BOOTLEG FILES 394: “Collateral Murder” (classified 2007 U.S. military video that was purloined by WikiLeaks).

LAST SEEN: It is available on numerous online video sites.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: Not as a standalone title.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Hey, who doesn’t want to bootleg top-secret stuff?


It is not everyday that bootlegged videos become headline news – and when it happens, it usually involves unauthorized copies of celebrity sex tapes. However, at least one recent bootlegged video had significant repercussions that impacted the U.S. government: the unauthorized release of a U.S. Army video record of an air strike in Baghdad on July 12, 2007. What made this video important was that it refuted three years of lying by the U.S. Army on the circumstances involving the death of two Reuters journalists.

The video was shot from an AH-64 Apache helicopter that was hovering above Iraq. The footage consists of the helicopter’s occupants aiming their viewfinders at a group of men walking down a Baghdad street. One of the soldiers on the soundtrack insist that the men are armed with AK-47s, although a casual viewing of the video shows that no one is carrying a gun in his hand. However, one man has an object dangling from a shoulder strap – the man was Reuters photographer Sameed Chmagh, who was with fellow journalist Namir Noor-Eldeen in the party walking down the street.

Although none of the men on the ground was behaving in a suspicious manner – indeed, no one appeared to even notice the helicopter above them – the soldiers following their steps radioed in for permission to “engage” the men. Permission was granted and the soldiers opened fire on the men. Several were killed instantly, including Noor-Eldeen, and others were wounded as they tried to escape.

Shortly after the gunfire, an unidentified van pulled up and several men jumped out to help the injured Iraqis. The soldiers radioed in again for permission to open fire, with one soldier childishly pleading, “Come on, let’s us shoot.”  The soldiers received permission to open fire, even though no one on the ground was engaged in violent activity against the helicopter. The men from the van, along with the injured Chmagh, were killed in the attack. Unknown to the soldiers who opened fire, there were two children in the front seat of the van. They were shot up, but would later survive the attack.

A few minutes later, a U.S. Army vehicle approached the scene. The soldiers in the helicopter laughed that the vehicle unknowingly drove over the body of one of the dead Iraqis. The video then switched to the helicopter’s attack on a Baghdad building, where the soldiers believed Iraqi “insurgents” were holed up. They were attacked with a Hellfire missile fired from the helicopter.

The U.S. Army had no idea that Chmagh and Noor-Eldeen were Reuters journalists until the bodies were identified. Immediately, the military went into spin mode, claiming the journalists were killed with “nine insurgents.”  Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl stated, “There is no question that coalition forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force.”

However, the Pentagon did not produce evidence to support this claim. Reuters attempted to secure independent eyewitness accounts that backed the Army’s version, but surviving eyewitnesses contradicted the Pentagon version. The news agency filed a Freedom of Information Act request to review the video and voice communications from the helicopter involved in the attack, but the U.S. Army refused to cooperate.

Most Americans quickly forgot the news of the killings – like most of the happenings out of Iraq, it just became another blip in a seemingly endless war. However, the story unexpected resurfaced on April 5, 2010, when Julian Assange, the flamboyantly self-promoting Australian-born founder of the WikiLeaks website, called a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Assange presented the dumbfounded reporters gathered for the conference with the Pentagon’s top secret video of the 2007 attack – complete with closed captioning titles of the radio communications and on-screen text to point out the journalists and the children in the van. Assange gave the video the title “Collateral Murder”; the presentation did not include the helicopter’s third attack on the building, which was released later.

Despite endless attempts by the Pentagon and its apologists to belittle Assange or to explain away the video’s contents – Defense Secretary Robert Gates inexplicably claimed the unedited footage was “taken out of context” – “Collateral Murder” cruelly exposed the blatant lies surrounding the cover-up of the incident. Indeed, the constant lying to cover up the killings makes viewing the video all the more painful. The video does not show the U.S. Army trying to protect itself from a hostile force – it clearly shows a bunch of idiots eager to assassinate innocent people who were not engaged in any criminal action. Indeed, “Collateral Murder” can be seen as the video game from hell, with real people being shot up instead of animated figurines.

WikiLeaks created a website for “Collateral Murder” that included both the short and long version of the video. Since its initial posting, there have been countless dupes of the video splashed all over the Internet. In many ways, this has become one of the most widely seen and discussed bootlegged video in recent memory.

The Pentagon – which does not like surprises – was badly caught off-guard by the release of the video. A hastily conducted investigation found Army intelligence analyst named Bradley Manning was the source of the leaked video – along with a few other classified materials. You know how the rest of the story goes.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!

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