Opinion Brief

The WikiLeaks 'attack video': Is it murder?

WikiLeaks' bombshell video shows a U.S. helicopter killing an unarmed Reuters journalist in Iraq. Did our soldiers cross a line?

The Iceland-based whistle-blower site WikiLeaks has released a graphic 38-minute video showing a U.S. Army helicopter attacking and killing 12 Iraqi men, including a Reuters photographer and his driver. (See embedded video below.) The video is a live feed from an Apache gunship helicopter as it circles and periodically shoots at the men, who were gathered on a Baghdad street. While the U.S. military maintains that the soldiers were facing an armed enemy, WikiLeaks says it's clearly "murder"—a case of Army pilots treating human beings like video game targets. What does the explosive video really show?

This was murder: The WikiLeaks video shows an unlawful act of "murder" by U.S. forces, says national security analyst Bernard Finel in his blog. Even if you accept the U.S. military's questionable excuses—a few of the men were armed, there was fighting nearby—the U.S. has an "affirmative duty" to protect civilians. Killing several unarmed men, when there's no self-defense motive, is "inexcusable." "Follow-up on Iraq video"

The soldiers followed the rules: The armed men, and the alleged (and unmarked) rescue van, were "fair game" under the military's Rules of Engagement, says Bill Roggio in The Weekly Standard. And calling it "'murder' is a sensationalist gimmick" designed to get Web traffic—not a serious journalistic assessment. Besides, WikiLeaks suspiciously starts its edit of the video "somewhat abruptly," midsentence, so we're not getting the whole story. "'Collateral Murder' in Baghdad anything but"

It looks bad either way: It's certainly possible WikiLeaks edited the video to make a bad situation look worse, says James Joyner in Outside the Beltway. But "absent some doctoring," shooting up an unarmed van is "simply a war crime." The first round of killings is, "at best, questionable." And, given the recent spate of "lies and coverups from the military brass," the WikiLeaks version of events is quite "plausible." "American soldiers kill unarmed Reuters reporters in Iraq"

CAUTION - The WikiLeak's "Collateral Murder" video (below) is graphic and disturbing:

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