War encourages casual murder and probably always has, but the most egregious examples are still dismaying. Thanks to whistle-blowers inside the American military and the under-funded wiki site Wikileaks, which anonymously publishes sensitive information "of political, diplomatic, historical or ethical interest," it's been all over the news in the past 36 hours that Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, his driver and assistant Saeed Chmagh, and 10 other people were senselessly murdered by soldiers from American Apache helicopter gunships in July of 2007—just as Reuters has long suspected.
The widely released 17:47 video, edited from a 39:17 original, clearly shows the "targets" wandering casually on the ground, not engaged in fighting, while the gunners impatiently sought any plausible excuse to open fire.
By all accounts cheerful, helpful and energetic, the then-22-year-old Namir Noor-Eldeen had been interested in photography since boyhood. He was one of the first Iraqis recruited by Retuers for a program intended to train photojournalists who had local ties and local knowledge. Chris Helgren, the former Reuters Chief of Photography who instituted the program, said of Noor-Eldeen before his death that he "started from nothing and is now the pre-eminent photographer in Northern Iraq."
Dean Yates, Baghdad Bureau Chief for Reuters, said "Namir and Saeed were much loved members of the Baghdad bureau. They were always smiling and cheerful despite the horror in their country and the risks they took in their work."
Chris Helgren again: "When he first came to my attention, Namir was an energetic teenager in the northern city of Mosul whose family was involved in photography and video. He took an interest in the trade, and with training, and a few critiques, it quickly became obvious he was going to become one of the new stars in Iraqi photojournalism. He had an urgency that suited the front pages of the news business but also a tender eye that brought humanity via quiet moments to a vicious war. One of the first pictures he sent me was of bewildered U.S. Army soldiers surrounded by a flock of sheep; another I remember was of a wounded Kurdish girl with her legs in bandages while wrapped in a faux fur coat, or one of a boy picking up shards of broken plates in the family dining room after an ammunition dump blast rocked their house."
"Namir was an editor's dream," former Reuters Chief Photographer Bob Strong said. "He was the best photographer in Mosul, he was on top of every story, and if he didn’t shoot the pictures himself, he knew where to find them. His nose had been broken more than once, he'd been shot in the leg, detained, harassed and threatened, but his quick smile and energy never faded. He lived more in 22 years than most people do in a lifetime and it’s very very sad to know I'll never get one of his bearhug greetings again."
You can see a slideshow of some of his work here.
Reuters has long sought the release of the helicopter video under the Freedom of Information act, but the military stonewalled for more than two years.
Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh were the fifth and sixth Reuters employees killed in Iraq since the 2003 invasion (there has since been a seventh.) All but one are believed to have been killed by Americans. They are among 139 journalists killed in Iraq between March 2003 and October 2009, 36 of whom were photojournalists. Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh are profiled in the multimedia presentation Bearing Witness: Five Years of the Iraq War (see profiles > Dean Yates) and the incident in which they were killed is covered in a 2009 book about the troop surge, The Good Soldiers by Pulitzer Prize winner David Finkel.
Send this post to a friend
Note: Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. More...
Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Gene Forsythe: "A most disturbing set of videos. Even more disturbing, but perhaps only to be expected, is the inflammatory nature of the editing of the 'short version' of the video. I understand that is considered 'freedom of speech.'
"My grandfather (I am 61, by the way) served in WWI. His opinion was that war, in general and in all specifics, was 'mass insanity and mass murder.' My father, who served in WWII and Korea and earned the Air Medal, encouraged my brother to move to Canada when his draft number was about to come up in 1970. He felt the only thing that he learned from his experiences was that war released the moral bindings of human beings and reduced them to the lowest behavioral level.
"I have to agree with both of them...and that insanity can also be defined as walking around in a combat zone with, or near someone with, weapons—either of which makes you a target and places your life in someone else's hands.
"The whole event was seemingly (since I don't know what else was going on in the near locales) without rationale. But I can't draw much else as a conclusion, much less blame a specific person for this specific event. It was madness in action."
Featured Comment by Pete Jackson: "This makes me sick and it is beyond me how anyone can defend it."
Featured Comment by Clinton Bersuch: "I am so angry at some of the outrageous things being said here about American military personnel that I'm not sure where to start. And yes, I watched the video. I guess this is my last day of reading TOP. All I'll say is I'm glad I never donated to Mr. Johnston nor used his Amazon or B&H links or bought anything from the businesses who advertise on this blog."
Featured Comment by HT: "I wonder what the reaction would be like if it was Iraqi aircraft firing down at American journalists and their medical support vehicle."
Featured Comment by G: "It's worthwhile to listen to the interview with Finkel on today's edition of NPR's 'Talk of the Nation.' [Direct link isn't possible; look down the list. —Ed.] The Pulitzer Prize winner, who has seen more of the actual war than the vast majority of civilians, and who was embedded that day, takes a very equivocal view, refusing to condemn or acquit the Apache pilots. As others have said, a lot isn't seen in 18 minutes of a 37 minute video, and as Finkle said today, 'there are no good days in war.' May all the casualties of these wars rest in peace."
Featured Comment by Doc: "Ladies and Gentlemen, I have spent over 20 years serving working with and leading the young men and women who currently serve in our armed forces. They are not uneducated kids! They are the best trained and educated force to ever go afield.
"I have watched the entire clip and can say with a great deal of certainty that some of those individuals were armed.
"As to the sound of a helicopter making people run, if you hear a noise (even a loud one) often enough you tend to ignore it. Also, based on the clip the Apache was firing from a long distance. It’s only the magnification of the gun camera that makes it look like he’s close by. It is entirely possible that the people on the street didn’t know he was there until the rounds started hitting the street.
"Now to the folks who have taken offense to the language and the 'gallows humor' I would like to ask one question. Exactly how do you propose that we cope with what we do for a living? I can say for myself alone that when I was doing my job the only thing that was important to me was the safe return of my crew.
"I will not say that a mistake was made, nor will I defend the idiots who suppressed this information for over two years. However I would ask you to remember that it was only after the fact that it was found to be a 'friendly fire' incident (personally I hate the expression).
"Lastly, I would like to thank Mike for the site and for bringing this information to a very wide audience. Everyone killed in war deserves to be remembered."