January 20, 2004


This is hellishly graphic, but also illustrative of certain facts about the war in Iraq. Namely that US weaponry was directed not randomly but at precise targets (in this case, an Iraqi unit loading shoulder-fired rockets); and also that modern military technology (the footage comes from a nighttime Apache helicopter attack) is beyond overwhelming.

It‘s terrifying, and you’d be less than human if you felt no horror for the individuals caught in that Apache’s sights. At the same time, we must consider that such actions were the only way a nation was to be liberated from a tyrant’s murderous control. Opposition to military intervention may have meant we’d never see images such as these, yet would also assure future Saddam-led atrocities; supporting military intervention leaves us pro-war types to consider Iraq’s long-term benefit in the wake of ghastly, immediate death.

It isn’t easy. But I still know that last year’s war means fewer horrific deaths in the future.

UPDATE. Via the Bunyip, some evidence of the brutality that would persist in Iraq were it not for the war.

Posted by Tim Blair at January 20, 2004 02:11 AM

I'm waiting for ABC news or journalism.uk to air a video showing Saddam's army hauling up truckloads of bodies and dumping them into mass graves.

Yeah, I know----it'll be a loooong wait.

Posted by: fred at January 20, 2004 at 03:01 AM

Call me inhuman, but considering what these insurgents are fighting for (to get the Baathists back into power so the raping and torturing and oppressing of their fellow Iraqis can re-commence), I can't get too broken up about their deaths.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at January 20, 2004 at 03:12 AM

I guess I am less than human as well. The only thing I felt was satisfaction.

Posted by: Gary Utter at January 20, 2004 at 03:18 AM

Necessary, with good cause and with more to come to be sure, but I have to say on a personal level as a combat veteran that I feel for the young men involved in actions such as this. Because we are a humane nation in the U.S. brought up with humane values, taking anothers life will affect these soldiers in some manner or other for the rest of their lives.

Vietnam 71-72

Posted by: Wallace at January 20, 2004 at 03:31 AM

The only people I feel sorry for are the Coalition troops who would have been sent soon after to shovel the chunks into body bags. The dead guys were wiped out almost instantly and wouldn't really have felt anything (except perhaps the one trying to crawl away, who maybe had fifteen seconds to ponder his fate before the second burst killed him). It was quite enlightening to see what a 30mm M230 chain-gun can do, however.

Posted by: David Gillies at January 20, 2004 at 04:00 AM

Having been show the death camp liberation films from WWII as part of my training in the '60s, I think most of us would have no problem chain-gunning the murderous bastards who do such things. I have no problem killing a wild or savage dog that attacks, and I see little or no difference here. I hope those guys on the copter sleep well, indeed.

Posted by: JorgXMcKie at January 20, 2004 at 04:03 AM

The guy who tried to hide under the truck was dead already, he just didn't know it yet. When the truck went up, he was doused in flaming gasoline; you could see from the signature of the smoke rising from him that he was on fire. The third salvo just granted him a quick death, rather than a prolonged and painful one.

Posted by: Tatterdemalian at January 20, 2004 at 04:05 AM

Sorry Im with Tim. I saw this video yesterday after a link was posted in Allahpundit's comments. I felt a lot of pity for those men under the sights. Its not that I wouldnt want them killed, but rather that I really do wish there was another way.

Im a little dismayed that some of you find such a clip 'satisfying'. We don't know if those men on the ground were murderous rapist oppressing scum.. or conscripts afraid of America because of what they've been taught their whole lives..just trying to defend their country.

I wouldnt have the US *not* kill, but unless I'm certain the ones dying are the ones I want dead I'm not gonna be grinning. Perhaps a few of you would prefer to see the civilians we undoubtedly killed by accident as well. We know there were some. They are 'acceptable losses' in overthrowing the regime, but do you wanna watch and see how proud you are then?

