Exclusive: Reuters Chief Spikes Story on Killing of His Own Staffers In Baghdad
Reuters staffers Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh were killed by U.S. helicopter gunships in Baghdad in 2007. Video of the attack, which shows the journalists standing next to unidentified armed men on a Baghdad street and records the destruction of a van attempting to retrieve a wounded Chmagh, was published this week by Wikileaks.
The video has launched a debate about the legality of the attack, which also wounded two children (you can read our take here). Yesterday, Reuters' deputy Brussels bureau chief Luke Baker filed a muscular story repeating allegations from several human rights and international law experts that the killings may have constituted war crimes. But Reuters chief David Schlesinger, a tipster says, spiked the story because "it needed more comment from the Pentagon and U.S. lawyers." It never ran, but you can read it in full below.
Reuters' response to the disclosure of the video has been relatively muted. Schlesinger issued a statement on Tuesday calling the video "disturbing" but declining to assign blame or accuse the U.S. military of improper behavior:
In this particular case, [I] want to meet with the Pentagon to press the need to learn lessons from this tragedy.
These stories are not easy for us to report or to be involved in. They test our commitment to viewing events and actions objectively.
What matters in the end is not how we as colleagues and friends feel; what matters is the wider public debate that our stories and this video provoke.
Baker's story went much farther, quoting three human rights experts describing the killings as war crimes. While portions of those quotes ended up running in a different Reuters story on the video that appeared yesterday and which Baker is credited as having contributed to, some of the more direct accusations did not. For instance, Baker quoted Clive Stafford-Smith, a human rights lawyer, saying, "I don't think there's any question that this is a violation of the Geneva Conventions." Stafford-Smith didn't appear in any of Reuters' coverage of the incident. Baker's story also paraphrased Reuters lawyer Thomas Kim saying that "further investigation may be required" into the incident—a sentiment that Schlesinger did not express in his initial statement. Kim's remark does not appear in any of Reuters' coverage of the killings. The U.S. Central Command has said it has no plans to reopen an investigation.
Our tipster is baffled by Schlesinger's apparent hesitance to take on the Pentagon over the killings: "Nothing about wanting to seek justice for the deaths of the Reuters' employees or about seeking the truth. Just a bland statement about wanting to work with the Pentagon. Whose side is this guy on? Does he have any spine?"
A Reuters spokesperson denied in absolute terms the accusation that Baker's story was spiked. "It's 100% not true that the story was spiked," she said. "Schlesinger sent it back for more reporting. But it was overtaken by events, and parts of it eventually ran in an updated story." In a later statement, the spokeswoman added that the story was held up in "an effort to incorporate a wider range of experts."
UPDATE: Reuters' spokeswoman has asked us to publish the statement that she provided to us after our phone conversation in its entirety:
It is absolutely untrue that this story was spiked. It was sent back for more reporting in an effort to incorporate a wider range of experts. The story was then overtaken by a more updated one out of Washington that incorporated reporting from the original piece.
This isn't the first time Schlesinger has been accused of killing Reuters stories for fishy reasons. In December, Talking Biz News reported that Schlesinger spiked a damaging story about hedge fund manager Steve Cohen after Cohen called to complain. He later admitted that it wasn't "a bad story" and that it "could have run."
Here's Baker's spiked story:
BRUSSELS, April 7 (Reuters) - Leaked footage of a U.S.military helicopter firing on and killing a group of people in Baghdad suggests the pilots may have acted illegally,international law and human rights experts said on Wednesday.
The black-and-white footage, released by the Web site WikiLeaks (www.wikileaks.com) on Monday, consists of 40 minutes of video from the gun-camera of a helicopter hovering over east Baghdad in 2007 as nearly a dozen men, including a Reuters photographer and his driver, gathered in the street below.
According to a transcript of the air crew's conversation that accompanies the video, the pilots think some of the men are carrying weapons and quickly discuss whether to open fire.
"That's a weapon," one voice says. "Yeah," another replies.
A U.S. military legal expert said the helicopter crew mighthave a legal defence in as much that they "honestly and reasonably" believed the men were hostile, but a British former army officer said there was "blatant" evidence of a war crime.
"Light 'em all up. Come on fire," says one of the pilots,before the helicopter gunner begins shooting, hitting and killing Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and driver Saeed Chmagh, 40, among others.
Chmagh is initially wounded and tries to crawl away. One of the pilots can be heard urging the Iraqi to reach for a weapon so that he can open fire again under the rules of engagement.
Several minutes later, a van arrives on the street and three or four unarmed men get out to help Chmagh, picking up his body.
The pilots seek permission from commanders to open fire again, relaying the information that people are arriving to"pick up bodies and weapons". The commander gives approval and the helicopter fires again, killing Chmagh and several others.
