By Eric Pettifor
There seems to be some confusion as to whether or not AK47s and RPGs (rocket propelled grenade) were present in the video released by WikiLeaks of the slaughter of civilians, including two Reuters news staff, by the crew of an Apache helicopter in Baghdad in 2007. Consequently, I present here a brief primer on spotting AK47s and RPGs in hopes it will be useful to anyone trying to resolve this question by watching the video.
The name AK47 stands for Kalashnikov (its Soviet inventor) Automatic, model year 1947. That’s right, a design from just after World War two which has continued to be manufactured down through the decades to today, not because it represents some sort of perfection in rifle design, but because the thing is so damned durable, cheap, and easy to use.
Here’s a link to a Google image search on the term AK47.
As you might imagine, over the years there have been many variants and styles, but one thing which appears remarkably consistent is the curved magazine which contains the bullets.
The RPG, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to have quite the same amount of variety.
And here’s a link to a Google image search on the term Rocket Propelled Grenade .
This is a shoulder fired weapon with a very distinctive shape when the grenade part is attached to the launcher. One might describe it as almost phallic, with the grenade creating the impression of an elongated bulge at the front. I confess, while I had heard of it within the context of war reporting, I hadn’t given much thought to what it looked like, and recently, for some strange reason, was thinking that it must look something like a camera with a telephoto lens.
Now that we know what AK47s and RPGs look like, let’s look at some key frames from the video.
Is this fellow holding an AK47 or RPG?
It looks like he’s holding a gun of some kind, but with no distinctive magazine, and it doesn’t seem to fit the profile of an RPG.
How about this fellow?
Again, looks like a gun, but no magazine, and also, easy to to say, not an RPG.
So no one is carrying an RPG. But wait, how about this frame a little later of the first guy’s weapon again, but in a different orientation?
Let’s zoom in a bit on that.
Does that profile not look a bit priapic? This sequence of frames is very easy to miss, occurring for only a couple of seconds. You would think that the gunner would mention it, since a lucky shot from an RPG (they are inaccurate except at short distances) could do serious damage. Keep in mind, though, that even if it is a guy carrying an RPG, that doesn’t mean it’s open season on him if he isn’t clearly a belligerent.
What of this figure suspiciously hiding behind the corner: does he have an AK47 or an RPG?
Strange that they would miss an RPG carried by one of the men earlier, yet here mistake a camera for one. You and I, knowing now what we do, would certainly never have made such errors. But sadly, if we were filled with blood lust and adrenalin and in a similar psychological state, we just might.
That’s why the guys in the Apache will walk away from this even if it were reinvestigated and charges filed. I’m not convinced that any court using the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” could say that these fellows weren’t actually seeing what they wanted to see and calling it as they saw it; that is to say, there was no conscious intention to deceive in order to get permission to engage. As hard as it may be to stomach on first watching, the initial attack could be regarded as a regrettable failure of perception brought on by extreme and understandable conditions.
Firing on those giving aid to the wounded, however, was a clear war crime, and probably the real reason for the cover up. Yet even there, the only one who is in any danger of legal consequence is the controller. The crew of the helicopter sought and got permission to engage. That could be interpreted as an order, thus opening the door to the “just following orders” defence. I know, that hasn’t been admissible in an international court since the Nuremberg trials at the conclusion of World War II, but if you think any of those fellows will ever go before an international court, then I respectfully suggest you put down the pipe.
This concludes AK47 and RPG Spotting 101. I hope you will find this information useful with regard to determining just what is and isn’t (and might or might not be) in the WikiLeaks video, and I pray you will never need that kind of information to make the type of determinations required by the crew of that Apache.