Dylan Ratigan Show   |  April 05, 2010

Video: U.S. troops shoot innocent civilians

Msnbc’s Dylan Ratigan and a panel talk about the newly released video by the Web site Wikileaks of graphic combat video of brutal civilian deaths in Iraq.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> well, again, good afternoon to you. in america today weerks does he recalling with newly-leased and graphic combat video of brutal civilian death in iraq . the website says that the classified video is from an american apa che helicopter. the video we are about to show you is disturbing and graphic. according to the website, this video dates to july 12th , 2007 . it shows two men they identified a journalist and his driver. as well as several others. the camera strap is mistaken for a weapon. he and another man thought to be equipped with rpgs and ak-47s.

>> five to six individuals with ak-47s.

>> we have a guy shooting.

>> the journalist, his driver and the other men assemble and the helicopter opens fire.

>> line them all up.

>> come on. fire.

>> the tape identifies approximately eight men as killed in the strikes. including reuters cameraman and his driver. they're apparently assumed to be insurgents.

>> dead bastards.

>> nice. [ bleep ].

>> thank you.

>> later, a family and neighbors, adults and children inside a minivan pull up on the wounded to try to help. they, too, are fired upon.

>> come on.

>> clear.

>> while the well being of the adults in the van is not reported, the two children in the van were seriously wounded. until now, the military had said it didn't know how those children were injured and that the people killed were anti-iraqi forces or insush gents. near the end of the tape, ground troops arrive on the scene and a tank drives over one of the dead bodies .

>> drove over a body.

>> altogether, 12 people are believed to have been killed in that particular series of events. we should point out that the information that we do have right now is from the website, a group known for leaking sensitive government and corporate documents which in the past have proven to be authenticate and said reuters was trying to get the video using a lawsuit under the freedom of information act , had not as yet been successful. and as for the other side of this story, senior military officials telling nbc news this afternoon that they believe that the pilots were convinced that they were firing on armed insurgents. this happened in an area where u.s. soldiers had come under fire in the past. the pilots thought they needed to take action. the pentagon says that it sees no reason to investigate this any further and that there have been no calls for an investigation. they see no evidence of criminal intent or negligence in this particular case. joining us now is julia that sang and bret magurk with the council on foreign relations , lieutenant colonel anthony schafer and glen glenwald, columnist, lawyer for salon.com joining us by way of skype. julia, how did you come to have these tapes?

>> we acquired in it a process like this, we never speak too directly about our confidential sources .

>> you would point this to a military whistle-blower effectively?

>> yes. there were more than one military whistle-blowers involved in releasing this material and surrounding documents to us.

>> do you have -- go ahead.

>> when we first obtained the video itself, that was encrypted.

>> do you have more tapes like this?

>> yes, we do.

>> how many?

>> i won't go into the precise number but there was a rumor that the tape we were about to release was about a similar incident in afghanistan where 97 people were bombed in may last year. we have that video.

>> do you intend to release that video, as sfwhel.

>> yes. as soon as we have finished our analysis, we will release it.

>> what is your intention in releasing these videos and acquiring these videos?

>> well, we can see in this case we really have unique material that shows how modern aerial warfare is done. hasn't been revealed bmp. it also shows the debasement and moral corruption of soldiers as a result of war. it seems like they are playing video games with peoples' lives and even the mission itself many may argue with the correctness of the submission thrown out the window. for example when one of the reuters journalists is lying prone on the ground, they may believe him to be an insurgent but he clearly has no weaponry new york city arms, no arms combat around him and what appears to be good samaritans, go to his aid, clearly unarmed, if he was an insurgent, they genuinely believed he was an insurgent, that wounded man should be interrogated and asked what about he was doing. but instead, you can hear on the transcript they're saying, come on, buddy. just pick up a weapon. all we need to you to do is pick up a weapon because under the rules of engagement , as soon as he picks up a weapon, he can be killed so their desire is simply to kill as many people as possible, to get as high of a score as possible in their endeavor to kill people and then brag about it to the rest of the troops, the mission itself is completely out the window.

>> julian, please rejoin us again as you continue your efforts to document some of this coverage. julian, co-founder of wikileaks . i want to learn to you, brett. you were in baghdad at the time of this tape was shot. is that correct?

>> off and on, yeah.

>> put this in context. was this -- is this typical? is this an extraordinarily rare event and how does this event fit into the context of the narrative or the arc of reality on the ground in baghdad and particularly in the context of the surge?

>> i mean, this is middle of the surge between april and july we lost about 400 american soldiers in combat. this district was new baghdad just south of sadr city . the hottest of the hot zone . we were finding rpg 29s, the most sophisticated weapons coming in from iran . we were losing soldiers every day. you can get a sense of what the attitude was like from the troops there.

>> what about the frequency with which these types of mistakes get made?

>> that's the mission which was put down from general petraeus to protect the population. that was the mission and that mission succeeded. this was an operation which if you go to the beginning of the tape, they thought they say rpgs which were, in fact, cameras. an area of baghdad , hottest of the hot zones and engaged these groups. it is a tragic, tragic tape. i want to say having spent two years of my life in iraq , the journalists in iraq , some of the bravest folks i have met. this is a tragic, tragic video. however, from the perspective of the troops in hoiks flying around engaged by rpgs and we have had helicopters shot down in this part of baghdad , i can see where they were coming from. i think it's slanderous to say their mission to kill as many iraqis as possible. not at all. our mission is to engage targets terrorizing baghdad like we thought these people were.