Posted by: Ken at January 20, 2004 at 06:23 AM

This war of choice, not necessity, is the toughest moral call in modern politico-military history.
OTOH, Hussein was a murderous tyrant, and even on a good day, would have no problem with snuffing out the lives of his fellow citizens, per the Apache, day in day out till the day he died. And he had relatives worse than himself waiting in the wings, ready to pick up the reigns.
OTOH, main-force industrial-strength war itself, even precision-guided war, is a crime against humanity and should only be undertaken when all other non-war alternatives have been exhausted. Soldiers are still human, even if serving a bad cause, and it is right to empathise with them.
Was it the right thing to do? The war is not over yet, so we don't know the full score, but at least now we can get a better idea of how it is being played.

Posted by: Jack Strocchi at January 20, 2004 at 06:46 AM

But credit to TB for showing the cost of war, in it's repellant reality. This is practising journalistic accountablility - it allows the reader and citizen to make an informed choice without being hoodwinked or spun ie democracy.
For sure, had the US held back from regime change, Ray Cassin would not have included accounts of Hussein's death prisons in his articles, by way of counting the cost of regime maintenance. Moral vaingloryists, like him, practise lop-sided moral accounting, because they believe intentions trump consequences. So they don't bother with an objective and balanced portrayal of the realistic world. Political debate is about giving them a chance to preen themselves in the moral vanity mirror of the media.

Posted by: Jack Strocchi at January 20, 2004 at 06:49 AM

I get no satisfaction out of seeing people killed even though I believe the war was justified. War is an ugly, brutal thing and we shouldn't pretend otherwise.

This video does highlight the precision and professionalism of the modern American military (and the Brits and Aussies as well). American soldiers usually hit exactly what they intend to hit. That doesn't mean that mistakes are never made - there always will be in war - but civilian casualties are far more limited than was possible even ten years ago.

Posted by: Randal Robinson at January 20, 2004 at 06:53 AM

We do what we have to do. We shouldn't exalt, but neither should we be ashamed. It is a good thing that we can hit what we're aiming at -- and pretty much only what we are aiming at -- with lethal and immediate accuracy. We've come a long way since the necessity for saturation bombing and fire bombing large areas to achieve a tactical goal.

Yes, civilians die. But at far, far lower rates than any previous kind of warfare. And it is worth noting the lengths we go to to avoid civilian casualties as well. Before offering utopian fantasies of no civilian deaths resulting from major combat in urban areas, it is well to remember that the perfect is the enemy of the good. The only thing that might make me feel bad was if our soldiers out of some hesitation or reluctance to accomplish their mission ended up getting themselves killed or injured.

For some reason, some of these comments remind me a lot of what I've read about the use of nuclear weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Posted by: charles austin at January 20, 2004 at 06:55 AM

The images are terrible of course. However, I would rather see that than see Fedayeen soldiers feed living, breathing people into wood chippers. I would rather see that than see nazi's skin someone alive and put them, still alive, in an oven. Sometimes good men have to do bad things in order to prevent worse things.

Posted by: Oktober at January 20, 2004 at 08:46 AM

There's money to be made here. If we connect the shooting platforms in theatre to our PS2/XBOX/PCs at home we could charge for 'Pay-to-Shoot'. Given the likely response of our murderous high-schoolers - the war might just pay for itself...

Posted by: Sean at January 20, 2004 at 08:50 AM

Military action is not pretty, nor is it meant to be fair if you are doing it properly.

Those Iraqi guys have had months to decide that they no longer wanted to support Saddam.

Posted by: Harry Tuttle at January 20, 2004 at 09:17 AM

As I recall, the ABC News story about that video stated that it was shot in December. If that's true, then the men getting splattered were insurgents, not conscripts or Iraqi Army regulars compelled to fight by the fear of Saddam. In other words, they had a choice in the matter, chose to keep fighting, and paid for it. No sympathy here.

Posted by: GoesTo11 at January 20, 2004 at 09:50 AM

Didn't bother me- did anyone see the footage of Apaches in Gulf War 1 hunting down remnants of the "elite Republican Guard" in the western desert, and dispatching them with miniguns? They just vaporised; no mess to clean up.

Posted by: Habib at January 20, 2004 at 10:29 AM

You don't know it, Tim. You think it, you hope it, you even believe it.

But you do not know it.

Posted by: Nemesis at January 20, 2004 at 10:46 AM

this graphic is old. it dates back to the first gulf war. i saw it in a film years ago.

these guys used up their virgins quite along time ago.

