Military wrong to cover up truth
WikiLeaks, a Web site dedicated to posting secret documents from governments around the world, released a video April 5 of a U.S. helicopter attack from 2007 that resulted in the deaths of numerous civilians — including Reuters journalists — and severely wounded two children.
The video, named Collateral Murder, was recorded by the gun camera on an Apache helicopter and shows the chopper firing on a group of mostly unarmed people. After the initial attack, a van drives up and unarmed men get out to help a wounded survivor before they’re fired upon as well.
According to an investigation conducted by WikiLeaks, the van’s driver was simply a good Samaritan trying to help someone who was hurt.
The leak provoked outrage from many who have been shocked not only by the killing of unarmed people but also the callousness demonstrated by many of the soldiers’ comments heard in the video. The video is certainly gruesome and the event tragic, but the soldiers involved are not guilty of murder.
It is clear from the video that at least one man in the group was armed and the soldiers confused camera equipment for weapons. While it’s reasonable to wish that the soldiers had demonstrated a little more discretion and confirmed that their targets were in fact insurgents, they were clearly responding to what they perceived to be a threat.
This video should not be seen as an indictment of the soldiers involved; they were put into a bad situation and asked to make a snap judgment based on their training.
Although the outcome was tragic, from the soldiers’ point of view they made the correct decision. The Pentagon said as much when it investigated the incident and found the soldiers’ actions to be justified and consistent with their training and established procedures.
What’s really outrageous about the event, however, is the cover-up that ensued.
The day after the incident, Alissa Rubin of The New York Times reported that a statement released by the military claimed that nine of the 11 people killed were insurgents — a claim clearly shown by the video to be a lie.
Rubin also quoted a military spokesman who said the troops were clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force, which the video also shows to be not true.
Despite multiple Freedom of Information Act requests from Reuters to release the video of the incident, the military refused to do so for more than two years. The video only came to light after being published by WikiLeaks.
It’s no coincidence that U.S. intelligence has been investigating WikiLeaks for some time, or that the government considers the Web site to be a threat to the military (a conclusion found in a report published by none other than WikiLeaks).
The U.S. government may try to claim that telling the truth and releasing evidence of what really happens in instances such as this threatens America because it could turn more people against us, as it claimed when it refused to release photos of prisoner abuse last year. But that’s simply not the truth.
Most Americans today are ignorant about the true nature of these wars. The military and those who support the wars do their best to hide the reality from us. That’s why incidents such as this are painted as aberrations when they get leaked to the public.
The truth is that similar incidents occur frequently. That’s war. Our country trains hundreds of thousands of young men to kill, subjects them to the stresses of war and puts them into impossible situations every single day that require them to make snap judgments based on their training. It’s naïve to expect the result to be any different.
Military secrets about what the U.S. does in Iraq aren’t a secret to Iraqis, but rather to us. If more Americans realized the true costs of war, both in terms of civilian casualties and the mental damage done to those who serve, we wouldn’t be so willing to support waging war against anyone.
Such an attitude would simply be unacceptable to those who see war as our best tool of foreign policy, and that’s why our government constantly refuses to reveal the truth about what is done in America’s name.
David Brooks is a communication senior and may be reached at [email protected]