This is a rant. Should these sorts of rants end up here? I’m no military expert but maybe the more who write about this in a responsible way the better.
The arrest of Bradley Manning, the Army Intelligence analyst accused of leaking classified material to Wikileaks is a worry. See Wired: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/06/leak/.
Manning’s alleged leaks may not be the Iraq War equivalent of the Pentagon Papers, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentagon_Papers.
But the video of the helicopter gunship in action with the commentary by its crew as the action takes place appears to be a very disturbing picture of what is happening on the streets of Iraq to innocent civilians as a result of the methods used by the US military to identify and kill the enemy.
The video, first shown on Wikileaks in April and reported in Wired, shows a US helicopter gunship shooting and killing a group of civilians and a couple of journalists and badly injuring two children after concluding, apparently mistakenly in all but probably one case, that three of the men had guns and one a grenade launcher.
It demonstrates the badly flawed modus operandi of this particular helicopter gunship and its commanders. Could it also mean that all airborne operations by US forces against urban insurgents are using flawed rules of engagement? It is concerning that the results of the official army investigation supported this helicopter crew and did conclude that it followed the ‘Rules of Engagement’. This means that these incidents where civilians are being shot dead on the basis of walking near someone who might be carrying a gun could be happening a lot. Alternatively, hopefully the official investigation was a whitewash, in which case this killing of civilians was a result of this particular helicopter’s crew and commanders and maybe the Rules of Engagement are sufficient and not every helicopter gunship over Baghdad is a direct threat to innocent people.
In this instance that initial flawed identification of an AK47, that was in fact a camera, was enough to start a chain of events that led to the helicopter firing on a group of about a dozen people who were just walking and talking! Apparently killing the lot! And the commentary by the helicopter team is perhaps not surprising, but chilling: ‘nice’ is said numerous times as unarmed people are blasted apart.
It appears from the video that the helicopter is being sent to look for a target which includes someone carrying a weapon. At one point a member of the helicopter crew says that one of the men on the ground is shooting (it’s not clear if he means shooting directly at the helicopter, but the helicopter doesn’t behave like it is being shot at) and yet when the helicopter wheels around to get better visibility, the group of people are just standing around, one chatting on his mobile phone. The most worrying conclusion from the video is that under the current ‘Rules of Engagement’ it’s okay for US helicopters to shoot to kill, not just at anyone they identify as a threat, but also anyone around the threat who is unarmed. But what the helicopter saw as a threat was just a man with a camera – perhaps difficult to tell under the circumstances – but surely there needs to be a better way of identifying a threat, especially if the appears to be passive, ie these men weren’t jumping around and shooting?
Later in the video a van turns up, unarmed civilians get out to help the wounded and the helicopter is given permission to fire again. It would also appear that it’s okay to shoot at unarmed people who enter a scene of ‘combat’ who are just trying to help the wounded.
What sort of modus operandi is that? It doesn’t seem adequate for urban warfare. Why didn’t the US Army just apologise? And why don’t they change this inadequate procedure for identifying targets to shoot at? This shames the majority of the US forces who – whether or not you agree with the Iraq War – are doing their best NOT to cause unnecessary mayhem and slaughter.