence within its territory).

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JJ 04.11.10 at 12:46 am

No, the relevant moral question is that, since the invasion and occupation of Iraq was immoral to begin with, is anything the American occupiers do to consolidate the occupation moral? Or, is anything the Iraqi resistance does to defend their country and evict the occupiers immoral? Rolling on the floor and laughing at the people who disagree with your self-righteous and irresponsible misrepresentations of the innocence of soldiers ordered to commit atrocities for the benefit of their military and civilian superiors is just another pathetic example of your own ignorance and immorality. A blatant attempt to intellectually intimidate anyone who disagrees with you.

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Henry 04.11.10 at 1:03 am

TheAmericanist – we have pretty straightforward rules here – and pretty straightforward solutions for those who deliberately flout them. You are now permanently banned from Crooked Timber. Any further posts from you will be deleted on sight. Goodbye.

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Kevin Donoghue 04.11.10 at 10:23 am

Heur@238

I don’t think you can deny that the Apache crews killed a bunch of natives who aroused their suspicions. That’s just a fact. So I suppose what’s bothering you is that I liken them to colonial policemen. But their function is essentially the same as that of the RAF pilots who flew biplanes in Iraq in the 1920s, in what is commonly called a colonial policing role. The moral and tactical problems which they face are similar in many ways.

It’s not a very good defence of the army’s conduct to say that we are ignorant of many of the facts, the context, the complexity of the situation, etc. It’s no thanks to the army that we have the facts we do. To the extent that the army has released information it has done so as a damage-limitation PR exercise rather than to facilitate informed debate. That’s usually the way with armies. An appeal for trust smacks of chutzpah when combined with a policy of starving critics of information.

You mention good faith and you imply that the Apache aircrew exhibited it throughout. I don’t agree. Here’s part of the testimony of the CW3 who played the central role in this incident:

LTC: The van comes up, you engage it. Did you acquire or see at any time the size or shape of people in the van?
CW3: I saw, when they opened up the doors, three to four individuals. I saw them go in and out, extract the personnel and weapons and carry the guy back to the van. I did clear the individuals in the van.
LTC: Did you see anything in the van?
CW3: I couldn’t see inside the van, but they ran around right after I had seen them extract weapons and individuals.
LTC: As you saw on the tape, they didn’t have any weapons. So, what drove you then? What threat made you want to engage the van?
CW3: Well the friendlies were 300 meters away and from the initial report that a black car, sedan had been coming in and dropping off insurgents, taking them out, moving to different locations. That was my whole thought process.

Some of the jargon here is new to me. Presumably “clearing” people is a euphemism for shooting them. What is clear, in the more usual sense of the word, is that the CW3’s initial story was that the van driver and those who helped him carry the wounded man were picking up weapons. He says he actually saw this. When it is pointed out that his story doesn’t square with the tape, he refers to a different vehicle. I’ll accept that he was honestly confused about the two cars, but it’s overdoing charity to believe he really saw weapons being carried to or from the van, as he initially claimed. The driver and the people who assisted him didn’t live long enough to pick up any weapons, even assuming they wanted to. He knew that.

I don’t know this CW3 and I’m not passing any judgement on him beyond the fact that he clearly lied under oath and AFAICT his taped transmissions made the case for killing that group of men seem much more compelling than it appears on the video. Your preferred assumption, that all the Americans involved should be presumed to have acted in good faith unless we have compelling evidence to the contrary, is (by implication) an assumption that the Iraqi witnesses were lying. But the tape matches the Iraqis’ story rather better than the Americans’ one.

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NomadUK 04.11.10 at 3:46 pm

Your preferred assumption, that all the Americans involved should be presumed to have acted in good faith unless we have compelling evidence to the contrary

Said assumption seeming rather difficult to justify given that US involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq has been one lie after another from the very beginning.

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Heur 04.11.10 at 4:20 pm

Kevin:

You write I don’t think you can deny that the Apache crews killed a bunch of natives who aroused their suspicions. That’s just a fact. So I suppose what’s bothering you is that I liken them to colonial policemen.

This implies that the sole relevant factors in the soldiers’ decision to engage was (1) the individuals were Iraqis and (2) the soldiers had “suspicions.” Such a representation paints the decision as one driven by some overarching opinion of Iraqis and some vague, generalized suspicion of Iraqis; this representation is strengthened by your comparison to “colonial policemen.”

