A senior U.S. military official said Monday that a gritty war video that shows U.S. forces firing repeatedly on people along a Baghdad street was authentic. However, the Pentagon would not confirm the video’s authenticity.
The incident on July 12, 2007, happened the same day and in the same area that a Reuters photographer, Namir Noor-Eldeen, and his driver were killed. Two children also were wounded.
The senior military official said that the video posted Monday at Wikileaks.org was of a 2007 incident in the New Baghdad District of eastern Baghdad. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the video and a Pentagon investigation have never been released.
The official said he could not confirm the identities of the Reuters employees in the film.
The Pentagon would not confirm the video’s authenticity on the record, despite repeated requests from The Associated Press.
“At this time, we are working to verify the source of the video, its veracity, and when or where it was recorded,” a statement from U.S. military headquarters in Iraq said late Monday.
An investigation of the shooting found that the crew of the two Apache helicopters at the scene might have erroneously identified photographer’s cameras as weapons, NBC News Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski reported.
According to U.S. officials, the pilots arrived to find a group of men approaching the area of a battle with what looked to be AK-47s slung over their shoulders and at least one rocket-propelled grenade.
The investigation later concluded that what was thought to be an RPG was really a long-range photography lens; likewise, the camera looked like an AK-47.
Wikileaks said it obtained the video “as well as supporting documents from a number of military whistleblowers.”
It added that “the video, shot from an Apache helicopter … clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.”
Reuters said Monday that it could not verify that the video was of its employees dying, even though it looks like one of the men killed had a camera slung over his shoulder.
Still, the video is “graphic evidence of the dangers involved in war journalism and the tragedies that can result,” said David Schlesinger, editor-in-chief of Reuters news.
In 2008, Reuters said it had been shown video of the incident shortly after it happened, and that it immediately filed a Freedom of Information Act request to have the video released. That request was never met, Reuters said.
Reuters stated that its photographer and his driver “had gone to the area after hearing of a military raid on a building around dawn that day, and were with a group of men at the time. It is believed two or three of these men may have been carrying weapons, although witnesses said none were assuming a hostile posture.
“The U.S. military said the helicopter attack, in which nine other people were killed, occurred after security forces came under fire,” Reuters stated at the time.
According to a July 19 summary of the investigation, obtained by The Associated Press, U.S. troops acted appropriately.
Reuters employees were likely “intermixed among the insurgents” and difficult to distinguish because of their equipment, the document states.
“It is worth noting the fact that insurgent groups often video and photograph friendly activity and insurgent attacks against friendly forces for use in training videos and for use as propaganda to exploit or highlight their capabilities,” the document concludes.
In an audiotape released with the video, the shooters can be heard asking for permission to engage, and one says “Light ’em all up!”
Some men drop immediately, while at least one can be seen scrambling to get away.
“Ah, yeah, look at those dead bastards. Nice,” one shooter says.
The helicopters later destroy a vehicle that arrived on the scene to help a wounded man. When ground forces arrive, the video shows what looks to be a child being carried from the vehicle and U.S. troops saying the child should be sent to a local Iraqi hospital.
“Well, it’s their fault bringing their kids into the battle,” a cockpit voice can be heard saying.
Julian Assange, a WikiLeaks spokesman, told msnbc TV that the video “shows the debasement and moral corruption of soldiers as a result of war. It seems like they are playing video games with people’s lives.”
Brett McGurk, a former National Security Council staff member and now an analyst with the Council on Foreign Relations, countered that the video should be seen in the context that the area was “the hottest of the hot zones” in Iraq.
But retired Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, now a spokesman for the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, said he felt the video showed “a failure of training” and that the crew did not seem to be following rules of engagement.
“The Good Soldiers,” a 2009 book by Washington Post reporter David Finkel, described the incident, saying that Noor-Eldeen and his driver managed to run away after the first rounds were fired but then the gunner tracked Noor-Eldeen into a pile of trash and fired three more bursts, killing him as he tried to stand up in a cloud of dust.
The driver was wounded and was being taken away by a van when the gunner opened fire on it, killing him and two other men, and injuring two children inside, Finkel wrote.