06 Apr 2010

Video Shows US Apache Crews Killing Civilians

Foreign Policy 24 Comments

The post title sounds provocative, but that’s exactly what this is. I just have two comments; I’ll leave the rest to the video.

(1) In the beginning it’s not clear (at least to me as the viewer) whether the Americans in the helicopters justifiably thought they were under attack. But it is pretty clear to me that they didn’t even go through the motions of justifying the attack on the van (which ended up wounding and maybe killing two children–I’m not sure if they both died seriously wounding two children). Up till then, they are always talking about rules, like “Reach for a weapon, buddy” (not exact quote). But when it comes to them asking for permission to fire on the van, they don’t even come up with a reason (let alone a good reason).

(2) I would urge antiwar people not to go overboard in describing this. This is not “just like the Nazis,” etc. If you go over the top like that, then it will make people defensive. I think the best way to convince other Americans of why they should oppose US occupations abroad, is just to send this video with no comment.

==> Because of the graphic content, YouTube wants me to sign up. But I don’t want to do that, not least of which because my son sometimes goes through YouTube clips when I’m in the shower (first it was Monster Trucks, lately it’s been predators hunting animals). So watch the 17-minute YouTube (which comes after the MSNBC video) here at Glenn Greenwald’s site.

24 Responses to “Video Shows US Apache Crews Killing Civilians”

  1. Aaron says:

    How could the Apache pilots think they were under attack? They claim they saw AK-47s (no threat to a flying tank, which is an Apache).

    They claim to see an RPG. OK that could shoot down an Apache, but did anyone else count the number of secconds that passes when the first 30mm rounds were fired till they hit? That chopper was a good 3km away, no way was it in danger from an RPG.

  2. Andy says:

    This is war people.

    For some reason people think because we’re more “evolved” in the 21st century the horrors of war, and the evil which spawns from humanity during such times do not apply to the holy America.

    People of America are so far removed from the reality of the war that they become sucked into naivete. All it takes for most people is to read or hear that, “the American military claims the attacks were justified ect ect”. I ask you this, why on earth would an organization with so many vested interests open itself up to investigation by admitting to murder?

    All it takes is for the slogan “too big too fail”.

    All it takes is Al Gore to make a movie, a politician.

    All it takes is to say, global governance is not the same as global government.

    That’s all it takes.

    Humanity needs a dose of wisdom, and quick.

  3. geoih says:

    War is killing and destruction. Would we all feel better if they had carpet bombed the city from 30,000 feet, or starved the population to death with a blockade? I was offended as the next person by this video, but I think the real horror is the outrage of people that think you can send people off to war and then expect them to fight it in some perfectly humane manner. You put people in situations where they can be quite randomly killed at any moment, and they will react as if everything is a threat.

    • bobmurphy says:

      “I was offended as the next person by this video, but I think the real horror is the outrage of people that think you can…”

      If you think the “real horror” here is the outrage of people watching the video, then it’s not true that you were “offended as the next person by this video.”

      • geoih says:

        Are you now to be considered the representative for all of our outrage?

        • bobmurphy says:

          Actually I may have misunderstand your original point; my apologies if I did. If you were saying, “I can’t believe Americans would be so dumb as to think we could have a ‘humane’ occupation; duh, of course this is going to happen, that’s why the invasion was a moral outrage from the beginning,” then OK I am very sorry for my response. I misunderstood you.

          I had been reading a lot of people saying, “We can’t second-guess the troops” on other blogs etc. So I thought you were saying, “We can’t judge the troops, and that’s what really is the horror here, people calling these guys murderers when they sit in the safety of their living rooms.” If that’s what you were saying, then I stand by my original response that I don’t think this video bothered you as much as it did some other people.

  4. Daniel Hewitt says:

    Greenwald made an excellent distinction in one of the video interviews he posted. When told that the military was simply following the rules of engagement, instead of falling into that trap, he said that perhaps we should rethink the legitimacy of our presence in Iraq if “the fog of war” can result in massacres like this.

  5. fundamentalist says:

    The killing of children in war is always sad, but what the video lacks is context, and without context it could be promoting a false story. I can guarantee that Al Qaeda will use the video as a recruitment tool and it will be effective. What we don’t know is the intelligence that convinced the pilot that the van was a legit target and we don’t know what happened before the video.

    In the early days of the Iraq war, US soldiers killed a car full of women and children at a check point. What we learned later was that the insurgency discovered that US soldiers would not fire on women and children, so they forced women and children to ride in cars with bombs in the trunk. The insurgency made women and children human missiles to carry the bombs they would use to kill US soldiers.