It’s unquestionably an indictment of the soldiers, and, more importantly, it’s completely false. It’s not that they were simply Iraqis, but that they were in an area where noncombatants were not expected, in an area controlled by hostile militia, in an area which was the scene of a 4 hour long combat operation, were armed, and were moving toward American ground elements that had been taking fire.

As to the CW3’s statements, I think you’re raising a separate issue: was he forthcoming during the interview. With respect to the engagement itself, however, are the transmissions we heard during the engagement, and what we saw on video. Based on that alone, and known context, they were acting in good faith during the engagement.

Turning to the CW3 statements anyway, I think you also mischaracterize the small excerpt above. The LTC asked the gunner what he saw; he answered very briefly, describing the entirety of the engagement with the van: individuals got out, got in, extracting personnel and weapons, and they engaged. THEN the LTC noted that, appearing to refer to the sight of the individuals as they exited the van, that they didn’t have any weapons, and asked the gunner what threat was perceived that made him want to engage; and he answered. There’s nothing that indicates deception. The questions are possibly less clear than they could have been.

Finally, as to the self-proclaimed witnesses featured on the Democracy Now! show, they made statements which are clearly false based on the video. They claimed that there simply were no armed insurgents in the area, a fact which is belied by the fact that American forces were taking fire before and after the videotaped engagement; they claimed that none of the men were armed, which is shown false by the videotape itself and by pictures taken immediately after by American ground forces upon arrival; they claimed that the body we see being run over by a vehicle was alive and moving, and was cut in half, which is yet another falsehood. Consequently I am inclined to trust what we saw on the videotape, reports as to the larger context of the operation, and pictures of the aftermath. The witnesses featured on the Democracy Now! show are completely lacking in credibility in light of these obvious falsehoods.

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Kevin Donoghue 04.11.10 at 7:55 pm

Heur,

IANAL, but according to any definition I have ever seen an indictment charges a person with a crime. It’s not a crime to be a colonial policeman and I’m not indicting anybody. When I say that the Apache crews are acting as colonial policemen I mean that they have the job of imposing order and the power to do so by punishing troublemakers swiftly and brutally, without much formality in the way of court hearings and suchlike. Also, they answer to a great power and not to a nominally sovereign client government. It merely rules the natives. The Wikileaks video is a good example of colonial policing in action. A group of men are accused of being insurgents. Of course nobody actually tells them this. On the say-so of an airborne Chief Warrant Officer, in consultation with a ground commander, the accused are tried, convicted and executed in a matter of minutes. As I’ve already pointed out, the RAF did much the same sort of thing using biplanes in the 1920s. Certainly it’s highly relevant that the victims are Iraqis and not American citizens. That’s what makes colonial policing different from the activities of the NYPD.

If by “indicting” them you merely mean that I’m saying that they have “a case to answer” morally speaking, of course I’m saying that. Do you seriously dispute it? As I pointed out before, if a militia took control of a town in Michigan it would surely be wrong to open fire on a small gathering with so little evidence that there was actually a threat. So why isn’t it wrong in Iraq? The fact that the Apache crew probably broke no US law, military or civilian, doesn’t mean that it was morally right to kill as they did. If the objective had merely been to protect the ground forces, the Apaches could have scared the suspects away by firing a few warning rounds. That wasn’t the idea. Nobody was much interested in capturing them either, AFAICT. As the circling helicopters appeared to ignore the men, they were lulled into a sense of false security. Then they were wiped out in a surprise attack. The Black-and-Tans or the French Foreign Legion would probably have done much the same thing with more primitive technology, but that’s no recommendation.

I’ll tell you what: if the US army ever does anything like that to a group of US citizens, I’ll post a comment on CT apologising to the Apache crew and saying it’s not colonial policing, it’s just the American Way.

You have pretty well confirmed my impression, that your repeated demands for charitable interpretation of a complex situation, with due regard for context and so on and so forth, apply only to the Americans. The trial of the alleged insurgents, presided over by CW3, reached a fair verdict and the Iraqis are obviously lying, so you say; the dead, or some of them, were surely insurgents. You recite the army account as if it were the Gospel. The “context” comes from that unimpeachable source. The indistinct blobs on the video are whatever the army deems them to be. The photo of an RPG, in which the RPG is unfortunately blocked out is, despite appearances, a photo of an actual RPG. The RPG’s Real Presence persists, beneath the rectangular “redacted” blot. The fact that the “RPG” which the pilot actually spotted was in fact a camera does not undermine these claims. Duly noted. I’ve made it clear that in my view the weight of evidence supports the Iraqi account. But quite likely both sides are lying about some things; that’s the usual case in a conflict like this.

