Of Wounded Men
Being Shot Censored By TV
By Robert Fisk
The pictures are appalling, the words
devastating. As a wounded Iraqi crawls from beneath a burning truck,
an American helicopter pilot tells his commander that one of three men
has survived his night air attack. "Someone wounded," the
pilot cries. Then he received the reply: "Hit him, hit the truck
and him." As the helicopter's gun camera captures the scene on
video, the pilot fires a 30mm gun at the wounded man, vaporising him
in a second.
British and most
European television stations censored the tape off the air last night
on the grounds that the pictures were too terrible to show. But deliberately
shooting a wounded man is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions and
this extraordinary film of US air crews in action over Iraq is likely
to create yet another international outcry.
American and British
personnel have been trying for weeks to persuade Western television
stations to show the video of the attack. Despite the efforts of reports
in Baghdad and New York, most television controllers preferred to hide
the evidence from viewers. Only Canal Plus in France, ABC television
in the United States and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation have
so far had the courage to show the shocking footage. UK military personnel
in the Gulf region have confirmed that the tape is genuine.
The camera, mounted
beside the 30mm cannon of a US Apache helicopter on patrol over central
Iraq on 1 December, first picks up movement on a country road, apparently
several hundred metres from an American military checkpoint. A lorry
and a smaller vehicle, probably a pick-up, come into view and a man
- apparently unaware of the hovering helicopter - is seen moving to
a field on the left of the screen. He is carrying what seems to be a
tube with a covering; it may be a rocket-propelled grenade. One of two
helicopter pilots is heard to say: "Big truck over here. He's having
a little pow-wow." The driver of the pick-up looks around, reaches
into the vehicle, takes out the tube-shaped object and runs from the
road into the field. He drops the object and returns to the truck. The
pilot then radios: "I got a guy running, throwing a weapon."
Another pilot, or a ground controller, instructs him: "Engage -
At this point, a
tractor arrives close to where the man from the lorry dropped the object
in the field. One of the Iraqis approaches the tractor driver. The Apache
pilot opens fire with his 30mm cannon, killing first the Iraqi in the
field and then the tractor driver. The camera registers the bullets
hitting the first man. All that is left is a smudge on the ground.
The pilot then turns
his attention to the large truck, opens fire and waits to see if he
has hit the last of the three men. The third man is then seen crawling,
obviously badly wounded, from his cover beneath the blazing truck. The
pilot reports: "Wait. Someone wounded by the truck." An officer
replies: "Hit him. Hit the truck and him."
The video tape shows
that the incident took four minutes, during which the two helicopter
pilots - whose names are listed as Nager and Alioto - expended 300 high-velocity
cannon rounds at their targets. The tape shows that the first 15 rounds
missed the men. One of the pilots says: "Fuck, switching to range
auto." The tape then documents the firing of four bursts of 20
rounds each at the three men.
The pictures, apparently
taken through thermal-imaging cameras, leave no doubt that the pilot
knew his third victim was wounded and crawling along the ground - and
that whoever gave him the order to hit him also knew this.
Coming only days
after the appalling photographs of Iraqis being tortured and humiliated
by US troops at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, the new pictures can
only further inflame Arab opinion throughout the Middle East. It is
common Israeli practice to kill wounded enemies from the air; a devastating
helicopter assault by Israel on a Hizbollah training camp in Lebanon
10 years ago was accompanied by a series of attacks in which pilots
sought out wounded guerrillas as they hid behind rocks in the Bekaa
Valley and then fired at them.
The film, while
it shows men acting in an apparently suspicious manner, does not prove
they were handling weapons. The occupation authorities in Baghdad chose
to keep the incident secret when it occurred in December. Watching the
video images, it is easy to understand why.
Copyright: The Independent