Last year Wikileaks released the “Collateral Murder” video that featured gun camera film of an AH-64 firing on a group of individuals in Baghdad in 2007. Now this year a filmmaker has released a documentary about the incident featuring a now former Soldier that arrived on scene shortly after the incident.
My battalion was packing up to leave Iraq (its 4th deployment there) in the spring of 2010 when we saw all over the INTERNET news about a so called “collateral murder” video which had been released by a website known as Wikileaks. Stories described a horrific gun camera videotape from an AH-64 in Baghdad during the summer of 2007 where a pair of Reuters reporters were killed along with several other people. There were more than a few people still in the battalion that recognized that description. I remembered it, because while I was not there that day I was involved in the process of After Action Review (AAR) that we undertook after every engagement (we had over 300 engagements during the 15 months my BN was deployed that time). I had watched that tape, the entire tape, several times and when I was finally able to see on-line what was being called “collateral murder” I became more and more upset. Very few people made any attempt at all to try and understand the situation, they jumped to conclusions and based all their opinions on a very edited version of the gun camera film and pre-conceived notions about what war is like and how our Soldiers should act and what they should say and shouldn’t say.
Now a former Soldier who came upon the carnage after the fact is interviewed in this documentary telling stories about how things “actually were”. No offense to him or anyone else on the ground that day but a Specialist on a patrol is not the person I search out for what the story on the battlefield situation is or was. There is no way he would know other than talking to people later on what anyone outside his immediate area was doing.
So for anyone who might be interested in the sequence of events that lead up to Crazyhorse 18/19 responding to that Troops In Contact (TIC) and then ultimately engaging a group of individuals and then a van that arrived on scene I will attempt to lay it out for you.
At the time of the incident my BN had been in Iraq 10 months. For that entire time we had at least a team of 2 Apaches up in the air 24/7 weather permitting. Each day crews would report to the Tactical Operations Center, receive a brief about the current enemy and friendly situation, get assigned missions for their 4 hour mission window and then go out pre-flight and launch to support continuing operations in the Baghdad area. July 2007 was in the middle of “The Surge”. Intense military operations were on-going every single day all over Baghdad to try and detain, kill or capture those responsible for trying to undermine the legitimate government of Iraq as well as those responsible for on-going sectarian violence in the city. A typical mission would launch with a handful of Air Mission Requests (AMRs) which would be our assigned missions for that particular block of time. The reality though was that we almost never executed any of those missions. From the time we took off until the time we returned to base it was usually one TIC or Roadside MEDIVAC (Medical Evacuation) after another. TICs and MEDIVACS took precedence over anything else, so a day was usually responding from one call to another.
Crazyhorse 18/19 responded to a TIC call on the day in question and upon arriving got a situation update. The unit (the BN, not the particular patrol the SPC interviewed was in) had been receiving sporadic small arms fire all day, they had recently received fire from the direction where the helicopter eventually spotted a man peering around the corner of a building looking in the direction of US troops with what to the crew appeared to be a weapon in his hands. Additionally the ground unit reported that a black vehicle had been spotted earlier that day by UAV dropping off ammo and weapons to fighters in the area. With all that in mind the Apache team spotted the person looking around the corner of the building. He appeared to have what the crew thought to be an RPG (it was in fact a camera with a telephoto lens). The crew continued to circle around and when the got on the backside of that building they saw a group of people, several of them armed. They reported this to the ground unit and asked for permission to fire. Permission was given and the helicopters opened fire and took out the group of people gathered by the street corner oriented toward friendly forces a couple of blocks away. They then engaged a vehicle and personnel that arrived on the scene that according to one of the crew-members was collecting the wounded and picking up weapons.
There has been considerable discussion about the other people hanging around. Who were they? Were they innocent civilians? I can tell you from personal experience that in downtown Baghdad in July of 2007, if there was a gunfight going on and people were hanging around then they were part of it people didn’t just hang out where there was shooting going on. People did not just drive up to the site of a gunfight to render aid because they were good samaritans. If people were hanging around out in the open they were typically a part of it. But just that didn’t give us card blanche to just open fire. There were Rules of Engagement (ROE) and those rules WERE followed.
There has also been considerable discussion about the language used by the aircrew. I can tell you that we were on the crews constantly to watch what you say on the tape, talk to the tape about the ROE steps etc. because other people were going to watch it later. With all of that being said, can you imagine what you might say if you had been in Iraq for 10 months, flying missions every day, seeing Americans hurt or killed, responding to pitched battles, seeing your fellow Soldiers in danger and attempting to come to their defense. What would you say if you finally got some of them? Caught them red-handed. Took them out so they wouldn’t be hurting your fellow Soldiers anymore.
Now comes this “documentary”. An award winning documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival. How could you make a documentary about this event and never talk to the crews involved? Never talk to anyone at the unit involved? Only talk to a guy who happened upon a horrific scene of destruction and horrifying gore. How can you draw conclusions about anything other than the fact that war is horrible (and it is)?
I’m frankly disgusted that only one side of this keeps getting presented. The Army has made no attempt to explain the events or say anything other than that there was an official investigation (called a 15-6), in fact there were two that cleared the crew of wrong doing. I know that there is a small percentage of the population that will never admit that the engagement was justified and that we’re all products of our training that has turned us into crazy killing machines. But for the people that might listen, the people that could understand that they haven’t seen the whole thing they need to get the story out. It’s for those people you need to explain how a quiet street can instantly turn into hell on earth in less than a second. That there usually more than one side to a story…and they haven’t even begun to try and tell ours.
That’s what makes me sick and that’s why this so called documentary makes me even sicker.
H/T This Ain’t Hell for informing me about this film and rasing my blood pressure.
For a take down of the whole collateral murder video look at the Jawa Report on the engagement.