As to the sworn enquiry, I hope I’m not doing the CW3 an injustice. But as I read it, he told the LTC that he saw the van driver (and the men who assisted him) carrying weapons; when the LTC put it to him that his account was inconsistent with the tape he gave a rambling response, neither withdrawing that claim nor defending it (see my previous comment). To me it seems that he claimed to see something which, in fact, he did not see; i.e., he lied. But in fairness I suggest that interested readers look at the document and the video and make up their own minds.

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virgil xenophon 04.11.10 at 10:03 pm

Kevin Donoghue@266.

“Nobody was much interested in capturing them either,AFAICT.”

There could be several reasons for this, KD, most of them having to do with the very voluble, heavy, sustained public criticism the left has made of US prisoner/detainee interrogation tactics and the increasingly cowed response to this by both the Bush and the Obama administration via increasingly treating such people as we see in this video as common criminals to be “mirandized” and read their “rights” on the battle-field, thus eliminating any usefulness they might have in providing intelligence. The until just recently modified “catch and release” policy of releasing such detainees within hours of capture without “sufficient” evidence that would in effect stand up in a court of law, (the kind of evidence normally obtained by a leisurely civilian-style CSI-like crime-scene investigation–a physical impossibility on the battlefield) only to see the released “detainees” return to the battlefield to kill and maim and create general mayhym has served to create a highly bitter and cynical fighting force at the “boots-on-the-ground” level among those at the tip of the spear.

Normally, commanders take great pains to emphasize the taking of battlefield prisoners as they can be invaluable for intelligence purposes. Historically the only time such protocols/SOPs have been ignored by the rank-and-file was during WWI and in the WWII Pacific campaign where often the attacking US/ALLIED forces lacked the manpower to transport prisoners to the rear without seriously weakening their own remaining forces (on ground just bitterly attained with the sacrifice of the lives of many of their comrades) to counter attack. The historian Martin Gilbert points out that outright killing on the spot of surrendered opponents (POWs) by the many hundreds for this reason was common on both sides during WWI in the obscene carnage that was the Western Front. Lacking this motive, the reluctance to take prisoners can be explained easily by the “catch and release” policy developed under pressure from the left if the well-documented heated complaints of the soldiers who must carry this policy are to be believed. (Just Google “catch and release”) . So in many respects, KD, a great deal of the blame for the “disinterest” of US troops in taking prisoners must fall at the feet of those on the left. Risking one’s life to capture someone shooting at one–only to see him released and return to the battlefield to try to kill oneself again–evidently (judging from their published comments) leaves a bitter taste in many of the mouths of those who actually have to carry out and put their lives in double–sometimes triple–jeopardy in carrying out this more “humane” program–so one might appreciate their increasing distaste/reluctance to go out of their way to secure prisoners of any kind on the active battlefield–a distaste cultivated by being forced to live/risk one’s life under policies driven by the pacifist, “humanitarian” left.

Of course all this is to say that such things as we are discussing are EXACTLY what makes “irregular” warfare so intractable and distasteful. One is in effect demanding that some American corporal or Sgt new to both the area and culture make, often under pressure and under fire, the sort of decision normally made by the local police and their local street intelligence apparatus ,i.e., those with long experience in the local area and often having a close personal familiarity with many of the local “actors” themselves. Many sociologists who study the military, such as Van Doorn and the late Charles Moskos, have been at pains to point out that this is an unfair burden to put on junior officers, NCOs and lower-ranking enlisted personnel by their civilian political masters.

And finally, not being a mind reader–nor is anyone else who posts here–I would be loath to describe with any exactitude the state of mind to this particular Apache crew regarding the “take prisoners” v. “kill-‘em-all” mind-set that may or may not have been at play. It will take a more thorough, in-depth, investigation than is possible on these pages to even come close to THAT “truth.”

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Heur 04.12.10 at 12:17 am

Kevin writes:
When I say that the Apache crews are acting as colonial policemen I mean that they have the job of imposing order and the power to do so by punishing troublemakers swiftly and brutally, without much formality in the way of court hearings and suchlike.

The actions in that video had nothing whatsoever to do with punishment, Kevin. The context is combat; the actions are the use of lethal force during combat. This is why the rules referenced have been the ROE in place during the operation, and the LOAC.

