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on the wikileaks video

I've seen the video released by Wikileaks. (In case you don't know: it's military footage from a US helicopter of about a 20-minute period during which the helicopter kills some people in an Iraq street, apparently including at least one Reuters journalist.) It's a horrifying video but frankly the way Wikileaks portrays it is odd - I had assumed, without much thought, that Wikileaks was some kind of impartial information-wants-to-be-free organisation, but it seems like they are deliberately slanting this in a particular way, so it seems they're more political than I thought.

It is a horrifying video, but worth watching to get an impression of the kind of situation that a helicopter pilot faces in a war situation. They can see some people. Do some of them have weapons? It's really hard to tell, visually, but the pilots say they've seen weapons including AK47s and an RPG. I certainly couldn't see any weapons - someone was carrying something on their shoulder which could be a camera, an RPG or any number of other things - but the video is presumably not as good quality as the original. The pilots certainly can't know for sure... but then when could you ever? It's really hard to tell what the people down there are doing. But the pilots are pretty gung-ho about it all - it's perfectly normal for soldiers in a war to talk in a way that would sicken civilians, but yes it sickens me the way they go about it.

The video is just a video, it doesn't give you any moral guidance, it doesn't make it clear whether what happened was wrong or right. They ask for permission to shoot, and they get it. They kill some people. They congratulate themselves about it. A wounded person is seen trying to move away. One pilot wishes out loud the wounded man would pick up a weapon, so he can shoot him again.

I can't possibly know whether the incident was normal or abnormal, legal or illegal (wrt Iraqi law, rules of engagement, etc). But you see really clearly the bizarre mix of bloodlust and bureaucracy in the pilots' decisionmaking, and the huge psychological gulf between the pilots and the people on the ground.

Wikileaks presents the video quite clearly with a spin on it - obvious from the start really, when they've put it on a website named "collateral murder". But the text that they use to surround and precede the video makes claims which are not evident from the video, and some claims which are counter to what the pilots seem to think is going on. In the video they label one single journalist quite repeatedly, but don't seem to label any of the other victims, presumably to highlight the campaign about the journalist? The use of the word "murder" is of course emotive and a moral judgment too. Wikileaks also calls it "indiscriminate slaying" which sounds extremely strong, and conflicts with the weird bureaucratic precision of the slaying actually depicted in the video.

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