By Eric Pettifor
An important story over at WikiLeaks concerns what appears to be the slaughter of innocent civilians by American forces, including two Reuters news staff, in Iraq . I should warn you that the video is very disturbing, taken as it is from the Apache helicopter doing the firing.
I’ll leave it to a political blogger to consider the big picture of what this says about the US military and their operations in Iraq, and restrict myself to a couple of technology related issues. The first, of course, must be to thank WikiLeaks for the courage they display in bringing us information that powerful entities like the US military don’t want us to have. They accept donations via paypal and some other options.
Secondly, I was struck by just how critical the role of accurate information is in this sort of situation. Elements of the US military do not always conduct themselves professionally, but nonetheless, command and control is professionally structured. Soldiers can’t simply fly around firing at whoever they like depending on how trigger-happy they’re feeling on any particular day. Before they can engage a target, they must request and get permission to do so.
But here’s the rub. The fellow removed from the heat of the action, who arguably should have a cooler head and better judgment, depends absolutely on the report of the people who will be doing the engaging for his decision on whether or not to engage. If you watch the video, you may be a bit stunned when you hear the gunner reporting that he sees people with RPGs and AK47s, because that simply isn’t apparent from the video.
I’m not an expert in military systems, but in light of this incident I would hope that someone in some military R & D lab somewhere is working on a system whereby the one who makes the decision could actually see the camera video in real time. That might have made a difference, if he could have said, “I don’t see a threat here, boys, simmer down and move on.”
Or maybe not. Even based on the verbal info he was getting, the guy granting the permission to engage should probably be court-martialed for approving the attack on unarmed civilians coming to the aid of a man wounded in the initial attack. No amount of technology can compensate for the criminally poor judgment of an officer.
Again, the video is very disturbing, but if you want to see for yourself, you can view it here. Here’s an MSNBC clip with some analysis, but same warning, as they show the video in an inset while they talk over it.