April 06, 2010

On the Iraqi guncam footage

hummer.jpgBefore anyone gets too excited over the Wikileaked gun camera footage from a 2007 Baghdad engagement, it might be worth their time to read the fairly thorough official report of the U.S. army investigation of the incident, in which two Reuters staffers died.

The picture above, reproduced from the report, was taken by the one of the Reuters cameramen from a crouched position behind a building seconds before the Apache helicopters attacked the group of armed men he was amongst, one of whom was clearly carrying an RPG (you really don't need to be an imagery analyst to see it, but the report provides closeups in case you missed it, too). Note how it shows a US HMMWV less than 100 metres away down the street, well within that RPG's range. The report also confirms that U.S. ground forces in the neighborhood remained under fire throughout the day, and that multiple weapons, including that RPG, were later found among the bodies.

One could certainly debate whether the subsequent engagement of a van attempting to evacuate the wounded was *as* justified, but there should be no question about that initial engagement: at a time when US ground forces down the block were being sporadically fired upon, a group of over half a dozen armed males within effective weapons distance of those friendly troops behind the next building over would have almost certainly been a legitimate target for their helicopter support to engage. The presence of the journalists in amongst them was unexpected, tragic, coincidental, and irrelevant to that determination.

(Look, I appreciate they were just journalists doing their job, but the simple fact is they were standing amongst armed insurgents in a position to engage U.S. forces during a TIC ("Troops in Contact" incident) at the moment they were killed.)

PS: There's a lot of misinformation here. Anne Flaherty's report linked on the Globe is wrong when it says, "A military 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." That is completely incorrect. The report clearly states that there was an RPG (in addition to the two cameras), and you can clearly see one on the video (in this version, at 3:44, look at the two guys across the street, one with a broad horizontally striped shirt, who's carrying an AK, and the guy next to him with the RPG), AND that one was found on the scene under a body. All the report actually states is that at one point, "the voice on the guntape mistakenly identifies the long telephoto lens as an RPG" (this is the point when the photographer pops his head around the corner to take that picture above), not that a real RPG wasn't there, too, being held by the guy standing literally right next to him. The Wikileaks report that the stories are based on is also wrong, when it states the two injured civilian children were sent to an Iraqi hospital: the official report clearly states they went to an American military facility.

PPS: This is the same incident discussed in pp. 96-105 of David Finkel's The Good Soldiers, btw. Finkel was embedded on the other side, with the battalion commander of the U.S. troops in contact. See also Roggio, The Captain, Schmedlap, and Ink Spots.

Posted by BruceR at 10:20 PM