Did American Military violate any laws in the wikileaks video?


"WikiLeaks has released a classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad – including two Reuters news staff.

Reuters has been trying to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act, without success since the time of the attack. The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-site, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded."

From what I’ve seen, its not clear as to whether this video represents any clear violation of international law. The chopper pilot claims to see one or two of the people in the group walking around with AK47s, and on that basis, about 15 people are killed and two kids severely injured. But was it illegal, or just an extremely bad judgment bad call?

BBC Story: WikiLeaks has posted a video on its website which it claims shows the killing of civilians by the US military in Baghdad in 2007.

107 Views…0 replies? :frowning:

There’s already a thread on this subject.

What laws would they have violated? It’s a common misconception that there is this set of international laws that are binding. International law between governments is a sort of polite fiction.

If the rules of engagement were followed by the air crew, then they should be safe from prosecution by the military itself. It’s also somewhat unrealistic to expect that there will be no mistakes in identification, if indeed there were, or that discriminating between insurgents, people helping insurgents, and civilians is an easy task.

Depending upon your interpretation of the UN conventions, you could argue that this incident violates the human rights convention, or that the entire war does, etc. etc. But the ICJ is never going to prosecute it, and if they tried the U.S. would probably decline to participate or enforce any verdict, since the US considers it’s own system quite adequate to the task of investigating and punishing people for these sorts of things. (It’s not a matter of the fox guarding the henhouse, either. It’s an issue of sovereignty, and every nation on the planet has that same stance.)

So the short answer to your question is that they possibly violated some “international law”, depending on who you ask and what arguments and assumptions you make, but the concept of international law doesn’t really work the same way as the law you are familiar with, and there is no reasonable way to enforce it.

That may be true, but:
a) there is no thread in GQ that I am aware of; and
b) you failed to provide a link to the GD thread.

Further, the questions posed in the GD thread are, shall we say, a bit more oriented toward the opinion part, and less toward the fact portion. Since this was posted in GQ, maybe we can try to avoid the policy questions and stick to the factual ones.

This is a non-story.

I’ve just watched the video and I don’t have a problem with any of the military’s actions. Yes, it looked like the men were armed. The van was unlabelled. A Press badge is not a magic invulnerability shield. You’re in a hostile zone and you mount something on your shoulder? Of course people are going to think it’s something nasty. People do not have perfect information.

This has happened before: I recall the story of a camera crew being killed by an Israeli tank. They were filming it at a considerable distance and the tank commander decided that the camera was actually a rocket launcher or something.

Per the Geneva Convention, engaging the van and the people moving the bodies would have been a war crime if it and they had been marked with a Red Cross or Red Crescent, but it wasn’t, nor were they.

When I watched the video, yes it pissed me off for a number of reasons, but not the least of which was that I could see how such a misunderstanding occurred. Why does the most technologically advanced military in the world base attack decisions on a worse picture than a typical 7-11 security cam video? If for some reason it’s not practical to equip with better cameras/telephoto, why not require binoculars or telescopic visual verification before engagement? If a tiny, blurry, grainy, black and white image that only shows someone is maybe carrying something vaguely tube-shaped is enough to “justify” annihilating a city street full of people, I can only imagine what other atrocities are occurring over there on a daily basis.

Again, I can totally see why those soldiers would be scared and jumpy, but I don’t see why it had to be that way.

These responses might be better suited to the GD thread linked above.

Convention I, Article 3(1): “Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces…shall in all circumstances be treated humanely.”

It must be obvious to everyone that the occupants of the van had come to the scene to deliver medical assistance (evacuation). The only argument I can see for firing upon the van was to prohibit the wounded man was leaving the action and escaping with ‘enemy intelligence’. In no way did the van or its occupants present a threat.

Really? It’s easy to say in hindsight. The van was not marked in any way.

They were zoomed in with a telephoto lens. Can you really afford to wait until the bad guy has you or someone else targetted? Or worse, has fired upon you or someone else?

The people on the ground were behaving suspiciously and not marked as Press in any visible way. Shit happens.

As a 3 time veteran of Iraq, I’m gonna give you guys the perspective of someone on the ground here(by no means do I speak for anyone but myself).

The image looks bad because it’s thermal. No one uses Day TV for combat ops when so much can be hidden from view that can be spotted by their heat signature. And thermals are actually pretty good too, I’ve been able to read facial expressions on people up to a 100m from my Bradley before, but these guys were a lot further than that.

Also, it really looked to me like one guy did have an RPG. Civilians carrying rpgs are considered to have Hostile intent, that’s justification for lethal force. And as for engaging the van, quite often the insurgents evacuate their own wounded, to such an extent it’s impossible to determine how many bad guys we’ve wounded or killed because there are almost never any bodies for us find once we do finally reach an enemy position. Had I been engaging someone and then seen a van pull up to pull them out, I would have engaged the van as well. At that point there’s no way that it would enter my mind that I was engaging civilians, instead I would be thinking that the Mahdi motherF****** had called up their friends(which they always do) and the “friends” arrived too late for the fighting, but rushed in to pull their dead and wounded out. If I see it happen, that’s just more bad guys I need to engage.

No, these guys did not violate the Rules of Engagement as the Rules of Engagement require Hostile Act and Hostile Intent. To the best of their knowledge, they were not engaging civilians.

Its pretty clear from the commentary that Mk 1 Eyeball is also being used. And the camera on the Apache is very nifty indeed - though I don’t know if American Apaches use the one fitted to British Apaches.

By the Apache crew? They were a good distance away throughout - check the delay between firing and impact on the video.

Yes. The time delay isn’t relevant. The speed of a bullet is rather slow compared with the speed of light.

Fair enough…could you list which laws you think are being clearly violated then? It will make a factual discussion of this much easier. As it is, you might as well have not posted this, and just joined in the GD thread.

I’m not at a computer where I can look stuff up, but I’m pretty sure that this is covered in the GC, under the rules for an Occupying Power.

Leaving aside your assumption here (that it was either illegal or a bad call), I’d have to say that, at least as far as my limited knowledge of the GC goes, nothing remotely illegal was done here. However, I think if you re-frame your question a bit less ambiguously, you might get a factual answer to this from one of the legal 'dopers who have a better grasp on international law as it relates to the GC and this situation.
My factual question would be, is there any evidence any governments or groups are attempting to press charges against either the US or the crew wrt this incident?


Lol, wut? No fucking way are you that stupid.

Honestly - slow down. Watch the video again - this is the gun cam - Brrrrrrrrapppp - gap - death. The copter is about, what, 4 km away? Mark one eyeball!

Moderator caution…

Baron. This is General Questions. Insults aren’t allowed.

samclem Moderator, GQ

This is site has materials released by the Army concerning the death of the Reuters Journalists.


Yikes…I’m not clicking on that link, not with those warnings attached. Could you cut and paste the parts that are relevant to the discussion?



The documents are .pdf so I am unable to cut and paste.

These are reports of the investigation done by the Army in July 2007. The reports contain stills from the gun camera footage with some explanation, sworn statements from the Apache crews and reports from the first soldiers at the scene.

They are lenghty and I am only part way through them. Interesting reading though.
Apparenety the first soldiers on the scene found an RPG, AKM and a live PRG round. These were all found amount the casualties.