Weekly Standard: Apologia for Killing Journalists (Updated)

Reuters journalist with camera peering around the corner of a building?

(Updated below)

I don’t have very much to add to the discussion sparked by the must-watch video of U.S. helicopter gunners mowing down a crowd of mostly unarmed men in a Baghdad street in 2007.

But I did want to point to something I picked up from Glenn Greenwald’s excellent analysis of the video — the depravity and utter lack of decency that one can find on the pages of the leading neocon journal, the Weekly Standard.

Greenwald points us to a piece by Bill Roggio on the Standard‘s website that lays out reasons why he thinks Wikileaks mischaracterized the attack, which left two Reuters journalists dead. Roggio relies mostly on fog-of-war-type arguments — these guys are in a war zone, he says, where a U.S. military press release at the time says a gun battle had just occurred. But Roggio himself seems to be lost in the fog:

[S]everal of the men are clearly armed with assault rifles; one appears to have an RPG. Wikileaks purposely chooses not to identify them, but instead focuses on the Reuters cameraman. Why?

Perhaps because they’re the same people. In the video, I can only see one man clearly holding what appears to be an assault rifle. (UPDATED: Upon further review, I’ve spotted what appears to be a second assault rifle.) The other “armed men” Roggio seems to be talking about are the two Reuters employees, 23-year-old Namir Noor-Eldeen and 40-year-old Saaed Shmagh, who both have large cameras with straps over their shoulders. And, I’m just guessing here, based on the direction that indicated figures in the video were walking leading up to the assault, but the “guy crouching around a corner” with an “RPG” (Rocket Propelled Grenade)* — the impetus for the gunner to ask permission to fire on the crowd — looks like it might be one of the Reuters journalists trying to take a photo with a long lens. (UPDATED: Screen shot below; click to enlarge.) A moment later in the video, just before shots are fired, the Reuters employee appears to be shouldering the camera, as noted by Wikileaks. That fog-of-war stuff cuts both ways, I guess.

(Click to enlarge)

But what was most disturbing about Roggio’s post is how disconnected he is with the realities of a country embroiled in war — and not in the sense that the military (U.S.) were embroiled in the conflict, but in the sense that the country of Iraq and its peoples were fully embroiled in it.

Roggio writes:

[N]ote how empty the streets are in the video. The only people visible on the streets are the armed men and the accompanying Reuters cameramen. This is a very good indicator that there was a battle going on in the vicinity. Civilians smartly clear the streets during a gunfight.

Then, further down, he addresses the issue of two children that were wounded in the attack. They were riding in a van driven by their father when he stopped to help Rueters’s Shmagh, who was wounded and trying to crawl away from the scene. The U.S. soldiers in the chopper repeatedly — and eagerly — requested permission to fire on the van, which they got, peppering it with rounds.** Roggio asks indignantly where the facts about the children are and — most absurdly — why were they out on the street (my emphasis):

We do not know the medical assessment of the two Iraqi children wounded in the airstrike. We don’t even know if the children were killed in the attack, although you can be sure that if they were Wikileaks would have touted this. (And who drives their kids into the middle of a war zone anyway?)

Here’s a thought, Bill: Maybe the father took his children out because you can’t just keep a kid in the house for years on end while another country is making war on you. In a short follow up video published by Wikileaks, we learn that the children have recovered, but the attack cost them their father, who stopped to help a wounded man (one of the Reuters employees) while driving his children to a class. Does Roggio suggest, since the whole of Baghdad has been unequivocally a “war zone” since 2003, that these kids should not have been in school for the past seven years?

This is a fundamental disconnect that armchair warriors in Washington — chief among them the neocons — have with reality. They don’t consider ‘the other’ at all. That’s why, despite starting the war with an apocalyptic bombing and swift invasion, it never occurred to these hawks that they would have to do any postwar planning. The Iraqis would all love us, and live the rest of their days picking up rubble and happily siphoning off their oil to us.

* In the full video, one of the soldiers on the ground says over the radio that it appears that one of the bodies is lying on top of an RPG round, but this is not ever confirmed.

** Roggio writes about the van:

[C]ritics will undoubtedly be up in arms over the attack on that black van you see that moves in to evacuate the wounded; but it is not a marked ambulance, nor is such a vehicle on the “Protected Collateral Objects” listed in the Rules of Engagement. The van, which was coming to the aid of the fighters, was fair game, even if the men who exited the van weren’t armed.

Roggio needs to clean off his glasses (rose-colored, naturally) or take off his Kool Aid goggles. The van was not, in fact, coming to the aid of any fighters. Rather, the only person the passengers in the van attempted to help before they were gunned down and their van shot up was Shmagh, the Reuters employee. If Roggio watched carefully, he would be able to clearly see this. (I doubt he’s watched the full video, having initially denied its existence to perpetuate his theme of Wikileaks’ nefarious intentions.) Futhermore, just because someone or something is not protected by the Rules of Engagement doesn’t mean that you need to automatically blow it to smithereens.

UPDATE II (4/8/2010): On Democracy Now!, independent film maker Rick Rowley digs into some old footage of eye-witness accounts he took the day after the U.S. helicopter attack, offering cogent comments that poke holes as big as gunship rounds into the U.S. military’s rationale for the attack and the excuse-making of right wingers like those at the Weekly Standard.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.



  1. “They don’t consider ‘the other’ at all.”

    The very definition of a sociopath.

  2. I too watched the video and it is horrible, painful, tragic. However, much as I dislike the Weekly Standard, some of Roggio’s points are in fact valid. Armchair critics who have never been in battle or heard a shot fired in anger have their own blind spots.

    The fact is that incidents of this kind occur all the time in war. It says nothing about the American personnel involved. What it speaks to is the hideousness of war in general and the criminal folly of the Iraq war in particular. This was not My Lai. It was a terrible accident that occurred not because the US personnel involved were monsters, but because they saw a bunch of men in the street, at least one of whom was carrying an AK-47 (not a weapon used by coalition forces). They asked for and received permission to fire on these men pursuant to the rules of engagement laid down by their superiors. It’s horrible that they wound up killing civilians, but the problem, I repeat, is war itself. What you saw on the video happens all the time in war, sad to say.

  3. The claim that the van was driving into a war zone is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Obviously the helo is pretty far away so there is nothing like loud gunfire coming from the actual scene to alert the man driving the van that he is coming to a war zone.

    Unless by war zone he means that particular neighborhood or all of Baghdad, in which case I guess this man should have just emigrated.

  4. Everybody’s got a gun in Iraq. You’d be nuts not to have a gun in that country, really. I can’t understand instantly mowing someone down without knowing who are what they are. Those are war crimes, period….

  5. the right wing sociopaths in this country applaud this BULLSHIT

    In blog after blog for the past couple days, all I see are remarks from right wing piles of putrid monkey shit, talking about how this is just fine, and that all muslims deserve this kind of illegitimate war criminality.

    well, I have a message for you right wingers, if and when the balloon goes up here in this country into a ‘civil war’, I hope your asses are mistaken for the ‘enemy’ by those very same Apache gunships, and that you all get blown the fuck to kingdom come for what you are and how you think, because opinion is one thing, but SOCIOPATHY is a sickness, assholes!

Comments are closed.