>> lieutenant colonel schafer, you look at this and you ask yourself, what are the rules of engagement from our soldiers and how do you -- there's a reality in new york long ago where kids in the ghetto would take guns and point them at police, toy go guns.

>> i know.

>> how do you distinct between the camera tripod and the rules of engagement which i presume try to avoid this?

>> well and that's absolutely correct and, dylan, i'm glad you use that example. i was in exactly the situation to shot or not shot an 8-year-old in kabul in the first mission . the thing threw at the car turned out to be a cup. thank god. but it's shoot/don't shoot call every time you're out. there it's never easy. but this is tragic. now, let me be clear here. this, i believe, was a failure partially because of training and discipline. i mean, when you're using aviation as a primary source of delivery of weaponization of combat, of fire power , you've got to be very, very precise. this is what general mcchrystal is always talking about. we have to get it right if we're going to have the population on our side. i watched the video very closely, dylan. what's going to happen when the kids grow up now is what will be the memories of this ins zment we have got to be better than good. we have got to be great. i understand the context of both ends of this, there were a lot of rpgs coming out.

>> from your perspective, were the rules of engagement followed from what you see in this piece of videotape?

>> let me be clear. based don fact this is not confirmed video of the army, i don't know but based on what i've seen, no, they were not. first rule is to engage persons with hostile intent by minimum force necessary. minimum force is the key here. if you see eight armed men, the first thing to think as an intelligence officer, how can we take them and capture them? we don't want to kill people ash arbitraril arbitrarily. when you see the van to take away the wounded, do not target or strike anyone out of combat due to sickness or wounds. the wound part of that i find disturbing by the fact you have people down, clearly down. people on the way there. again, speaking at an intelligence officer, i want to capture people to recover them. if you're not doing that, you are not doing precise combat.

>> glen, put all of this together and it is everybody's worse nightmare. brought to reality and is a reality that does not get a lot of coverage we know in this country if any which is why wikileaks exists. if you look at what is coming, the awareness of this in the concrete is what occurs, how does the american military , how does the american media , how does the american -- how do you perceive this altering the conversation go ahead.

>> well, i think one of the things to emphasize is that wikileaks is heroic. this footage is seen all the time in the muslim world of what we are doing over there and the effect of the missions are but it's seen very rarely over here and sparks the kind of discussion we ought to be having about what our wars and invasions actually entail are doing. i think other important thing to note about it, this is far from uncommon. just today on the front page of "the new york times" the pentagon had to admit claims of made of a special forces mission in afghanistan were completely false , killing five civil sans and claimed three were found bound and gagged but we ended up killing all five civilians. this happens constantly and learn about it when investigative reporters or sites expose it. what i think it unsds scores is we know to send soldiers into war, these things happen. that's the fog of war even well intentioned soldiers commit acts like this. the point is to think about why we continue to invade other countries knowing that the kinds of things we see on the video from r the kirnds of things we'll be going to the population. there it's immoral and counter productive as the gentleman just said. what do you think the people who see this video an the family members who are surviving are going to think about the united states for the next two or three decades.

>> at what point, brett, do you have to ask the question about the security mission and the desire for everybody in america to have security? and the mechanism, the reality of our military engagement in iraq and afghanistan ? and whether, in fact -- at what point it is beneficial and what point it is detrimental? how do you answer that question?

>> that's a gigantic question. at the time the mission in the iraq , we were losing the mission that the point. and that's what ended up happening. the mission to protect the population. therefore, an operation like this went against the very mission we were -- there's probably more examples of u.s. troops in the streets to protect civilians and not engaging and we are taking casualties.

>> i have no doubt for that. i don't think anybody in the conversation i hope is seeking to indict either soldiers or military. i think it's understandable going to the old suicide by cop na narrative and you can see where it happens but the bigger question is, if we are trying to secure our nation and we are spending $12 billion a month on war in the middle east , and we're working our way towards $8 trillion and talking about 100,000 dead iraqis i can keep going. when does the question become, where does our security end and a war that appears to be off track begin?

>> well again, i mean, look. historians will judge the consequence of the iraq intervention. there's a chance now that we're going do leave something better behind in iraq but it's going to take about ten years to determine that. i don't know. all i know is we are in a situation at that point where baghdad is out of control. on the precipice of genocidal levels of silence and secure the population and give the iraqis a chance. you say, my gosh, everything is going --

>> to the point, unfortunately, there are more examples like this. this is -- i'm no one here seeking to indict specifically any of these soldiers at all. but i think it is critical to acknowledge in the fog of war , in the context of combat, that this is what is happening and at the very least, to glen's point, this is what is being seen by the families who would view american soldiers and american presence as infidels.

>> again --

>> true?

>> also critical to acknowledge we have at that time u.s. soldiers in the streets to protect iraqi civilians. that's -- i mean, iraq before the surge was just --

>> no one's contesting that yet.

>> we put americans in harm's way to stabilize that -- and give a city of 7 million people a chance. that's what was happening. an event like this goes against the entire mission . therefore, yeah. this is a terrible, tragic thing. i won't defend it. the context is critical here.

>> i appreciate that. glen, same to you, again. thank you for your reporting and context. anthony, same to you, appreciated. we'll continue our coverage of this developing story over the next few days and weeks. coming up here on "the