In its early analysis of the Iraq war logs released by whistleblower site WikiLeaks on Friday, the German paper Der Spiegel pointed to several accounts of what it calls “dubious attacks” by US Apache helicopters that may have amounted to war crimes.
One of those accounts has to do with an attack that featured in video released by WikiLeaks last spring. The “Collateral Murder” video shows an Apache repeatedly firing on a group of men which included a Reuters photographer and his driver — and then firing again on a van which stopped to help, killing that vehicle’s driver and wounding his two young children.
Despite these bloody consequences, the brief summation of the incident in the newly released documents refers only to “”13 AIF KIA” — meaning “thirteen anti-Iraq forces killed in action.”
“There is a huge gulf between the brief text of the military report that has now been published by WikiLeaks and the footage captured by the helicopter’s camera,” the Spiegel story comments. “The discrepancy makes clear that the military incident reports do not manage to capture the brutal reality of the war. In fact, the opposite is true — the reports actually distort the reality. Comparing the video evidence and the terse, unspectacular-seeming original report raises the question as to what might have happened during incidents where the internal military reports make for more dramatic reading.”
In one of those incidents, an attack helicopter was chasing a truck in which two Iraqis were fleeing after having been firing mortar shells. The truck then stopped and the Iraqis “came out wanting to surrender.” At that point, the helicopter crew radioed a military lawyer and, according to the leaked report, “Lawyer states they can not surrender to aircraft and are still valid targets.” At that point, the helicopter resumed firing at the two men and finally blew up the shack in which they had taken refuge.
“The document leaves little doubt that this was a deadly attack on people who clearly wanted to surrender,” Der Spiegel comments. “An additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions on the protection of victims of international armed conflicts states that a person who ‘clearly expresses an intention to surrender’ is ‘hors de combat’ and therefore ‘shall not be made the object of attack.’ That raises the question of whether the pilots involved in the Feb. 22, 2007 incident might have committed a war crime.”