A group of men are accused of being insurgents. Of course nobody actually tells them this. On the say-so of an airborne Chief Warrant Officer, in consultation with a ground commander, the accused are tried, convicted and executed in a matter of minutes.

Even as a metaphor, this fails. Positive identification in combat isn’t remotely akin to the painstaking process of a criminal trial; nor, for that matter, are the purposes the same; nor are the exigencies the same; nor are the rules governing the process the same.

If by “indicting” them you merely mean that I’m saying that they have “a case to answer” morally speaking, of course I’m saying that. Do you seriously dispute it?

Kevin, to repeat what I said in comments above, you seemed to be implying that the only relevant factors to the soldiers were (1) that the men observed were Iraqi and (2) that the soldiers ‘had suspicions,’ and that (3) the soldiers then simply created a pretext that would enable them to fire within the rules. THAT is the indictment, i.e. the accusation, which I am talking about; and it is that indictment which I find completely lacking in evidence.

As I pointed out before, if a militia took control of a town in Michigan it would surely be wrong to open fire on a small gathering with so little evidence that there was actually a threat. So why isn’t it wrong in Iraq?

You really don’t perceive any relevant differences in these two scenarios?

The fact that the Apache crew probably broke no US law, military or civilian, doesn’t mean that it was morally right to kill as they did. If the objective had merely been to protect the ground forces, the Apaches could have scared the suspects away by firing a few warning rounds. That wasn’t the idea. Nobody was much interested in capturing them either, AFAICT.

Your suggestion strikes me as dangerous in the context of armed conflict. If the group identified is in fact a group of hostile militia, who had been firing on American forces throughout the morning, and who were carrying RPGs, a “warning shot” would simply inform them to find cover and concealment, and attack; or to retreat and fight another day. While there are circumstances in which warning shots could be authorized, I don’t think this is one of them. I do think this illustrates the importance of fully grasping the context of this situation before evaluating the actions we see on the video.

As the circling helicopters appeared to ignore the men, they were lulled into a sense of false security. Then they were wiped out in a surprise attack. The Black-and-Tans or the French Foreign Legion would probably have done much the same thing with more primitive technology, but that’s no recommendation.

None of the men so much as looked at the helicopters, Kevin, which suggests that they simply were not aware of them, or that they believed the helicopters were occupied with distant matters.

You recite the army account as if it were the Gospel. The “context” comes from that unimpeachable source. The indistinct blobs on the video are whatever the army deems them to be. The photo of an RPG, in which the RPG is unfortunately blocked out is, despite appearances, a photo of an actual RPG. The RPG’s Real Presence persists, beneath the rectangular “redacted” blot. The fact that the “RPG” which the pilot actually spotted was in fact a camera does not undermine these claims.

No, Kevin. The military’s description of the context of events that day is confirmed by the Washington Post reporter embedded with the ground unit, and by the video itself. The presence of RPGs is confirmed by what I actually see on the video, as well as dialogue during the video in which a ground unit notes the presence of RPG rounds. Is it possible that a picture of a RPG, lying on the ground after the engagement, was somehow not a RPG, but due to the redacted image we cannot tell? Very unlikely, and even if it were, there’s more than enough evidence independent of that photograph.

I also watched the accounts of the Iraqi witnesses on the Democracy Now! video, shot a few days after the engagement, and I explained quite clearly where they lied and why I therefore thought they were not credible. If you find fault in my explanation, please tell me what is is.

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Kevin Donoghue 04.12.10 at 1:02 pm

This thread must be in time trouble by now so I’ll keep this brief.

Virgil,

When I think of people who exerted meaningful pressure on US policy in Iraq, the first name that comes to mind is Sistani. I’m sure some milbloggers think it’s all about teh Left, but they are delusional. I agree that this kind of warfare makes especially unreasonable demands on soldiers. A number of commenters here have drawn the obvious conclusion: don’t start such wars unless it is absolutely necessary. CT has devoted a thread or two to the question of what can reasonably be expected of regular armies in such conflicts. During Israel’s last foray into Lebanon, Daniel Davies wrote a post on what should be demanded of irregular forces. This might have been a good thread to discuss such issues, but thanks to the troll and his feeders that discussion didn’t happen. You mention the need for a thorough, in-depth, investigation. That rather surprisingly puts you in the same camp as Amnesty International. I’ll be very surprised if that demand gets anywhere.