Posted by: JOHN at January 20, 2004 at 10:53 AM

"but do you wanna watch and see how proud you are then?"

If you were the collateral damage, Ken, I might.

Posted by: Lee at January 20, 2004 at 11:49 AM

This is not the most heartening choice of video to champion the selective and accurate use of military firepower. Am I an idiot or is that a tractor with plow attached to the rear (on the left side of the image) with a freshly plowed row to the rear of the plow attachment. Further to the right in the image are "older" plowed rows (notice that the lines are not as bright), then of course the large truck and the pickup. The most sensible interpretation of the image is that two men, without arms in hand, carrying and unloading nothing, have pulled up to a guy plowing land. One guy skips over to the tractor driver, who then dismounts the tractor, walks toward the third man and meets oblivion. As a former Marine and as a full supporter of both Iraqi actions, I am willing to assume that U.S. Forces had other information that allowed this to be described as an attack on an "Iraqi unit loading shoulder-fired rockets". But please don't use this as a demonstration of the new accuracy that reduces civilian casualties because everything in the video paints the picture of a farmer and friends ripped up for being near a large truck.

Posted by: Mike at January 20, 2004 at 02:05 PM

Yes, you're an idiot. Or a troll. And a "marine@msn.com" email address does not prove that you are US Marine. You know, I do think that the military can tell the difference between farm implements and military vehicles. Try to fool someone else.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at January 20, 2004 at 02:13 PM

If they were fedayeen, or the Islamist scum setting off car bombs I'd just laugh at this footage. Poetic justice.

But I really doubt those guys were insurgents. Insurgents shoot and run, they don't slowly load trucks up. That footage was almost certainly shot during main combat, and those guys, probably kids of about 18 to 20 years old, were most probably conscripts who didn't want to be there and had no say in their fate. The guy rolling around on fire is especially horrifying, this is ugly stuff.

But it should be shown, so that we are reminded what warfare means. I still support this war, because if it wasn't fought Hussein and his sons would have killed HUNDREDS of thousands of innocent people in the coming years, out of sight of the cameras but not off our conciences.

Posted by: Amos at January 20, 2004 at 02:31 PM

All this business about conscripts is more than a little bizarre. After all, a conscript can (and will, if properly trained) shoot you every bit as dead as a volunteer.

Are American troops somehow more deserving of death than their Iraqi counterparts?

Besides, out of curiosity:

Japanese troops were often conscripts. Was their death to be mourned more or less than that of Marines facing them? Did the fact that they were conscripts somehow absolve them of their minor infractions in Nanjing and Bataan?

How many Wehrmacht troops executed Jews? How many Wehrmacht troops were conscripts? But a Jewish guerilla (out of, say, Sobibor) was a volunteer. So was a Jewish fighter in Warsaw. Guess my sympathies should be more w/ the boys in grey, eh?

And if volunteers are always the better off, I trust that our sympathies are with the suicide bombers in Palestine, rather than w/ the draftees of the IDF?

Admonitions not to exult in death are all well and good, and on the whole, probably right (unless implying that one should feel shame). Suggesting that, somehow, a conscript is less culpable, less capable, or less of an opponent is simply silly.

Posted by: Dean at January 20, 2004 at 03:16 PM

No one in the footage appears to be carrying or loading anything. Instead it looks like some frightened men, (spooked by helo sounds?)running between a tractor and a truck in a plowed field.

"You know, I do think that the military can tell the difference between farm implements and military vehicles'

And this observation is based on what? Their record in finding WMDs? Blowing up asprin factories in Sudan and Chinese embassies in Belgrade?

People make mistakes in war. Desktop hawks turning it into " a terrible business but it has to be done" is an egregious mistake.

Posted by: Hekyll at January 20, 2004 at 03:48 PM

Doesn't look that way to me, Hekyll. Unless Iraqi tractors have mortar-barrel shaped hitches, I'd say that's an artillery piece they were putting together out of parts and tools they were carrying from the truck.

If they had even known the helicopter was there, all three would almost certainly have been hiding under the truck, or at the very least they would have hopped in the nearby pickup and at least tried to hightail it out of there.

