Monday, April 5, 2010

Winning Hearts and Minds, Drone-Style

For the last few weeks whistleblower site WikiLeaks has been acting pretty strange. Through their twitter feed they've made seemingly paranoid statements about being tailed and detained by American government agents, and warned that there would be consequences if they disappear. Today they finally released the video that's been causing all the commotion:

Cool! They sure killed the shit out of those dudes! They also laughed about seeing an APC driver run over one of the bodies, and shrugged off the gravely wounded civilian children, and also opened fire on a van that did nothing more than arrive to pick up the injured, but that's what you get when you're a terrorist, right?

Except it turns out they weren't terrorists. Two of them were the Reuters staff members who were killed two years ago. The US military has stonewalled the investigation into their deaths, even going so far as to refuse to release their cameras. Their cameras, by the way, were what the drone pilot had identified as RPG launchers- whoops! I guess that explains why they all seemed so calm and relaxed right before they were killed by the US military.

The whole video is disturbing, but I'm most blown away by the attack on the van. Even if you accept that he had sufficient reason to think that the first group was comprised of armed hostiles (and I'm not saying we should accept that), the second was visibly completely unarmed. He even says that they're just picking up the wounded- I'm reasonably sure that firing on them is indefensibly illegal.

As someone on LF pointed out, the only reason that this video was so highly sought after is that the dead included two journalists employed by a western company- anyone care to guess how often this happens to hapless Iraqis, Afghans, or Pakistanis (am I forgetting a country there?) who don't have connections to a major company? Feel free to discuss your favorite drone pilot quotes in the comments.



  2. “Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.”

    Fucking monsters.

  3. I've always wondered how the pilots can see anything on those displays whenever they show FLIR images or other HUD-type footage from war-zones.
    Now I know.
    They can't see for shit either.

    Also, I don't want to watch these guys get blown up, so I'm gonna go ahead and cut out after, "permission granted" thank you.

  4. JJ- yeah, 'battle' defined here as driving them to school, as it turns out. they come across a bleeding dude crawling down the street and get out to help him, and they get blown up. great.

    jaypop- using helicopters as primary engagement weapons is crazy, they should be used as support. a soldier is being fired on from another building and calls in a heli to help out, etc. not by having the gunner watch on from the distance, "is that a gun? it might be, who knows, better waste 'em!"

  5. hey guys, I am not trying to be an ass but the two guys you can see at 2:08 are holding an rpg and ak47 (those are not the cameramen), and if there is a larger engagement going on around them (which there probably was though i dont know), it would be reasonable from that view to think that people out and conspicuous like that with those weapons in the group would be the enemy. I dont think the gunners who did this are being any more sadistic than they have been trained to be. maybe with the van, i couldnt watch that far, but not with the initial engagement.
    Sorry, I post this because I am just worried about people starting to turn against the individuals in uniform who are having to kill people over there because our government declared war. Hate the people in charge all you want, I just dont like the idea of people starting to hate anybody they see wearing a uniform because of stuff like this like many civilians did during vietnam.

    This video really highlights how scary warfare has become in terms of collateral damage. A long time ago, killing an innocent was a lot less of a possibility unless it was your explicit intention. you couldnt accidently kill 150 people with a swing of your sword. however, i think a long time ago civilians were often either fair game or specifically targeted. Now in an age where the line between civilian and combatant is very firmly drawn at least by NATO policy (it wasnt this firm even during world war II, we purposely murdered hundreds of thousands of civilians with fire bombs and atom bombs), the weapons we use are much less discerning even if the soldiers using them are. A drone or helicopter or cruise missle just can't see what someone on the ground can.

    On possibly a semi good note, the military's tactics have changed recently because of this. There was a major offensive a few months back in marja, afghanistan, and I was really pissed off at the news outlets because they announced it before it happened! this allowed the taliban to prepare for the attack and I thought it could have cost coalition lives. So, I looked into why the hell that happened and it turned out that we purposefully did that so that civilians would be able to get out ahead of time. we also took different tactics into the battle itself, including disallowing the use of satchel charges to demolish occupied buildings, which is something we did in fallujah a lot. this new tactic is called "courageous restraint" and increases the risk to the guys on the ground because we are beginning to use much less support measures but may drastically reduce civilian casualties for the same reason.

    So basically I guess only hate someone or call them a monster if you know for a fact they wanted to kill an innocent (which you may or may not feel you know after watching the video, like i said i didn't finish it) and if you don't know that than just be grateful for their service because at the very least, people like them volunteering means people like us aren't getting drafted.

  6. Luke,

    Those are fair points, and the incident did take place in a particularly tough area during a bad time in the insurgency, when it really wasn't possible to know what was going on and shooting first often meant saving the lives of fellow US troops on the ground.

    However, the van portion is precisely what has most people upset about the soldier's actions in the video. I suggest you watch the rest of it (if you can get it to load), and let us know what you think then. As I understand the issue from reading accounts written by former military helicopter pilots, the first portion of the video fell within the rules of engagement for that time and place, but the second portion probably did not.

    Secondly, the government's attitude about the incident – literally an attempted coverup, complete with tailings of wikileaks personnel – raises alarm bells with those of us who feel that the military has a tremendously important responsibility to keep the american public informed about both its successes and its failures/mistakes.

    On a deeper level, the number of US-caused civilian deaths in this war was way too high. Videos like this help to illustrate – in both helpful ways and scary ways – why this was the case.

    Our country need to do better, regardless of whether the individual soldiers in this particular incident were truly at fault.