The U.S. military, which has confirmed that the footage is authentic, said on Monday it regretted the loss of life.
A spokesman for the U.S. Central Command said an investigation carried out by the military into the incident found the pilots acted accordingly and he said there was "never any attempt to cover up any aspect of this engagement".
But human rights lawyers and other experts who have viewed the footage say they have many concerns about how the pilots operated, particularly when it came to firing on the van, which was also carrying two children who were wounded in the attack.
"I don't think there's any question that this is a violation of the Geneva Conventions," said Clive Stafford-Smith, a U.S.-British human rights lawyer who runs the charity Reprieve,referring to the body of laws that governs armed conflict.
"There are two aspects to it — firstly it was clear that these people were unarmed or not fighting, and then there's the shooting of the wounded man as he was trying to crawl away and people were coming to help him," he told Reuters.
The Geneva Conventions state that protection must be given to those who "collect and care" for the wounded in a conflict"whether friend or foe", but lawyers said that principle appeared to have been abandoned in this case.
Chris Cobb-Smith, a former British army officer who has conducted investigations in war zones, said knowing exactly what rules of engagement the pilots were operating under was critical to understanding whether they had acted appropriately.
But even then, he said, the decision to fire on the van as unarmed men came to help one of the wounded appeared to be a clear breach of the laws governing military conduct in war.
"Engaging the people picking up the wounded is outrageous,"he said. "That is the element that is blatant. That is against all humanitarian law and the rules of conflict — most definitely and without a doubt," he told Reuters.
David Schlesinger, Reuters' editor-in-chief, said the video showed the "extreme dangers that exist in covering war zones"and said he would seek to meet with officials at the Pentagon to"press the need to learn lessons from this tragedy".
Asked whether the company had any intention of pursuing legal action over the deaths of Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh, Thomson Reuters' deputy legal counsel, Thomas Kim, said:
"Our priority is to engage in dialogue at a senior level with the Pentagon." He added, however, that the footage, which Thomson Reuters had repeatedly sought to have the U.S. military release, indicated further investigation may be required.
Bibi van Ginkel, an international lawyer and senior fellow at the Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations, said the video was only a fragment of evidence and more investigation was needed. But still she added:
"My first guess would be that a war crime was committed. Very simply speaking, if people are helping the wounded, they are non-combatants. If force is used against them, then that is a war crime. But will it be investigated."
While the video footage, with its gung-ho audio track —including the words "look at all those dead bastards" — is shocking, some military experts said there may be nothing wrong with the acts carried out given the combat environment.
In a military courtroom, a jury would have to decide if the gunner "honestly and reasonably" believed he was shooting the enemy, Gary Solis, a military law expert at Georgetown University, told online magazine Salon. "That will always be a defence," he said.
But whether there are grounds for legal action or not,experts said their bigger concern was about the desensitisation of war, with soldiers appearing to dehumanise the enemy and seeming not to care about killing from afar.
"It's the attitude and mindset of the computer, war-gaming generation," said Cobb-Smith. "The detachment that a serviceman can now feel when he's operating a weapons system at such a distance via a video screen. That's unnerving and worrying." (Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald in Jerusalem)
|Veteran of "Collateral Murder" Company Speaks Out|
WASHINGTON - April 9 - Josh Stieber, who is a former soldier of the “Collateral Murder” Company, says that the acts of brutality caught on film and recently released via Wikileaks are not isolated instances, but were commonplace during his tour of duty.
“A lot of my friends are in that video,” says Stieber. “After watching the video, I would definitely say that that is, nine times out of ten, the way things ended up. Killing was following military protocol. It was going along with the rules as they are.”
Stieber deployed to Baghdad with Bravo Company 2-16, whose members were involved in the incident captured in Wikileaks' “Collateral Murder” video, which has made international headlines by depicting a July 2007 shooting incident outside of Baghdad in which over a dozen people, including two Reuters employees, were killed. Although he was not present at the scene of the video, he knows those who were involved and is familiar with the environment. Stieber, who now works to promote peace and alternatives to war, is speaking publicly about his time in Iraq and the incident captured in this video.
“If these videos shock and revolt you, they show the reality of what war is like,” says Stieber. “If you don’t like what you see in them, it means we should be working harder towards alternatives to war.”
Stieber currently lives in Washington, D.C.
BACKGROUND ON JOSH STIEBER:
Branch of service: United States Army (USA)
Unit: 1st ID
Home: Laytonsville, Maryland
Served in: Baghdad (Rustamiyah) 07-08 Fort Riley, KS 06-07, 08-09
|How Many Americans Does It Take To Slaughter A 3rd World Child?|
By Jay Janson
Disturbing eye-rebounding videos and on-the-scene, cringing to watch or read, graphic reports of civilians dying at the hands of U.S. military in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan - resurfacing again on network and radio newscasts, in some newspapers and of course, as always, on the Internet.