Nope, the video shows exactly what the soldiers say it's showing: three terrorists, trying to cobble together another donkey-cart mortar launcher under cover of darkness, only to be caught completely flat-footed by an Apache and about 80 rounds of 30mm ammo.

Posted by: Tatterdemalian at January 20, 2004 at 05:41 PM

ABC News has more background and a video link that I can't get to work. They edited the clip. Apparently what happened is the Iraqis pull up in trucks, drop a tube in the middle of the field, then the tractor pulls up. That's where this clip begins. It's just that, apparently, ABC assholes decided to edit it so it could be easily used in anti-American propaganda.

I've read on some forums (big red flag! may be bullshit!) that the 2nd Iraqi killed, the one by the tractor, is pulling an RPG out of a sleeve. I can't make it out, but it's definitely possible.

In any case, ABC has a longer video that is practically impossible to find. Word is some TV news shows have shown a longer version that shows suspicious behaviour by the Iraqis. Naturally, ABC edited that out. You might try this link, but I couldn't get that video to work either.

Posted by: scott h. at January 20, 2004 at 05:54 PM

Looking at it again, it looks more and more like the 2nd Iraqi was up to no good. They don't look terribly like "spooked farmers". 1st guy gets hit, guy on the right hits the dirt, 2nd guy immediately starts pulling cloth off of something on the ground...

Posted by: scott h. at January 20, 2004 at 06:05 PM

Are you kidding? Can you not see the long vertical lines in the image? (plow lines in a field) Notice that they terminate at the rear of your "mortar"? Notice that there are no lines in front of the “mortar”? (unplowed area) Notice that the lines match up with the vertical lines on the back of the "mortar" (the disk attachment to the tractor)? Notice the driver hop off the seat of the "mortar"? The hot (white) tall exhaust stack? Etc, etc. That says mortar to you and definitely not a tractor in a plowed field? Please! Does supporting U.S. policy and the courageous Coalition forces require us to not see what is in front of us? I'll repeat from my earlier post: I'm willing to assume that the pilots must have had information that belied the image in their scopes. Maybe Coalition units tracked some artillery fire back to that area or some other reason. I have to assume that or believe that they screwed up bad. But the images are not worth showing without a lengthy explanation as to why we should not trust our own eyes.

Posted by: Mike at January 20, 2004 at 06:33 PM

Thank you Scott H. That is the kind of information that fills out the story and explains why what we see is not what it appears to be. The explanation of what the second guy is doing has the ring of truth to it as well. In the image it looked to me like he was ripping off his shirt, which doesn't make sense but... The explanation ScottH gives makes a lot of sense and would explain how the description became "an Iraqi unit loading shoulder-fired rockets" even though there is no such activity in the video.

Posted by: Mike at January 20, 2004 at 06:50 PM

"...It‘s terrifying, and you’d be less than human if you felt no horror for the individuals caught in that Apache’s sights."

Well, count me as less than human, Tim.

The American general, William T. Sherman said it best:

"You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace."

Posted by: Tom at January 20, 2004 at 08:11 PM

I'm not sure about the exact specifics of the gun camera images. But to assuage any troubled minds, take a look at this video.

Posted by: Anticipatory Retaliation at January 21, 2004 at 05:12 AM


Can't you tell the difference between innocent farmers (gunned down by murderous American mercenaries) and criminals experiencing justice? After all, Saddam himself said that all those killed were murderers and criminals.

And no Third World leader ever killed his own people (exc. in the service of American corporations).

/sarcasm off.

Posted by: Dean at January 21, 2004 at 08:29 AM

ABC link

"Anthony Cordesman, an ABCNEWS defense consultant who also viewed the tape, said the Apache pilots would have had a much clearer picture of the scene than what was recorded on the videotape. He also said they would have had intelligence about the identity of the men in the vehicles. "They're not getting a sort of blurred picture. They have a combination of intelligence and much better imagery than we can see."

The pilots that fired the guns were sure that these were enemies, not just innocent farmers and that is good enough for me. I don't believe that they were out joy riding in an apache killing what ever moves.

Posted by: Oktober at January 21, 2004 at 09:12 AM

Someone needs to inform this guy. Could this be the source of the "innocent farmers" japery?

Posted by: Andrea Harris at January 21, 2004 at 11:29 AM