John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
The video of a 2007 attack by U.S. helicopters that killed two Reuters employees in Iraq should be required viewing by any reporter heading for a war zone. It is a deadly mistake to assume, because a group you're with is not engaged in combat, or even making threatening moves, that actual combatants are going to see it that way.
The video is "graphic evidence of the dangers involved in war journalism and the tragedies that can result," David Schlesinger, the editor in chief for Reuters News, told the New York Times.
But there is another lesson to be learned from the film, as we try to win the hearts and minds of the Islamic world. For all our technological marvels, well-trained troops, and sophisticated weaponry, war is a crude and brutal tool. Accidents happen. There is collateral damage. Kids get killed. And survivors don't forget.
The video was released by WikiLeaks, and shows the death of Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, his driver, Saeed Chmagh, and 10 other Iraqis. The fate of two children, who were seriously wounded, is not known. The two Reuters employees had joined a small crowd, some of whom were armed, on a Baghdad street. They knew that the U.S. military was operating in the area, but trusted that the Apache helicopters, circling overhead, would not attack without provocation.
Their mistake cost them their lives. The tape shows that the Apache crews were excited, and on edge. Seeing weapons—and perhaps mistaking the camera equipment as guns—they riddled the street with cannon fire, and shot the wounded as they tried to flee. Then they destroyed the van of a good Samaritan who stopped, with his children, to help one of the dying journalists.
"Well, it's their fault for bringing their kids into a battle," one pilot says.
Yes, that is true. The journalists, and the good Samaritan, failed to respect the reality of war.
The rest of us, however, need to recognize that reality as well. When America sends its armies to invade foreign lands, and to stay on as occupiers for a decade or more, incidents like this will happen—over and over and over again. It is what al Qaeda is hoping for; the evidence it uses to recruit. We need to remember that, as we make our calculations.