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.

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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. Jon Harrison,

    The fact that two of the men in the clip appear to carry AK47s does not actually indicate that they are insurgents. Baghdad in 2007 was in the grip of widespread civil upheaval and inter-communal clashes between Sunni and Shia, not to mention AQ terror attacks. Under the circumstances, I’d be surprised if noone in the group was armed. How do the air-crew distinguish between a member of a civilian defence militia, or an undercover/plainclothes police office? Unless the armed men in question engage in a threatening posture towards coalition or Iraqi goverment security forces, the principle of reasonable doubt should demand that no action be taken.

    This is a clear example of US military goons being unable to control their base urges to “get their guns off” and kill a bunch of “sand niggers”. They wanted these men to be insurgents, so they interpreted events accordingly. They wanted to see guns and ill intent, so that is what they decided they saw. They wanted to see RPGs, so thats what they reported they saw. They wanted to blow away the sole survivor, so they openly willed him to touch something that looked like a weapon. They wanted to blow away the black van, so they “saw” the driver “collecting wounded fighters” and “picking up weapons”.

    The fact that the air crew followed the rules of engagement and sought permission actually means nothing, because they relayed the “facts” to their superiors in a deliberatly false manner, framed in such a way as to elicit the desired response, ie permisison to fire. Remember that their superiors are not recieving the video feed, so can only go on what is verbally relayed to them.

    This air crew committed a clear war crime, but as usual the new-age Nazis aka US military will always protect its own, regardless of law or morality.

  2. Jon, I am so sick of the kind of softcore defense of genocide you and others are putting out there. When you say “the problem, I repeat, is war itself” you engage in the worst kind of fallacy–you lump all “war” together, and shake your head at the inevitable consequences of any war. Our “war” in (with?) Iraq is being waged for no valid reason. We relied on lies as an excuse to recklessly attack a country that posed zero danger to us and in doing so we slaughtered its innocent children, and continue to do so as I type this. I’m afraid “Support the troops” has become a disgusting smokescreen. It’s time to say it: our military is a volunteer force, and anyone who currently volunteers to put on an American uniform is morally bankrupt. Let me put it simply: I don’t support the troops.

  3. Also, Jon: “It says nothing about the American personnel involved.” Really? We see a horribly wounded man crawling on the ground. High above, from his vastly superior vantage point, we hear an American soldier practically beg the wounded man to grab a weapon, so that he can slaughter him. “Bloodthirsty” is the word that comes to mind. Laughter at the plight of the dead and dying is heard repeatedly. And when the Americans realize they have injured innocent children, do they express concern? No. They sullenly assert that it was “their” fault for bringing children into a battle they started. What we saw was institutionalized depravity–indeed, it’s the only way men in uniform can enthusiastically perform their jobs when it is painfully obvious to the rest of the world that they are not heroic or even good, but just pitiful pawns doing the bidding of evil leaders.

  4. The neo-cons are such a disgusting bunch of reprehensible scum.

    How anyone can watch that video and come away making excuses for it needs to take a long hard look in the mirror .

    To understand the reaction to this in the muslim world is easy, simply put Americans in the shoes of the Iraqi’s and ask yourself what the reaction would be if the roles were reversed.

    Neo-cons and war party cheerleaders have a real hard time empathizing with anyone, I don’t think we’ve seen this type of mindset since 1930’s Germany, which is ironic because thats the period the neo-cons use to demonize all their enemies, “saddam is the new hitler” “ahmadinejad is the new hitler” ……. well, the neo-cons are the new Nazis.

    All one has to do is read the nazi archives, you can read the exact justifications for mass murder, it’s classic brown shirt propaganda, blame the victims first, make up false claims, and claim the actions were taken to protect the greater good.

    Perhaps it’s time to just call the neo-cons what they are, neo-nazi’s.

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