On April 5, WikiLeaks.org, a Web site that advocates freedom of information by posting documents leaked to them anonymously, posted a 2007 video taken from an Apache helicopter. The video shows the U.S. military in Baghdad gunning down about 12 Iraqis, two of which may have been journalists from the Reuters news agency. Two children were also wounded in the engagement.
The pilots in the attack seemed to think the targets were holding weapons, but it turned out that they may have only been holding camera equipment. Looking at the video, it is admittedly not clear, but that should be reason enough not to engage the “targets.”
I think our military made a mistake in this situation. While the contents of the video seem to be the most contested of this issue, I think another important issue is the leak and nature of the video itself.
Soon after the leak, a number of news organizations acquired the video and showed edited versions to viewers. Suffice it to say that the video has been widely publicized.
In my Information Ethics class, we discussed the ethical implications of the video. Is this information vital to the public, or does it undermine our faith in the military and its operations? Do we really need to see these disturbing images?
Opinions varied in class, but to all these questions, I firmly answer yes.
This information is vital to the public because we need to know what our military is doing, even down to the gritty details. As a voting, tax-paying citizen, I hold myself personally responsible for all the actions of our military, which, like our government, is supposed to serve us, the public. In the same way that I want to know as much as I can about what my government is doing, I also want to know just as much about my military.
I also agree that these images undermine confidence in the military, but maybe our military does not always deserve our complete confidence. When our military kills civilians (inadvertently or otherwise), isn’t it natural to have our confidence in it shaken?
I would like to have faith in my military, but I will not put blind faith in it. War is a serious act to be engaged in and deserves our full attention. It is complicated, and while I would rather us not be engaged in war at all, we need to make sure that we carry out this war as intelligently as possible. I take this as one of my responsibilities as a citizen. To carry out this task, information such as this video is important for me to have access to.
This is not to say that we should be overexposed to such images or that they should be sensationalized. The public deserves access to such information, but it does not need to be shoved down our throats. I am fine with the video being broadcast, as long as some form of critical analysis, even if it’s biased, appears with it. The video should not simply be paraded about because it contains graphic content. News should appeal to the analytical portion of our minds, not the portion that likes to slow down and stare at traffic accidents.
I should also note that the U.S. government in no way tried to cover up this information to prevent its leak. I am just speaking to those who would argue against releasing and publicizing such information.
Videos such as the one leaked are unsettling but important for us to watch. Naturally, we want to avoid being disturbed, especially by images that we are responsible for, but if we simply devote ourselves to avoiding unsettling scenes in life, we may lose sight of big problems in the world.
opinion editor Braden Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org