Heur,

For me, the US army’s rules of engagement are only of interest insofar as they can help explain how things like this happen. Yglesias mentioned them, the other two linked posts didn’t. Yglesias also mentioned that “that possession of a firearm is not cause for summary execution either in Iraq or the United States” and he goes on to remark that “no matter what abuses may sometimes be perpetrated by police officers, you could never in a million years have an incident in which American police officers gun down a half dozen people, none of whom fire shots, and then the whole thing is just swept under the rug.”

So when you say that the context is combat and the rules referenced are the US army’s rules, I think you are missing the point. Maybe you think the discussion should be conducted within that frame, but the learned bloggers don’t see it that way. Yglesias quite explicitly brings policing, judicial process and punishment into the discussion. You protest when I do the same thing. Yglesias also issues what you call my indictment, to wit: US forces acted towards the Iraqis in a manner which would “never in a million years” be adopted in an American city. At least it seems to me that he is making much the same – rather obvious – point that I made, which you find objectionable. I’m really not sure what your problem is.

You really don’t perceive any relevant differences in these two scenarios?

One difference I perceive, which appears to me the most relevant, is that in one scenario the people in the gunsight are Americans and in the other they are not. Is that enough to justify the difference in treatment?

As to the Iraqi witnesses, on the day after the killings they said that there were two attacks, that a driver was killed in the second one as he tried to rescue the wounded, that the men had been walking around with the journalists and that an armoured vehicle drove over a body. They said the men were unarmed, which may not be true. Certainly most of the men were unarmed. You say “they claimed that the body we see being run over by a vehicle was alive and moving, and was cut in half.” That’s not in the version I saw, but I’ll take your word for it that somebody got carried away. So what? It was a very traumatic incident.

On the whole, the Iraqis’ account looks a damn sight more honest than the bureaucratic bilge the US came out with, about being under attack and “engaging” armed insurgents. I don’t doubt they came under attack but it certainly wasn’t from that location. The use of the term “engagement” is misleading – it’s just spin, really. It implies that those who were killed were clearly hostile and it strongly suggests that they fired shots.

That wasn’t so brief after all.

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Steve LaBonne 04.12.10 at 1:07 pm

I wonder what horseshit excuse the military and its bootlickers around here will come up with for this latest atrocity in Afghanistan: http://tinyurl.com/y9re3ur

Wars of choice are immoral. Period.

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virgil xenophon 04.12.10 at 3:51 pm

Wars of choice are immoral. Period.”

In the eyes of Steve LaBonne, perhaps. But I wonder if the good Mr. LaBonne would have screamed blo0dy murder if France had actively “invaded” the Rhineland to militarily oppose Hitler’s occupation troops as a “preventative war” measure? And German blood was spilled? And should Israel have waited to absorb the full crippling brunt of the Arab attack in 1967 before it’s own forces attacked the Arabs? What say you? “Immoral” actions?

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Steve LaBonne 04.12.10 at 3:58 pm

But I wonder if the good Mr. LaBonne would have screamed blo0dy murder if France had actively “invaded” the Rhineland to militarily oppose Hitler’s occupation troops as a “preventative war” measure?

Since I’m not as stupid as virtual xenophobe, I happen to know that marching troops into the Rhineland was a blatant treaty violation and hence an act of war. If virtual really thinks a proportionate French response to an act of military aggression by a neighboring government would in any way have been equivalent to American colonial wars in distant countries, he’s an even bigger jackass than I already took him for, which is going some.

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NomadUK 04.12.10 at 4:01 pm

I wonder what horseshit excuse the military and its bootlickers around here will come up with for this latest atrocity

Well, it’s clear that the soldiers perceived that it was a busload of insurgents armed with AK47s and RPGs, and felt that it posed an immediate threat to the heavily-armed NATO convoys, and so felt it necessary to cut as many passengers in half as possible. But no doubt they did so in a highly moral manner, in good faith, and consistent with US rules of engagement. And I’m sure they felt no joy whilst doing so.

“However, to my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I’ve been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it.”
— Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal

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Salient 04.12.10 at 4:14 pm

How’s about this as a starting point, virgil:

Wars of material conquest and occupation are immoral. Period.

(As for whether the Iraq War is one of material conquest and occupation, I’m willing to let “establish a strategic foothold and substantial permanent military presence in the Middle East” qualify, even if we have to generalize material conquest: I’m confident that if Iraq and its neighbors didn’t have tremendous oil supplies, then U.S. soldiers wouldn’t have been deployed there by W.)

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