Follow-Up on Iraq Video

There has been some pushback on calling this murder.

Even if we grant everything argued in defense of the actions of the Apache crew, including that (a) at least some of the men were armed; (b) that there was fighting in the vicinity; (c) that the press did not sufficiently identify themselves, this is still a criminal act.

In the final analysis, you have eight men, only two of whom appear to be armed. They are not engaging coalition forces at the time. There is no compelling military necessity to engage the entire group at that moment. We are the occupying power in Iraq. It is our affirmative duty to protect civilian lives under that circumstance. The presence of armed men, in a mixed group of people some of whom appear to be non-combatants (because they are clearly unarmed), does not justify killing them all. Attacking unarmed men who are helping a wounded man is also simply not justifiable. The man crawling on the ground is clearly no threat to coalition forces. He’s unarmed and crawling to his death. A van pulls up and unarmed men exit to help him, and we engage it?

Given the presence of unarmed men, there ought to have been an assessment of proportionality. Can we justify killing six unarmed men in order to strike at the one or two who are armed? The answer to that is, maybe (probably yes), but only if they are actively engaging coalition force. Not if they are just milling about. There was no military necessity here to over-ride the presumption of non-combatant immunity.

Sorry, but this was an unlawful killing. The Apache crew did not appear to be under fire. The men they attacked where not engaging anyone. This was not close air support. This was murder.

Unless the video was doctored, this is not actually a particularly hard case. Which is not to say that I can’t empathize with the Apache crew or the difficulties of operating at that kind of environment. But empathy is one thing, excusing the inexcusable in another.

8 comments to Follow-Up on Iraq Video

  • [...] Bernard Finel has a follow-up: In the final analysis, you have eight men, only two of whom appear to be armed. [...]

  • There is no compelling military necessity to engage the entire group at that moment.
    I don’t think you cannot defend that (beyond a reasonable doubt) with only the information available. Relying only on the information publicly available at this moment, there are too many possible explanations. I’m giving the 15-6 a thorough read on Thursday, so maybe I overlooked some details, but certainly the video itself is not conclusive.

    The man crawling on the ground is clearly no threat to coalition forces. He’s unarmed and crawling to his death. A van pulls up and unarmed men exit to help him, and we engage it?
    That’s the part that bothered me the most. I can guess at some highly unlikely rationalizations for that one, but that’s it. I’ve witnessed some questionable shots, given orders that I second-guessed later, and seem some clear errors. That part of the video shocked me.

    Regarding the rest of your post, I would just add that the shooting of the large group of men in the open is not clearly unjustified. Spotters, ammo bearers, guys in suicide vests, messengers, and others are fair game. None of the guys in the video appear to fit that profiles, but I suspect there is more information than what is currently in the public domain that might shed some light on that. Your conclusion may be right, but I don’t think we’ve got enough information to declare it with such certainty.

  • Schmedlap: My point about military necessity is one of timing. The men did not seem to be in contact with coalition ground forces, who actually seemed a bit confused about what precisely the Apache was looking at and needed to be directed after to the scene of the shooting. And unless I am misunderstanding the video, it seems that the Apache was out of RPG range, which I believe is at most 1000 meters, though at that range taking out a chopper would be long-shot, literally.

    Had the Apache crew been a little more curious or cautious, they might have been able to be more discriminate in their engagement of this group. But they were looking for excuses to pull the trigger, not doing any sort of proportionality test as required by the laws of war.

  • M Shannon

    How did the Apache crew know the armed men were even hostiles? Why couldn’t they have been private security guards or policemen?

  • keith

    Bernard,

    This “event” happened in July 2007, which was right in the middle of the period called “the surge.” The Surge is supposedly when the US Army adopted a population-centric counterinsurgency strategy designed to “protect the population.”

    Shouldn’t that have meant that the ROEs would have been even more restrictive? This is the exact type of thing you HAVE to avoid if you are attempting such a strategy.

    That is why I don’t find it going to far to say that this travesty is indicative of the whole thing. As Glenn Greenwald has noted, this isn’t a one off event; it was done completely in accordance with Army standards.

    Every day, minute, and hour we continue to spend in Afghanistan and Iraq negatively effects our security, prestige, and foreign policy options. It is time to leave and adopt a defensive and mitigation strategy you briefly outlined in a previous post.

  • Shouldn’t that have meant that the ROEs would have been even more restrictive?

    No.

    As Glenn Greenwald has noted…

    Glenn Greenwald is a jackass.

  • keith

    Schemdlap–

    So did the ROEs not change during the Surge or were these guys operating in accordance with Surge ROEs?

    You are better than calling people names.

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