    Terrorists have always hidden behind women and children and used them as weapons. There has never been a time in the past century when they didn’t. Both the Japanese and Germans hid weapons and weapons factories among civilians, used children as soldiers, and armed and trained women and children to fight Americans. Using women and children is a win-win proposition for them. If their mission succeeds in killing Americans, no one will ever know that women and children were involved because the explosions will kill them all. If the mission fails, then the Americans can be charged with deliberately targeting women and children.

    But we should keep in mind that any enemy we fight in the future will use women and children as weapons and as shields. We should never go to war without considering whether we want to kill women and children used as weapons and shields. That has been one of the major problems with the last two wars. We never consideered the consequences and then were shocked to find that the enemy is doing what it has always done, using women and children as weapons against us.

  6. Sean A says:

    Well it’s not as if the Nazis could hover thousands of feet in the air and pin-point their targets with video imagery, firing mounted turrets with amazing accuracy. This is modern warfare, far more covert and detached than anything imagined circa 1940. We see from the pilots, the desensitizing effect of this technology; it’s easy to laugh at a pile of dead human beings covered with gaping 3-inch wounds dripping blood over the street when you’re so far removed from the carnage that you don’t witness these humanizing effects; how else could they be so anxious to shoot the last dying man, dragging his bloody body across the street in a last ditch effort for survival. The industrial war complex produces machines that make it much easier much easier to kill; almost like a video game.

  7. Edward says:

    Perhaps I can provide a bit of general context, as I was in Iraq for seven months in 2007. As an infantry officer, I had access to supporting air cover, in the form of helicopters and jets. In the Marine area, air assetts were only allowed to engage if they were being fired upon or, if the ground unit had eyes on an enemy that had been shooting at them earlier. This means that if indeed they were following the rules of engagement, an infantry unit was nearby, probably watching with binoculars, and those men had been shooting at that infantry unit earlier.
    As far as the van, one of the tactics of the insurgents was to move into an area very quickly and lay explosives. They could do this out of a back of a van in less than a minute. One favorite tactic was to move into an area and lay a quick booby trap right after an attack because American troops always secure an area to look for injured, collect weapons, etc. Considering how quickly the van arrived and got moving again, it was certainly connected to the first group of men.
    I am not in the category of “never question the troops.” War crimes are committed and need to be dealt with accordingly. That video certainly merrits a full investigation, but if the rules of engagement were being followed, as I described above, then the pilots are not guilty of any crime.

    • bobmurphy says:

      Edward, thanks for the input. When you say, “if the rules of engagement were being followed, as I described above, then the pilots are not guilty of any crime,” do you mean by definition, or do you mean because your moral code agrees with the particular rules of engagement that the US military has implemented? In other words, suppose the rules of engagement were, “You can decapitate anyone who swears at you.” Obviously that would allow war crimes to occur.

      So are you saying that you think the particular US rules of engagement rule out the possibility of war crimes (so long as they are obeyed), or are you just saying in general, “It’s not really a war crime if the soldiers are doing what they were trained to do, it’s the fault of their superiors.”?

      BTW I’m not trying to box you into a corner, I’m just curious what you meant.

      • Edward says:

        Hi Bob,
        I was framing it in a legal sense. To judge the morality of the ROE I would have to know a lot more about the situation and the timing. For instance, in the norther part of my area, I would have ordered my men to open fire on that van without hesitation, but if I had travelled just 30 minutes south to the next village, we would have walked over and asked then to wait until we secured the area. So, it all depends on what was going on that day, that week, that month in the area.
        The other question, that deals with not only morality but effectiveness, is “was there a way to capture those individuals without a fight?”
        I know in my area, if we received fire from inside of a town, although we were allowed to return fire and kill our attackers, there was a great probability that it would result in at least one innocent person getting caught in the cross fire. So we had elaborate drills for surrounding areas when we received fire that would allow us to capture insurgents without a firefight. This won us a lot of points with locals and that method, mixed with other neighborhood outreach, contributed more to our success than our fighting prowess.
        So again, the video cetainly merits an investigation, but I know plenty of places in Iraq at that time where those actions would have been justified.

  8. K Sralla says:


    I probably should bow out of this one, but just a couple of comments. Firstly, I agree with you that the warfare state needs to be rolled back just like the welfare state. There is untold misery that we are inflicting as a result of a pretty stupid interventionist foreign policy. However, I think that libertarians and old-right folks do our side a great deal of harm in the public eye by launching rather ill-advised tyrades like this. It is akin to libertarians bringing up drug legalization in the middle of a bunch of bank bailouts in late 2008. It may be a good economic point, but the timing of the argument is ill-advised, and there are bigger fish to fry where the issues are not nearly as nuanced.

