WASHINGTON —The Web site WikiLeaks.org released a graphic video on Monday showing an American helicopter shooting and killing a Reuters photographer and driver in a July 2007 attack in Baghdad.
A senior American military official confirmed that the video was authentic.
Reuters had long pressed for the release of the video, which consists of 17 minutes of black-and-white aerial video and conversations between pilots in two Apache helicopters as they open fire on people on a street in Baghdad. The attack killed 12, among them Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and driver Saeed Chmagh, 40.
At a news conference at the National Press Club, WikiLeaks said it had acquired the video from whistle-blowers in the military and was able to view it after breaking the encryption code.
David Schlesinger, the editor in chief of Reuters news, said in a statement that the video was “graphic evidence of the dangers involved in war journalism and the tragedies that can result.”
On the day of the attack, US military officials in Baghdad said that the helicopters had been called in to help American troops who had been exposed to small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades during a raid.
“There is no question that coalition forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force,” Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, a spokesman for the multinational forces in Baghdad, said at the time.
But the video does not show hostile action. Instead, it begins with a group of people milling around on a street, among them, according to WikiLeaks, Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh. The pilots believe them to be insurgents, and mistake Noor-Eldeen’s camera for a weapon. They aim and fire at the group, then revel in their kills.
“Look at those dead bastards,” one pilot says. “Nice,” the other responds.
A wounded man can be seen crawling and the pilots impatiently hope that he will try to fire at them so that under the rules of engagement they can shoot him again. “All you gotta do is pick up a weapon,” one pilot says.
A short time later a van arrives to pick up the wounded and the pilots open fire on it, wounding two children inside. “Well, it’s their fault for bring their kids into a battle,” one pilot says.
At another point, an American armored vehicle arrives and appears to roll over one of the dead. “I think they just drove over a body,” one of the pilots says, chuckling a little.
Reuters said at the time that the two men had been working on a report about weightlifting when they heard about a military raid in the neighborhood, and decided to drive there to check it out.
The American military in Baghdad investigated the episode and concluded that the forces involved had no reason to know that there were Reuters employees in the group. No disciplinary action was taken.