Washington (AFP) April 7, 2010
US military lawyers are reviewing a video of an Apache helicopter attack in 2007 in Baghdad that killed two Reuters employees to verify if the footage is genuine, a defense official said on Wednesday.
The review at US Central Command came after the whistleblower website WikiLeaks posted graphic gun camera footage on Monday that it said showed the attack on a Baghdad street.
"Military attorneys are looking at it," the US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.
There were no plans at the moment to reopen an investigation into the incident, another defense official said.
Pentagon officials earlier did not dispute the leaked video was authentic.
The video has gone viral, with a version on You Tube viewed 4.1 million times. The video has sparked an intense online debate over US forces in Iraq and the actions of the troops who opened fire.
The review of the video came as the military released documents from earlier internal US investigations that cleared the helicopter crews of any war crimes.
A probe by the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade concluded that the helicopter crews identified a threat to US forces, established "hostile intent," and followed procedures when seeking permission to fire.
The Apache helicopters were called in to provide support for US ground troops who had come under fire in the area, it said.
The crew spotted a group of men about a block away from US forces, and believed they were insurgents armed with AK-47s and rocket propelled grenades, the report said.
The crew acted "in accordance with the law of armed conflict and rules of engagement," it said.
A separate investigation by the US Army 2nd Brigade Combat team also backed the US troops, and suggested the Reuters news staff should have identified themselves as members of the media.
The report said "their familiar behavior with, and close proximity to, the armed insurgents and their furtive attempts to photograph the Coalition Ground Forces made them appear as hostile combatants to the Apaches that engaged them."
A telephoto lens could have been mistaken for a rocket-propelled grenade, it said, and added that it was not unusual for insurgents to carry cameras.
Sections of both reports were blacked out, including one on "recommendations."
The video footage shows an aerial view of a number of men on a Baghdad street including two later identified as Reuters employees Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh.
At least two individuals in the video appear to be carrying weapons, but most are unarmed. The Apache pilots also appear to mistake a camera carried by one of the Reuters employees as a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, or RPG.
At one point, the Apache pilots tell controllers they have spotted "five to six individuals with AK-47s" and ask for permission to "engage."
The Apache pilots open fire with the helicopter's cannon after which one says there are a "bunch of bodies lying there."
"Look at those dead bastards," one says. Another replies: "Nice."
Shortly after the initial shooting, a van pulls up to pick up the dead and wounded and is fired upon by the Apaches. Two children in the van were injured and evacuated by US ground troops who arrived later on the scene.
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