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EXCLUSIVE: One Day After 2007 Attack, Witnesses Describe US Killings of Iraqi Civilians

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As the US Central Command says it has no plans to reopen an investigation into the July 2007 helicopter attack that killed a dozen people in Baghdad, including two Reuters news staff, we play never-before-seen eyewitness interviews filmed the day after the attack. [includes rush transcript]

Related Story

StoryApr 12, 2010“This Is How These Soldiers Were Trained to Act”–Veteran of Military Unit Involved in 2007 Baghdad Helicopter Shooting Says Incident Is Part of Much Larger Problem
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We begin today with a Democracy Now! exclusive. As the US Central Command says it has no plans to reopen an investigation into the July 2007 helicopter attack that killed a dozen people in Baghdad, including two Reuters news staff, we’ll play never-before-seen eyewitness interviews filmed the day after the attack.

Military lawyers have reportedly been reviewing the classified video of the air strikes released by the website WikiLeaks on Monday. But Rear Admiral Hal Pittman, director of communications at Central Command, which oversees the war in Iraq, said in a statement to Reuters, quote, “Central Command has no current plans to reinvestigate or review this combat action.”

However, CENTCOM did make public a redacted series of records on the case, including investigations days after the attack by the air cavalry and infantry units that were involved in the incident. According to an investigation by the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, the military concluded the aircrew, quote, “accurately assessed that the criteria to find and terminate the threat to friendly forces were met in accordance with the law of armed conflict and rules of engagement.”

The chilling video footage taken from the US military helicopter shows US forces indiscriminately firing on Iraqis in the New Baghdad neighborhood of the Iraqi capital. The dead included two employees of the Reuters news agency: photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and driver Saeed Chmagh.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we go to the exclusive interviews with eyewitnesses to the attack, I want to play a short clip from that video released by WikiLeaks. This is the moment the US forces first open fire from a helicopter.

    US SOLDIER 5: There, one o’clock. Haven’t seen anything since then.

    US SOLDIER 2: Just [expletive]. Once you get on, just open up.

    US SOLDIER 1: I am.

    US SOLDIER 4: I see your element, got about four Humvees, out along this —

    US SOLDIER 2: You’re clear.

    US SOLDIER 1: Alright, firing.

    US SOLDIER 4: Let me know when you’ve got them.

    US SOLDIER 2: Let’s shoot. Light ’em all up.

    US SOLDIER 1: Come on, fire!

    US SOLDIER 2: Keep shootin’. Keep shootin’. Keep shootin’. Keep shootin’.

    US SOLDIER 6: Hotel, Bushmaster two-six, Bushmaster two-six, we need to move, time now!

    US SOLDIER 2: Alright, we just engaged all eight individuals.

AMY GOODMAN: Minutes later, the video shows US forces watching as a van pulls up to evacuate the wounded. They again open fire from the helicopter, killing several more people and wounding two children inside the van.

    US SOLDIER 1: Where’s that van at?

    US SOLDIER 2: Right down there by the bodies.

    US SOLDIER 1: OK, yeah.

    US SOLDIER 2: Bushmaster, Crazy Horse. We have individuals going to the scene, looks like possibly picking up bodies and weapons.

    US SOLDIER 1: Let me engage. Can I shoot?

    US SOLDIER 2: Roger. Break. Crazy Horse one-eight, request permission to engage.

    US SOLDIER 3: Picking up the wounded?

    US SOLDIER 1: Yeah, we’re trying to get permission to engage. Come on, let us shoot!

    US SOLDIER 2: Bushmaster, Crazy Horse one-eight.

    US SOLDIER 1: They’re taking him.

    US SOLDIER 2: Bushmaster, Crazy Horse one-eight.

    US SOLDIER 4: This is Bushmaster seven, go ahead.

    US SOLDIER 2: Roger. We have a black SUV —- or Bongo truck picking up the bodies. Request permission to engage.

    US SOLDIER 4: Bushmaster seven, roger. This is Bushmaster seven, roger. Engage.

    US SOLDIER 2: One-eight, engage. Clear.

    US SOLDIER 1: Come on!

    US SOLDIER 2: Clear. Clear.

    US SOLDIER 1: We’re engaging.

    US SOLDIER 2: Coming around. Clear.

    US SOLDIER 1: Roger. Trying to -—

    US SOLDIER 2: Clear.

    US SOLDIER 1: I hear ’em — I lost ’em in the dust.

    US SOLDIER 3: I got ’em.

    US SOLDIER 2: Should have a van in the middle of the road with about twelve to fifteen bodies.

    US SOLDIER 1: Oh yeah, look at that. Right through the windshield! Ha ha!

AMY GOODMAN: The video is from the July 12th, 2007 attack on Iraqi civilians by US troops, released Monday by the website WikiLeaks.org.

Well, independent journalists Rick Rowley and David Enders were on the scene the very next day in 2007 and filed this exclusive report for Democracy Now!

    RICK ROWLEY: We came to the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad one day after a US attack helicopter strike that killed twelve Iraqis, including a journalist and a driver working with Reuters. The US military claimed that they were under attack from rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire and that all of the dead, except for the two Reuters employees, were insurgents. But local residents showed us the remains of a burnt-out van spattered with blood and told us a different story.

    WITNESS 1: [translated] The helicopter came yesterday from there and hovered around. Then it came right here where a group of people were standing. They didn’t have any weapons or arms of any sort. This area doesn’t have armed insurgents. They destroyed the place and shot at people, and they didn’t let anyone help the wounded.