As in the past, they brings a certain amount of world reaction in concern and condemnation with the more intense pain and outrage reserved for the children's lives taken. The president of Afghanistan, elected under US military occupation, after years complaining and protesting uselessly, warns of his own possible defection over the "indiscriminate killing by foreign armed forces" among other issues.
How many Americans have been involved in the collateral slaying of children in America's wars and bombings within defenseless populations of the so called underdeveloped world since the end of World War Two?
How much effort, by how many Americans, has gone into producing each child's violent death during undeclared wars in Third World nations? Some innocent child made poor and disadvantaged for its country's history of brutal colonial occupation and plunder by industrial powers that continue to exploit through neocolonialist financial oppression, killed by foreign invaders of American nationality.
The question might equally be asked regarding each dead Korean child or each Laotian, Vietnamese, Cambodian child, of each child who was killed in its own various Latin American or African country, and since 9/11, each Pakistani, Afghani, Iraqi, Somali, Sudanese, Yemeni, and Lebanese child, all so precious and lovely while they were alive during the time allotted to them by destiny and the military necessities of Americans.
Below seven multiple answers to the question: How many Americans does It take to collaterally slaughter[*] a child during an undeclared American war on some of each child's countrymen?
1. Today, it can be said to take only one American sitting in a facility somewhere in the U.S. Mid West or a pilot or gunner in plane or helicopter looking at an electronic screen map of coordinates pressing the release button that fires a missile. Takes only one American finger to press a button on an American weapon of mass destruction to end a child's life. During earlier wars, and even now, the finger might be on the trigger of a machine gun or bomb-sight.
2. It takes two Americans. One on the ground to call in the coordinates for a strike, the other in the air, or half a world away, to fix the cross hairs on the area where the child was or is before pressing the release button. Or in earlier wars, one to give the order and another to fire the shot to take down a child while aiming at one of his countrymen.
3. It takes hundreds of collaborating American servicemen and officers involved in a military presence or maneuver at some particular place and time that sets the stage for the calling in of a missile strike - in earlier times, to set the stage for the opening of a bombardment in which a child shall perish. Few will ever see the actually pitiful remains of each child that is no more. Often there is nothing but body parts only its family can recognize.
4. It takes hundreds of thousands of Americans overseas and at home engaged in the manufacture, transport and maintenance of weapons, some realizing their part in making the killing of children possible, but others shutting this out of mind, grateful for the money earned. Without these horrific high-tech devices, each child's death would not be made possible or a reality by the military.
5. It takes minimum of tens of millions of Americans openly supporting the killing in which each child's slaughter is a part, convincing or intimidating hundreds of other millions to accept each child's death as necessary to the preservation of American safety or to the maintenance of their own prerogatives, privileges and level of consumption. Without their cooperation, the war on each child's countrymen would not be feasible.
6. It take generations of Americans frightened into silently accepting the dispatching of each child by command of mentally disadvantaged political leaders and the all-wars-promoting conglomerates of the information media cartel under the ownership of and and control by the criminally insane power elite of the Financial-Military-Industrial-Complex . If the war on each child's countrymen were, or had been, unacceptable to enough Americans, it could not have been waged and no dear child would have been destroyed over all these decades nor in this past week.
7. It has taken and continues to take a rather limited number of Americans in the entertainment and information industry working hard over half a century as network anchors, commentators, station managers, talk-show hosts, editors and reporters to bring about the activity of Americans described in each of the foregoing six answers to the query, How Many Americans Does It Take to Collaterally Slaughter a Child in a Third World Country? (Collaterally of course, for what American is his or her right mind would go overseas for the sole purpose or intention of killing a child?).
Maybe consider turning off Network TV, Radio, and stop reading corporate owned newspapers and magazines, or better yet notice, and get angry about their promotion of all past and every single possible future war in some way or another.
It is a rare occasion when a child's death is begrudgingly reported on our privately licensed public air wave frequencies, for our American monopolized "free' press and electronic media has prime criminal responsibility for each wonderful child's brutal passing, and their employees are in some discomfort increasingly aware of their murderous roles.
[*] "Slaughter,' as in "manslaughter,' defined as The unlawful killing of a person, without malice or premeditation. (There being no specific word for "woman or child slaughter' as they are understood within "Manslaughter.')
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Jay Janson is archival research peoples historian activist, musician and writer, who has lived and worked on all the continents and whose articles on media have been published in China, Italy, England and the US, and now resides in New York City.