Monday, April 05, 2010

What is it Good For?

What follows is horrible.

First, some back story. In July, 2007, two Reuters photographers were killed during an altercation with American Apache helicopters in Baghdad, Iraq. The helicopters were assisting ground forces who had been fired upon by insurgents with RPG's and smaller weapons. The aircraft found a group of 8 to 12 people including the journalists, whose cameras they mistook for weapons. After determining the cameras were weapons, discussing the issue, and obtaining permission to fire, the helicopters killed most of the people on the ground. A van rushed to the scene and began collecting wounded and (from the aircraft's vantage) weapons. After obtaining permission, the helicopters fired upon the van. Ultimately a dozen people were killed, and two children who were inside the van at the time were wounded. Reuters demanded an investigation, the result of which was a finding that the American gunships had fired in accordance with applicable rules of engagement.

Until today, that's where the story seemed to end. This afternoon WikiLeaks (who are a fascinating group -- check them out) released leaked classified video footage taken from the gunship, along with dialogue. United States Command has since confirmed the video's authenticity, and also released photographs of the scene. The photographs do show machine guns and grenades near at least some of the bodies. There are thus two ways to characterize the events: one is a story about United States forces engaging what appeared to be insurgents, and the other is a story about innocent journalists killed in the street.

Both stories are true, though neither is complete. My view (and yours may differ) is that the American soldiers made an understandable but horrible error. You can come to your own conclusion by watching the video, but viewer beware: the video depicts a military altercation as disturbing as it is professional. This is footage of a tragedy unfolding, and unfolding in a way that greets the viewer with an uncomfortably dark feeling of inevitability.

Dark feeling of inevitability. That brings me to the point of this post. The United States has lost 4,287 soldiers to date in Iraq. As of today, 30,112 American solders have been wounded -- just a few hundred fewer than the combined graduate and undergraduate population at UC Berkeley. The documented civilian death toll is between 95,775 and 104,481, depending upon the source -- approximately the entire population of the City of Berkeley. I honestly do not see how tragedies like the one described above can be avoided as long as we are in Iraq. Simple mistakes, as the video footage shows, bring horrendous consequences, and there is only one way we can put an end to it. We need to get out of there.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that this is a tragic event. Unfortunately, this will not compel a change in the minds of most people who have an opinion about the war in Iraq. If one has come to a considered decision, one must have already included the notion that war is a very messy business, and lots of innocent people get caught up in it.

I do not think that the situation would be cleanly resolved by a U.S. withdrawal; it would just change to someone who was not advised by a JAG Officer killing civilians indiscriminately rather than a solider making mistakes leading occasionally to that result.

4/05/2010 11:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

War is not pretty. That was a very painful and disturbing video to watch.

I didn't support the invasion of Iraq, and I still think it was a bad idea. However, as the saying goes . . . in for a penny, in for a pound. After unwisely getting involved, we now have a duty to extricate ourselves in a way that doesn't lead to more bloodshed.

What really concerns me about this particular incident is the Military's response after they realized they had made a mistake. Instead of admitting a mistake was made and apologizing, the Pentagon continued to claim that it was provoked into a firefight. For a really long time it even denied that any children were involved.

After watching this video I can no longer trust anything the government tells me about how this war is being waged.

4/06/2010 10:44 AM  
Blogger James said...

I think, as Americans, we're so used to the idea that we can fix any problem if we try hard enough we forget that it is possible that we cannot fix the situation in Iraq in any long term sense.

This means that the situation will be bad whether or not Americans are getting killed and wounded day in and day out.

This certainly isn't a good argument for staying.

4/06/2010 10:57 AM  
Blogger Toney said...


4/06/2010 11:07 AM  

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