Weapons of mass distraction

On July 12, 2007 in Baghdad 12 civilians, including a Reuters photographer and his driver, were shot dead by a U.S. Apache helicopter. Because of the involvement of the Reuters staff, this became minor news and the Pentagon gave a statement on the circumstances surrounding the events: nine ‘rebels’ and two civilians were killed (the Reuters employees). That seemed to be end of the case. Reuters tried to research the circumstances of the shooting but was blocked by the U.S. government. A formal request for access to videos of the Apache helicopter and audio communication between the crew and ground troops was refused. At that time the story was a tiny blip on the news radar, and quickly forgotten. There have been over 100 journalists killed in Iraq since March 2003 and an estimated 700,000 to over 1.3 million civilians (the U.S. military sees no need to keep track of exactly how many – "we do not do body counts").

Nearly three years later the incident is known worldwide because of the online release of 38 minutes of video recorded by the Apache helicopter involved in the incident. The shortened version on Youtube has been viewed over 6 million times. For anyone who thinks the Iraq invasion was a good idea, watch the full 38 minutes. Twice. A wealth of supporting information is available at collateralmurder.com. On Dutch TV, activist and hacker extraordinaire Rop Gonggrijp was invited to give some background to the video. The anchor closed the item with the immortal words "well, it’s a good story." Former Chief of Staff General Hans Couzy had called the actions of the Apache crew a war crime one day earlier.

Immediately after the appearance of the video, heated debates erupted on a number of online forums. Was it reasonable or unreasonable to shoot? Or was just the first shooting reasonable and the second at the-bus-with-the-kids was not? The New York Times found it necessary for military experts to “explain”, and to suggest with detailed analysis that really nothing was wrong. The ‘rules of engagement” were followed and that you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. Similar discussion took place in a multitude of other places. Many arm-chair generals who anonymously claimed military expertise stated that the behaviour of the Apache pilots were quite normal. How a badly injured person without any visible weapons can be a threat to an armored Apache helicopter flying at least one kilometre away remains unclear to me (take the time difference between the Apache firing its gun and the impacting of the shells and multiply this by 800 meters per seconds). Luckily there are many veterans who honestly reveal that the Wikileaks video is unfortunately not exceptional.

But what was missing from virtually all discussion was the simple point that the original statement of the U.S. Army from 2007 was incorrect and that they must have known that. On the day of the attack itself, the Pentagon had the video that we have access to only now. So how come they said for years they did not know how the two children were injured, as the crystal-clear video images show that the Apache helicopter shot them and their father for no reason?

Apart from the specific tragedy of 12 dead civilians and two seriously injured children, it seems to me the main lesson of the WikiLeaks video is that we are still consistently being lied to. The case for war in Iraq was based on deliberate lies back in 2003 and it seems nothing has changed since then. To retain support in Europe for continuing the war in Afghanistan, the CIA has developed a great propaganda plan in which the fears and principles of certain demographics in each country will be manipulated.

In The Netherlands, the Davids Committee report on the Dutch support for the invasion of Iraq expertly avoided the most important question, "did we participate militarily?" by claiming that it found no evidence. It is unclear how hard they searched for that evidence, because more than enough has emerged in recent years. The easiest way to avoid annoying answers is still not to ask the question.

Soon on Wikileaks there will be a new video of a bombing in Granai, Afghanistan. Hopefully, the discussion will not be about what type of bombs we can better use next time.