    WITNESS 2: [translated] I swear to God it was helicopters that attacked us. These people are all witnesses. They attacked us twice, not once.

    RICK ROWLEY: Another resident went on to describe what happened to the man who tried to help the wounded.

    WITNESS 3: [translated] The driver went to carry the injured, who had been shot in front of his eyes. While he was going to pick them up, the pilot of the helicopter kept flying above, watching the scene. They started firing at the wounded and the dead. The driver and the two children were also there. The helicopter continued shooting until none of the bodies were moving.

    RICK ROWLEY: We asked the crowd of people what might have prompted the attack, and they said that when the journalist arrived, residents quickly gathered around him.

    WITNESS 2: [translated] The group of civilians had gathered here because people need cooking oil and gas. They wanted to demonstrate in front of the media and show that they need things like oil, gas, water and electricity. The situation here is dramatically deteriorating. The journalists were walking around, and then the Americans started shooting. They started shooting randomly and targeted peaceful civilians from the neighborhood.

    WITNESS 3: [translated] There were children in the car. Were they carrying weapons? There were two children.

    WITNESS 2: [translated] Do we help the wounded or kill them? They killed all the wounded and drove over their bodies. Everyone witnessed it. And the journalist was among those who was injured, and the armored vehicle drove over his body.

    WITNESS 3: [translated] The US forces, who call themselves “friendly” forces, were telling us on speakers that they were here to protect and help us. We heard those words very clearly. But what we saw was the opposite of that. We demand the American Congress and President Bush supervise their soldiers’ actions in Iraq.

    RICK ROWLEY: For Democracy Now!, this is Rick Rowley and Dave Enders with Big Noise Films.

AMY GOODMAN: Special thanks to Alaa Majeed for assisting with the translation of that piece.

Rick Rowley, joining us now in our studio, independent journalist with Big Noise Films, he’s traveled to Iraq frequently as an unembedded journalist since the 2003 invasion.

So describe when you saw this WikiLeaks footage. You were there the next day in 2007.

RICK ROWLEY: I saw — I first saw the story at midnight and realized that we had been there, and the next morning rushed to check the footage and found that, in fact, it was the same event.

But when we went out there that day, Dave and I, we weren’t looking to document an American massacre. We went to this neighborhood because this is a neighborhood full of refugees. And as soon as we arrived and got out of our car — you know, an experience that will be common to all unembedded journalists — we were instantly surrounded by a crowd of people who took us to where the attack happened and started telling their stories.

JUAN GONZALEZ: So, in other words, when you went there, there hadn’t even been a military or public announcement of what had happened the day before?

RICK ROWLEY: There was a — Reuters had reported it, that it had happened somewhere, but we didn’t know the details, and we certainly weren’t looking for it. We were unembedded doing a story on refugees and happened upon this neighborhood.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But the military initially claimed that it was all insurgents that had died, but obviously, as we have now seen, as the world has now seen from the video, the soldiers in the helicopter realized that children had been killed almost immediately.

RICK ROWLEY: Yeah, I mean, the children were injured. They didn’t actually die.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’m sorry, injured.

RICK ROWLEY: But yeah. I mean, the thing that was most chilling to me about this, as an independent journalist who works unembedded often, is that when the reports came out — the military investigations came out a few days later, you can read them all on the internet now — and they basically — I mean, essentially they blamed the reporters for causing this. They say they did three things wrong. First, they failed to identify themselves to a helicopter gunship flying, I don’t know, hundreds of feet above their heads. Second, their proximity to armed insurgents was reason for them to be killed. And third, their furtive attempt to take a photograph of American troops.

I mean, so, first of all, there is no reason at all to believe or to conclude that any of the people in that picture are armed insurgents. I mean, you can see two men with Kalashnikovs, but this is 2007 in Baghdad. This is the height of the civil war, when dozens of bodies a day were being picked up from the street, when sectarian militias filled the Iraqi security forces, the police and the army. Every neighborhood in Baghdad organized its own protection force. And it was legal at the time for every household to own a Kalashnikov in Iraq, and every household I ever went to did. So the presence of two men, dangling at their sides Kalashnikovs, in a crowd of civilians who have no weapons at all, I mean, is absolutely no — I mean, it’s — the whole thing is ridiculous.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play, Rick, another clip from the US helicopter footage. Here, the voices in the cockpit laugh as a Bradley tank drives over a body of one of the Iraqi victims.

    US SOLDIER 1: I think they just drove over a body.

    US SOLDIER 2: Did he?

    US SOLDIER 1: Yeah!

AMY GOODMAN: That is from the military’s own footage. Again, this is military footage from the Apache helicopter with those radio transmissions of the soldiers speaking to each other. What did the residents say about that body?

RICK ROWLEY: Yeah, now, I mean, I’m a journalist, and I go and talk to people and report what they said. And these residents came and told me that the man who they drove over was alive, that he had crawled out of the van that had been shot to pieces and that he was still alive when the Americans drove over him and cut him in half, basically, with a Bradley or tank or whatever armored vehicle they were driving in.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to link to both the Army documents of their initial investigation, as well as your piece and the WikiLeaks.org footage. WikiLeaks says they got this footage from someone within the military who wanted this information out. Thanks very much, Rick Rowley.

RICK ROWLEY: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Rick Rowley, independent journalist with Big Noise Films, who has traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan frequently as an unembedded journalist. He was at the site of the 2007 attack the next day.

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