Chelsea Manning 14: Iraq 4 (Chelsea’s comments on the Baghdad Video)

Chelsea’s first comment on the Baghdad video in her pre-trial statement makes it clear that what she heard there was even more important than what she saw.

[In mid-February 2010 several analysts working in the “skif” discussed a video] found on the “T-Drive.” The video depicted several individuals being engaged by an Air Weapons Team (AWT). At first I did not consider the video very special, as I had viewed countless other “war-porn” type videos depicting combat. However, the recorded audio comments by the AWT crew and the second engagement in the video, of an unarmed bongo truck, troubled me. (8,19)

Chelsea goes on to explain that she “shied away” from getting deeply involved in these discussions and instead did some research in the hope of finding background that would help her to understand the event. That is how she learned that two of the people killed were Reuters employees. Chelsea also learned that Reuters had asked the Army to show them the video so they could better understand what had happened and “improve their safety practices in combat zones.” According to an American law, The Freedom of Information Act, the Army was required to allow the news agency to see the video, but they did not do so. In order to excuse their inaction, they said they were not sure that the video still existed.(8,19)

In commenting on the results of her research, Chelsea says:

[The fact that the Army would not release the video] troubled me further. It was clear to me that the event happened because the AWT mistakenly identified the Reuters employees with a potential threat, and that the people in the bongo truck were merely attempting to help the wounded. The people in the van were not a threat but “good Samaritans.” (8,20)

After the first round of shots has been fired and the ground is covered with the bodies of dead and wounded men, the comments of the soldier speaking from the helicopter — and his tone of voice — definitely create the impression that he and the others on board are enjoying themselves. Here is what Chelsea says about this:

The most alarming aspect of the video to me, however, was the seemingly delightful bloodlust they appeared to have. They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life by referring to them as “dead bastards” and congratulating each other on the ability to kill in large numbers.(8, 20)

Chelsea’s next comment concerns the wounded man — it was later discovered that he was Saeed Chmagh, one of the Reuters photographers — who attempted to crawl to safety after the shooting stopped.

At one point in the video, there is an individual on the ground attempting to crawl to safety. The individual is seriously wounded. Instead of calling for medical attention to the location, one of the AWT crew members verbally asked for the wounded person to pick up a weapon so he would have a reason to engage. For me, this seems similar to a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass.

When Chelsea says that one of the soldiers in the helicopter “verbally asked for the wounded person to pick up a weapon so he would have a reason to engage,” she is referring to the fact that he expresses his thoughts aloud — pretending to be talking in an encouraging way to the wounded man. In doing so, he leaves no doubt that he is eager to kill him. The soldier’s exact words are. “Come on, buddy. All you gotta do is pick up a weapon.” He says this in a tauntingly friendly tone of voice.

Next, Chelsea goes on to discuss what happened after the second round of shooting which killed the injured man and the three men in the van who tried to rescue him.

Shortly after the second engagement, a mechanized infantry unit arrives at the scene. Within minutes the AWT crew learns that children were in the van and despite the injuries, the crew exhibits no remorse. Instead they downplayed the significance of their actions saying “Well it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.” The AWT crew members sound like they lack sympathy for the children or their parents.

Chelsea is quite right in saying that the crew lack sympathy for the children or their parents. In putting it that way however, she actually understates the dark horror of their remarks. Their smug tone of voice strongly indicates their conviction that the people they have just killed are on a completely different level of humanity than they are. It is almost as if they do not regard them as real human beings.

And Chelsea’s final statement about this incident is in a similar vein. A few minutes after the van is “disabled” several small tanks known as “Bradleys” arrive on the scene. As they drive toward the destroyed van, one of them drives over a dead body. Once again, Chelsea focuses on what is heard in the video rather than what is seen:

Later, in a particularly disturbing manner, the AWT crew verbalizes enjoyment at the sight of one of the ground vehicles driving over the bodies.

What she does not mention is that the soldier in the helicopter can actually be heard laughing quietly — perhaps “sniggering” would be a better word — as a body is crushed by a tank.