A gritty video released by Wikileaks on Monday shows U.S. troops in Iraq destroying a vehicle that was preparing to rush a wounded Reuters journalist to the hospital.
The secret black-and-white video, recorded by at least one Apache helicopter that was shooting at a group of about a dozen people, appears to show the death of a Reuters photographer and his assistant, who were unarmed.
The U.S. Army had rejected Reuters' earlier requests, including ones made under the Freedom of Information Act, to disclose the July 2007 video. Government sources told both Reuters and the Associated Press on Monday that the clip is authentic.
The video seems to show that one person in the group may have pointed a rifle toward the armored helicopter--which had in turn been aiming its cannons at the men on the ground as it circled--though there's no evidence the Iraqis fired a weapon. The Apache crew obtained permission to engage and subsequently fired about 300 rounds into the group of men on the ground.
The civilian van that stopped to retrieve the wounded had children inside and the occupants appeared to be unarmed. It was destroyed by the Apache's cannon fire as well.
Some reports have said the driver of the van was a local man taking his children to a tutoring session when he came across Saeed Chmagh, the Reuters assistant and driver, who was lying in the ground. The other Reuters journalist who died that day was Namir Noor-Eldeen, a photographer.
"Look at those dead bastards," one pilot said. "Nice," another replied. One seemed to laugh a little as tanks appear to drive over a dead body.
It's unclear whether the dead Iraqi men were insurgents or law-abiding citizens who were armed.
Chmaah and Nor-Eldeen "had arrived, got out of the car and started taking pictures, and people gathered," Ahmad Sahib, an Agence France-Presse photographer who was a few blocks behind the Reuters crew, said at the time. "It looked like the American helicopters were firing against any gathering in the area, because when I got out of my car and started taking pictures, people gathered and an American helicopter fired a few rounds, but they hit the houses nearby and we ran for cover."
The release of the video is a coup for Wikileaks, which managed to publicly disclose what a major news organization could not. Some of the details of the battle had been noted before in a Washington Post reporter's 2009 book titled "The Good Soldiers."
In response to Wikileaks' disclosure during an event at the National Press Club, the Weekly Standard's Bill Roggio wrote what amounts to a defense of the U.S. military, saying the rules of engagement were followed. "The van, which was coming to the aid of the fighters, was fair game," he wrote. "Even if the men who exited the van weren't armed."
Late on Monday, the Pentagon released six partially redacted documents including sworn statements from the Apache crew members.
One crew member said: "Initially there were probably about 10 to 15 guys that were kind of gathering, so that's what keyed us in on where to start looking. At first, we picked out an AK-47, and then we continued to watch and picked out another AK-47. We picked out a guy who had something slung across his back, couldn't identify what it was." Then they opened fire.
The video follows. Be warned--it's graphic.