McChrystal: 'We've shot an amazing number of people ... none has proven to have been a real threat to the force'
US military personnel apparently mistook the cameras slung over the backs of two Reuters journalists for weapons when they opened fire on them and a group of people in a Baghdad suburb in 2007, recently released video footage shows.
The whistleblower Web site Wikileaks on Monday released a 17-minute video of footage from an Apache helicopter that was reportedly one of two helicopters involved in a fight against insurgents in the neighborhood of New Baghdad on July 12, 2007.
The video shows the deaths of Reuters journalists Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22 and Saeed Chmagh, 40, along with six other people on a street corner. It also shows US forces firing on a minivan in which two injured children were found.
"The military did not reveal how the Reuters staff were killed, and stated that they did not know how the children were injured," Wikileaks states.
On Monday evening, the Pentagon finally acknowledged the video's legitimacy.
The two reporters arrived in the area after reports of skirmishes between US forces and insurgents. According to media news site The Baron, "there was no fighting on the streets in which Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh were moving about."
The video seems to substantiate that report, as it shows Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh (identified on the tape by arrows) walking around in a group of people who don't appear to be engaged in fighting. "Although some of the men appear to have been armed, the behavior of nearly everyone was relaxed," Wikileaks notes, suggesting that the men weren't involved in the fighting reportedly taking place in the area.
The video shows the Apache helicopter's camera focusing in on Noor-Eldeen with a camera slung over his back.
"That's a weapon," a voice can be heard saying on the video. Moments later, the US service member announces he has "five to six individuals with AK-47s. Request permission to engage."
"Roger that," comes the response.
The video then shows a massive volley of gunfire from the helicopter at the group of people including the two reporters. "We just engaged eight individuals," the US service member is heard saying.
The camera then shows a person, identified by Wikileaks as Chmagh, running frantically away from the gunfire. The camera follows the reporter down a city block, and Chmagh can be seen falling in a hail of gunfire.
A shortened, 17-minute version of the video can be viewed below. For the full-length video, click here.
In its press release on the incident, the US military announced it had killed nine insurgents during a firefight. "Two civilians were killed during the firefight," the statement added. "The two civilians were reported as employees for the Reuters news service."
But Wikileaks offers the video as evidence there was no firefight in the location where US forces launched the attack. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, witnesses said there were no gunfights in the area at the time of the attack.
Following the shooting, the Reuters news agency demanded an investigation. According to Wikileaks, the US military determined that the shooting was carried out in accordance with the rules of engagement.
Reuters asked for video of the incident under a Freedom of Information request in August, 2007, but never obtained it, Wikileaks reports.
Allegations that the US carelessly killed civilians in its Iraq and Afghanistan war have been around for years, but they appeared to be corroborated last month by no less an authority than Gen. Stanley McChrystal, head of US troops in Afghanistan.
During a virtual town hall discussion of the problems involved with "escalation of force" situations, where troops escalate a situation towards violence usually due to non-compliance by civilians, McChrystal said: "We've shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force."
McChrystal added: "[T]o my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I've been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it."
Since its release earlier Monday, the Wikileaks video has made waves online. As of Monday afternoon, it occupied all four of the top spots on the social news site Reddit.com.
This video is from WikiLeaks, released to the press on April 5, 2010.
Updated from a prior version to reflect the Pentagon's confirmation of the video's legitimacy.
Stephen C. Webster contributed to this report.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article originally stated that Reuters obtained a copy of the video under a Freedom of Information request in August, 2007. In fact, Reuters filed the request at that time but did not obtain the video. The story has been edited to reflect this fact.