Private First Class Bradley Manning first became aware of the extent of American wrongdoing in Iraq when a fellow soldier discussed this "war porn" video depicting several people being gunned down by an air assault team. The soldier mentioned that the video was available for access on a back-up storage area partitioned off in a computer or a network. He set off to find it.
The full video is 39 minutes unedited. Grainy and black and white, it looks like something out of a video game played by teenage boys but without any special effects or decent graphics. Manning was "troubled" by it enough to find out what happened. He researched it to discover that the video corresponded to the death of two Reuters journalists.
This was to become the video now at the center of Bradley Manning's trial that begins toMonday.
Manning leaked the video in 2009 to WikiLeaks when he was serving as an intelligence analyst in Iraq. WikiLeaks released an edited (below) and unedited version of the video under the title "Collateral Murder." Civilian casualties have always been a by-product of war but that does not mean it is something worth accepting as, well, collateral damage.
The July 12, 2007 incident in Baghdad captured in the video shows two U.S. Army Apache helicopters attack a group of men gathered in an open neighborhood. The soldiers mistook the cameras of the two Reuters reporters for weapons and requested permission to "engage" or fire on them. The ensuing chaos was further compounded when the soldiers misidentified an unrelated passer-by in a van approached one of the wounded journalists as an accomplice trying to remove weapons and bodies before the army.
Two children in the van were wounded and all adult men, including the children's father, died.
CNN investigated the cause of the confusion and found that the soldiers had been under fire all morning from rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and small arms that day. The two Apaches had been dispatched to assist ground troops with clearing the small-scale insurgencies in that area. The Pentagon has insisted that the soldiers had no way of differentiating the photojournalists from insurgents.
"It must be noted that details which are readily apparent when viewed on a large video monitor are not necessarily apparent to the Apache pilots during a live-fire engagement," the Pentagon's report stated.
Manning's impetus in releasing the video wasn't just the attack on the journalists, it was the "alarming bloodlust" of the Apache soldiers. Even if the Pentagon is to be believed that the soldiers had no way of knowing who the individuals were, their insistence and clearly evident hunger for violence should be the central focus of the discussion surrounding it.
Manning discussed this in his testimony earlier this year:
The documents leaked by Manning also show other cases of attacks against unarmed civilians. President Obama has cited this as one of the reasons he prefers using drones over manned combat. But it isn't enough.
If Manning's trial and the video that started it all have any impact at all, it should be in the increased policies and procedures to avoid civilian deaths, or to do all things possible to rectify and take responsibility for them.