Firsthand testimony from a soldier who refused to kill civilians in Iraq
Today, it is the 10th black anniversary of the July 12, 2007 US Apache helicopter attack upon individuals in a Baghdad suburb. Amongst the over twelve people killed by the 30mm cannon-fire were two Reuters staff. The video was part of the huge cache of material leaked to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning.
The “Collateral Murder” video which showed a US air crew falsely claiming to have encountered a firefight in Baghdad and then laughing at the dead after launching an air strike that killed a dozen people, including two Iraqis working for Reuters news agency, was revealed by Wikileaks in 2010.
As CommonDreams reported in 2010, the Pentagon blocked an attempt by Reuters to obtain the video through a freedom of information request. Wikileaks director Julian Assange said his organisation had to break through encryption by the military to view it.
In 2010, Josh Stieber talked to Paul Jay and The Real News about the Wikileaks video and army training that makes killing civilians acceptable.
Stieber was a member of the army company that was in that famous WikiLeaks video in 2007 showing Iraqis murdered by the US helicopter crew. He wasn't there that day, but his comrades were. As he explains, he was excluded from that mission because he refused to follow orders to kill civilians in a previous incident.
Some of the most interesting parts of the interview:
Another big moment in training that really started making me ask questions and again I found a good excuse not to ask too many, but what initially disturbed me was our leaders would take us into a room one at a time, take the new soldiers, and they would ask us a series of questions leading up to this big question, that if somebody were to pull a weapon in a marketplace full of completely unarmed civilians and there's only one person with a weapon, would you return fire towards that person? And not only did you have to say yes, but in this exercise if you even hesitated in your answer, then you get yelled at for not being a good soldier and not prepared to do what it took to keep your fellow soldiers safe.
It was probably a couple of months before we saw action. And kind of the process of how I remember things in Iraq is that one of the first big milestones is that we moved from the larger base that we were living in, first to one building in the middle of a district, and then into an even more remote area in the poor industrial part of town. And as we were moving in to the poor industrial part of town, into this factory, the whole district came out and held a large peaceful protest and were actually waving signs and flags and banners and telling us peacefully but very explicitly that they don't want us in their neighborhood.
One thing that really troubled me that I was thinking about, on a practical level and a moral level, was this policy that we started practicing that when a roadside bomb would go off since that started happening pretty frequently, some of our leaders, from a somewhat high level, started saying that every time a bomb went off, anybody standing in that area was open game to fire upon, with the logic that if we can essentially out-terrorize the locals and make them more afraid of us than of the people planting the bombs, then they're not going to plant the bombs, even if they weren't directly involved in the process.
And there was one night when that happened and a bomb went off, and our truck pulled ahead a few feet, and the trucks in front of us kicked up a lot of dust, and the last thing I had seen before the dust went up were children running in the street. And my leaders were yelling at me to fire my weapon, and I said, "No. The last thing I saw were children running around. I'm not going to do that." And that didn't go over so well. And that was not long before this video happened. And that's the reason why I wasn't on the mission that day is because when I started refusing orders like that and saying, look, not only is it morally wrong to just open fire for the reasons that were being given, it practically doesn't make sense that, yeah, you might scare a few people, but it's probably going to do a lot more to motivate people who might have had neutral feelings towards us to now be justified in becoming our enemies, and I wouldn't blame them if they did.
I was seeing these things go on. I made that decision that I wasn't going to fire my weapon. My leader got really upset at me, and I firmly defended myself.