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Video released showing US Army's killing of Reuters news staff

Graphic footage of the killing of two Reuters news staff by US forces in Baghdad three years ago was released in Washington on Monday.

The classified military video depicting the killings on 12 July 2007 was released by the website WikiLeaks, which called it a case of “collateral murder”. It said it obtained the video as well as supporting documents from military whistleblowers

Julian Assange, editor of WikiLeaks, unveiled the video at the National Press Club. He said the crew of the attack helicopter approached its job as if it were a video game, not something involving human lives. Their desire was simply to kill, he said. "Their desire was to get high scores on that computer game."

Video of the incident from two Apaches and photographs taken of the scene were shown to Reuters editors in Baghdad on 25 July 2007 in an off-the-record briefing.

Reuters had been seeking release of the video, shot from a helicopter gun-sight, through the US Freedom of Information Act. After demands by Reuters, the incident was investigated and the military concluded that the actions of the soldiers were in accordance with the law of armed conflict and its own rules of engagement.

The military did not reveal how the Reuters staff were killed, and stated that they did not know how two young children were wounded.

The video shows a US Army Apache repeatedly opening fire on a group of men that included photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and driver Saeed Chmagh, 40, pictured, both Iraqi, and then on a van that stopped to rescue one of the wounded men. None of the members of the group were taking hostile action, contrary to the Pentagon's initial cover story. They were milling about on a street corner.

Crew members can be heard celebrating their kills. "Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards," says one crewman after multiple rounds of 30 mm cannon fire left nearly a dozen bodies in the street. A crewman begs for permission to open fire on the van and its occupants, even though it has done nothing but stop to help the wounded: "Come on, let us shoot!" Two crewmen share a laugh when a Bradley fighting vehicle runs over one of the corpses. And after soldiers on the ground find two small children shot and bleeding in the van, one crewman can be heard saying: "Well, it's their fault bringing their kids to a battle."

The New York Times reported the military's official cover story as follows:

The American military said in a statement late Thursday that 11 people had been killed: nine insurgents and two civilians. According to the statement, American troops were conducting a raid when they were hit by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The American troops called in reinforcements and attack helicopters. In the ensuing fight, the statement said, the two Reuters employees and nine insurgents were killed. "There is no question that coalition forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force," said Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, a spokesman for the multinational forces in Baghdad.

Reuters chief executive Tom Glocer said in a statement after the slayings: “Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh’s outstanding contribution to reporting on the unfolding events in Iraq has been vital. They stand alongside other colleagues in Reuters who have died doing a job that they believe in.”

David Schlesinger, editor-in-chief, said in a statement today: “The deaths of Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh three years ago were tragic and emblematic of the extreme dangers that exist in covering war zones. We continue to work for journalist safety and call on all involved parties to recognise the important work that journalists do and the extreme danger that photographers and video journalists face in particular. The video released today via WikiLeaks is graphic evidence of the dangers involved in war journalism and the tragedies that can result." ■

Collateral Murder