    It is grossly unfair for the state to train a bunch of 18-25 year old kids (officer or enlisted alike) to kill people, then try them in whatever venue for acting immorally, especially when they do what they are trained to do, kill people. Many of these young men are frightened and are just trying to stay alive. Have you ever witnessed the tail rotor of a helicopter hit by a ground fired RPG? It is not pretty. That is not to say that atrocities are not perpetrated in the name of just war. They are. The larger issue here is the institution of the warfare state. Let’s blame the politicians and institutions, but limit the burden we place on the back of a bunch of otherwise decent kids who are confused as heck about how to do their jobs in light of some morally confusing circumstances. Let’s instead blame the grownups. I can almost guarantee that when young people quit volunteering, we will quickly return to conscription. That is why it is the warfare state and its intellectuals that need to be confronted.

    • bobmurphy says:

      K Sralla, what “ill-advised tyrade” are you talking about? Where I said let’s watch our rhetoric and not compare these guys to Nazis?

  9. Jinto says:

    Oh Bob…. You must read the Mises forum more often.

    Alot of question people have about this incident can be answered in this thread:


    I’ll add that weapons like an ak-47 (I’m not sure about the RPG) would not be within shooting range of that that helicopter.

  10. JimS says:

    This is not a defense, I am playing nuetral here, but simply some observations.

    To answer a couple of points:

    Were the weapons that the targets possessed a threat to the helicopters? Probably not, but helicopters do not roam the sky simply in their own defense. Air support is just that, support for the troops on the ground and their mission (mission is always paramount). That raises the question, were the weapons a threat to ground troops? Hard to tell the immediacy of that, but certainly potentially.

    Is it allright for troops to willy nilly fire upon anyone or anyone they “think” is threatening? Certainly not. There are rules, oddly enough, for this sort of thing. This event is rather public now and if wrong was committed it will be sought out.

    I do however, believe the enemy is using women and children as shields, messengers, and ammo transporters and putting them into the mix. All of these things would make them legitimate targets. In a fight, I seek fire superiority first (gunships and artillery are great for this), I seek to blind the enemy in some manner (smoke, cover and concealment, force them to keep their heads down), I seek to make him mute (disrupt communication), I seek to disrupt supply or comfort (attack supply sources, supply lines, etc). Depending on the intensity of the fight or how strong the military’s will is, thes objectives can greatly increase the target list.

    I would like to say that in WWII after a couple of years, front line troops, or what remained of them, were nearly all willing to continue fighting but really wanted out. This is not the case in these conflicts. The enemy the US fought in WWII, Japan and Germany, were a fairly even match, and certainly at the begining superior to the US in military matters. I certainly do not wish this on anyone, but if we were losing 50,000 in two or three months, like we did on Okinawa, everyone would be singing a very different tune. I do not believe we would be seeing men re-enlisting for 3 or 4 tours, at least not as many.

    Just some thoughts.


    I would add that I am a huge fan of what von Mises said concerning free trade being the best tool for ensuring peace. Anything that would improve the affluency of these nations we occupy would go a long way toward pacifying them and us, come to think of it. I haven’t been to business school, but I am pretty sure at some point they note that killing customers is really bad for business. Perhaps an MBA could confirm or deny?

    • NOTAL says:

      “All of these things would make them legitimate targets.”

      Regardless of what the Military’s “Rules of Engagement” say, there is nothing that a third person can do to make an innocent child a “legitimate target”.

      It’s horrible to use innocent women and children as human shields, but that doesn’t give you the right to kill the innocents.

      • JimS says:

        When women and children are used as shields, they are not legitimate targets, and perhaps I should clarify this, legitimate in the eyes of the US military. I think these are very tough calls and tend to observe more than judge in these matters.

        If a woman or child carries a weapon, especially if they use it, they then are a legitimate target, I tend to agree with the ROE on this. My friend’s grand daughter tried to hit me with a stick a little while ago (perhaps she read my post). I snatched it away from her and strongly admonished her. She was hardly innocent, at least in that manner.

        If a woman or child participates in supplying and aiding communications, they may be a target, in a militarized mind. I can understand that.

