THE PENTAGON has revealed it is trying to trace the original video showing US helicopter gunners killing a dozen Iraqis on July 12th, 2007.
The footage, certified as authentic and available on the Wikileaks website, consists of black-and-white footage recorded by an Apache gun-site camera.
Iraqi men are shown gathering in a dusty, rubble-strewn street outside single-storey, flat-roofed buildings. The men, relaxed and wandering about, clearly know nothing of the pair of US helicopters circling at a distance in search of armed insurgents.
An airman in the lead Apache sees a stocky man with a dark object slung from a strap over his shoulder and announces, “One of them has a weapon.” Others are said to be carrying rifles and grenade launchers.
An airman says, “We got a guy shooting.” After obtaining the OK from command, the lead Apache opens fire.
“Hahaha, I hit ’em,” chuckles the gunner. “Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards.”
The exchange continues: “Nice.”
An injured man is seen crawling along the curb of the sidewalk towards the open door of a courtyard in front of a house. A gunner urges, “All you gotta do is pick up a weapon,” although no weapons are visible.
A dark van appears and approaches the wounded man. Two rescuers get out, lift him up and turn towards the van, when one of the airmen cries, “They’re taking him.”
The helicopter opens fire. “Look at that. Right through the windshield,” cries one of the airmen.
Another laughs. They shoot further rounds. After US armoured vehicles arrive at the scene, troops find two wounded children in the van. An airman snaps: “Well it’s their fault for bringing kids into a battle.” Another says: “That’s right.”
Most of the men shown in the video were empty-handed. The footage did not record any shooting from the ground.
The man carrying the object slung over his shoulder was Saeed Chmagh (40), a driver for Reuters news agency. The object he carried was a camera.
The cameraman, Namir Nour-Eldin (22), also bearing a camera, was on the phone to an Agence France-Presse colleague Ahmad Sahib, who was on his way to the scene. Mr Nour-Eldin lifted his camera to film just as the Apache fired.
Mr Chmagh was the man the people in the van tried to rescue; an armoured vehicle ran over a body believed to be the corpse of Mr Nour-Eldin.
At least 139 journalists, 120 of them Iraqis, have been killed during the seven-year occupation; 16 have died as a result of US fire.
The Reuters correspondents went to the scene to investigate reports of a raid on homes in the area. Some of the slain men may have been showing the journalists the way, others may have decided to tag along, a common occurrence when cameras are present.
During visits to the country in 2003-2004, The Irish Timesfound that Iraqis and foreigners alike were uneasy about hovering helicopters, and gave a wide berth to US convoys.
Drivers attempting to overtake risked being shot. After a number of fatal incidents, soldiers on tanks and machine-gunners on humvees would throw plastic bottles filled with water at cars to warn them not to pass.
This reporter used to sit on the balcony of the fourth-storey flat where I stayed in Baghdad watching US vehicles sweep down the empty road along the bank of the Tigris. Iraqis in vehicles were often shot when approaching US checkpoints, where nervy troops feared bombers.
One day I was in the office of UN de-miners when several team members – from Canada and New Zealand – and a US army sergeant were caught in cross-fire between two US units in a crowded shopping area in central Baghdad.
The de-miners and the sergeant were invited into a home by an Iraqi family who offered them tea.
The office received running cell phone commentary from one of the de-miners and toasted the men’s safe return with cold beer.