This week marks the fourth anniversary of the day we first saw, if from a distance, a soldier named Ethan McCord. Julian Assange that day released the video he had titled “Collateral Murder.” It showed a 2007 incident in Baghdad when a US Apache copter crew gunned down more than a dozen Iraqis, most likely civilians, on the streets below, including two Reuters staffers.
After a flurry of publicity, the episode soon faded from the media,
although three major WikiLeaks releases followed last year, all
allegedly coming via Private Bradley Manning.
Ethan McCord first spoke out in an interview published by Wired
online on April 20, 2010, after the release of the video to testify that
he was on the scene that day and helped rescue two badly injured
children (who were riding in a van driven by their father who had tried
to helped the wounded only to be killed himself) and carry them to a
vehicle that took them to a hospital. He has since continued to protest
what happened that day -- and the war in Iraq.
Most notably, he would be featured in a film that would earn an Oscar nomination. Here is a link to the film's site. UPDATE: See comment by McCord in my Comments section below.
Below is an excerpt from my The Age of WikiLeaks book—recounting the surprising interview McCord gave shortly after the release of "Collateral Murder." See my post earlier today about the reaction, three years ago, to the video.
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One of the most remarkable interviews relating to this whole episode came to light on April 20, 2010, when Kim Zetter at Wired revealed that she had located and interviewed one of the soldiers in the video.
He was Ethan McCord, 33, the father of three who had left the Army
after seven years and was now living in Kansas. In the video, McCord was
seen carrying the 10-year-old boy, Sajad, from the van to seek medical
care. He had recently posted a letter online—with fellow soldier Josh
Steiber—asking Sajad’s family’s forgiveness and backing the WikiLeaks
release of the video.
McCord described his shock at seeing people “destroyed” on the ground
and finding the badly injured children in the van, helping a medic take
the girl to a nearby building, and then coming back for the boy. After
carrying Sajad to a Bradley, “I got yelled at by my platoon leader that I
needed to stop trying to save these mf ’n kids and go pull security….
“After the incident, we went back to the FOB [forward operating base]
and that’s when I was in my room. I had blood all down the front of me
from the children. I was trying to wash it off in my room. I was pretty
distraught over the whole situation with the children. So I went to a
sergeant and asked to see [the mental health person], because I was
having a hard time dealing with it. I was called a pussy and that I
needed to suck it up and a lot of other horrible things. I was also told
that there would be repercussions if I was to go to mental health.
“I’ve lived with seeing the children that way since the incident
happened. I’ve had nightmares. I was diagnosed with chronic, severe
PTSD. [But] I was actually starting to get kind of better.… I wasn’t
thinking about it as much. [Then I] took my children to school one day
and I came home and sat down on the couch and turned on the TV with my
coffee, and on the news I’m running across the screen with a child. The
flood of emotions came back. I know the scene by heart; it’s burned into
my head. I know the van, I know the faces of everybody that was there
“I did see a video on YouTube after the WikiLeaks [video] came out,
of the children being interviewed.… When I saw their faces, I was
relieved, but I was just heartbroken. I have a huge place in my heart
for children, having some of my own. Knowing that I was part of the
system that took their father away from them and made them lose their
house…it’s heartbreaking. And that in turn is what helped me and Josh
write the letter, hoping that it would find its way to them to let them
know that we’re sorry. We’re sorry for the system that we were involved
in that took their father’s life and injured them. If there’s anything I
can to do help, I would be more than happy to.
“Personally, I believe the first attack on the group standing by the
wall was appropriate, was warranted by the rules of engagement. They did
have weapons there. However, I don’t feel that the attack on the van
was necessary…. And where the soldier said [in the video], ‘Well, you
shouldn’t take your kids to battle.’ Well, in all actuality, we brought
the battle to your kids.
“I think that the bigger picture is what are we doing there? We’ve
been there for so long now and it seems like nothing is being
accomplished whatsoever, except for we’re making more people hate us.
“I don’t say that Wikileaks did a bad thing, because they didn’t…. I
think it is good that they’re putting this stuff out there. I don’t
think that people really want to see this, though, because this is war.…
It’s very disturbing.”
Greg Mitchell is author of more than a dozen books, including his latest on Bradley Manning and "The Age of WikiLeaks." His new book on Iraq and the media is "So Wrong for So Long."