        What is most intersting about this, to me, is that Alqeda or the Taliban know the US’s general reluctance to harm civilians, and I believe this to be true, though this is certainly not altruism as harming civilians hurts any propaganda or sale value such military action may have had. What I wonder about, because I have an interest in pacifist values, is if an opponent continually pushes one to stress their values, perhaps harming civilians, why wouldn’t they test pacifist values just as hard if not more harshly? I tend to think it would certainly work to their favor to do so. I agree that much armed conflict is counterproductive, but one’s opposition may not think that way. How does one communicate this? In other words, what does one say to someone flying a plane into a building that would be the slightest bit convincing or course altering, other than a good slap down? Isn’t violence, in itself, a form of communication?

        I am not being sacrastic in the least here. I have a deep interest in this and I am very troubled by these issues.

        Thanks for your thoughts;

  11. Cody says:

    Some of the soldiers in any army are likely to be murderers, just as some of the people in a town or city are likely to be murderers. Some are likely to be fools, in the same way.

    I am not certain that the discovery of two murderous fools in an army provides a condemnation of that army, or of armies in general.

    I was always under the impression that in fighting the Iraqi insurgency, there would be terrible accidents and in some cases terrible incidents of real intent, like what could be the worst-case scenario of the video.

    I guess my point is that wars have their innocent victims; WW2 had more of these by a factor of 10 or so than it had actual US casualties.

    The police shoot innocent people here all the time, too, as you continually point out, Dr. Murphy, so I am not sure if we are actually arguing over the Iraqi police force’s sovereign right to shoot their own innocents, or in another sense, the moral question of shipping our raving psychopaths overseas instead of making sure they only gun people down in their country of origin.

  12. K Sralla says:

    Bob, I probably should not have popped off so quickly before I carefully read your post. It looks like we may not disagree too much.

    Now, let me back you into a corner. Do you think all young people who volunteer for fighting duty in the armed forces of a war-making state are immoral? I’ll go you one further. Do you think persons conscripted into the Army of a war-making state are immoral for choosing to fight? It seems likely to me that you answer in the affirmitive to both questions. As a result, you seek to gain traction for your opinion by trying to evoke an emotional response from others by encouraging the distribution of the video. This is much the same tactic as sending out abortion videos to emotionally shock people into deeming the action immoral. Is this a good tactic too?

    I think we may need a Sunday blog to discuss the entire issue (of a Christian serving in the military) in full detail. Please consider.

    • bobmurphy says:

      K Sralla,

      Abortion analogies are always non-analogous in important ways, but let me try:

      No, I don’t think it’s a good tactic to show pictures of dead fetuses etc. outside abortion clinics. But that’s not the analog of this video. This video isn’t gruesome, and if there were a separate YouTube in which the soldiers showed the injured kids to a camera, I wouldn’t recommend people watch that.

      The reason this video is important is that it shows how relatively safe these guys were (objectively, if not in their own minds), when they decided to take out the van. And it also shows that the US government lied through its teeth when it first said these were insurgents, it had no idea how the kids got hurt, etc. So the point of showing people this video–without inflammatory commentary–is to show them that our occupying forces aren’t as lily white as Rush Limbaugh et al. would have you believe.

      So if you wanted an abortion analogy, I guess if pro-life people were claiming that many doctors in the US told women they were just getting an ultrasound, and then would knock them out and give them an abortion instead, then YES if there were video of that, it would be important for people to see. Because the pro-choice people would be saying, “What are you nuts? This is a completely informed, consensual procedure.”

      So the difference is, both pro-choice and pro-life people right now understand the mechanics of abortion. Showing the footage is nothing but sensational and gruesome.

      In contrast, there are plenty of “USA USA” people who think “our boys” only fire when first fired upon, etc., and that (even more absurdly) if particular bad apples really did something wrong, then the Pentagon would announce to the world, “Don’t worry, we’ve punished these criminals. Our bad, won’t happen again.”

  13. Matt says:

    What the gunners did was definitely the wrong thing to do, but it’s hard to call for their heads based on the video alone. If nothing else, the video brings home the raw tragedy of civilian casualties (accidental or otherwise) in a real way and also suggests that much of what the U.S. media has said about the war is based on systemic misinformation from the Pentagon.

  14. Connie says:

    One of the (many) sad things about war is what it does to the soldiers, albeit it is probably more a revealer of character rather than a changer of character. Hence some soldiers laugh while killing civilians and others come home and commit suicide. Or refuse to discuss it, or whatever. When their lives are held cheaply (regardless of rhetoric to the contrary) by those who send them to war for purely political reasons, I suppose it is hard for some to see anyone else’s life as worthwhile either.

  15. Jinto says:

    The soldiers are murderers; plain and simple. They wanted to kill and they got it.

    The Mises thread proves as much.