On July 12 2007 a US apache helicopter shot several Iraqi civilians in an incident that shocked the world when footage of the event was published by whistleblower website, Wikileaks. The footage, taken from the helicopter, shows people fleeing for the safety of buildings being pursued, then the buildings they run to blown up. The attack resulted in 12 dead civilians, including a Reuters’ journalist and cameraman.
In ‘Permission to engage’, Al Jazeera tracks down families of the victims and a former US soldier to tell the story behind the Wikileaks ‘Collateral murder’ film. But the footage leaked to Wikileaks is just one incident of several involving a unit relating to the call sign ‘Crazyhorse’. The particular incident filmed involved Crazyhorse 18. Through cables leaked to Wikileaks as part of its Iraq war logs cache of documents, the Al Jazeera documentary traces several other incidents involving the call sign. Many of these attacks also resulted in civilian deaths, or collateral damage as they are referred to by US army personnel.
Just 4 days after the death of the two Reuters’ journalists, in a neighbouring area of Baghdad, another incident occurred in which 14 civilians were fatally wounded in an operation involving two helicopter gunships responding to call signs ‘Crazyhorse 20’ and ‘Crazyhorse 21.’ In February 2007, two Iraqi insurgents were killed after attempting to surrender to a helicopter gunship. Soldiers aboard ‘Crazyhorse 18’ were given legal advice from a nearby military base: ‘Lawyer states they can not surrender to aircraft and are still valid targets’. The men fled to a nearby shack after Hellfire missiles were fired at their truck. The men were killed minutes later when the shack was destroyed by further missiles.
The pseudonym ‘Crazyhorse’ has its roots in US Army history. An ‘operation crazyhorse’ took place in Vietnam in 1966, after North Vietnamese plans to ambush a US Army foot patrol were intercepted. About 250 US soldiers from two airborne battalions, defeated and killed 500 NVA soldiers in a fierce firefight. The commander of one of these battalions, Captain Mozey, instructed his men to put ‘Death from above’ cards on every enemy they killed. ‘Death from above’ and ‘crazyhorse’ were both referred to and made famous by the reckless Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore in ‘Apocalypse now.’The Al Jazeera documentary talks to people directly affected by the reckless, gung-ho nature of the helicopter pilots of the ‘crazyhorse’ battalion, to produce a moving and personal account of the footage.
Excerpt, Permission to Engage: WikiLeaks collateral murder footage examined, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Aug. 30, 2012