- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
It is utterly sickening to watch the video of what Wikileaks claims is "the unprovoked slaying" of two Reuters employees, Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen. We watch events unfold through the perspective of an Apache gunsight, as the helicopter circles lazily over a group of men gathered in a Baghdad courtyard. "That’s a weapon" says a voice, as the video shows a picture of a man carrying a black blur, which could be, well, anything. Over the image, the editor has superimposed text: "Samir w/ camera."
"Just fuckin’, once you get on ’em, just open ’em up," says another voice, as the Apache positions for a better shot on the group. The Wikileaks text states that one of the men is Chmagh, talking on his phone, just before the helicopter unleashes a burst of machine gun fire on the group of men, sending them rolling on the ground. "Oh, yeah, look at those dead bastards," says a soldier.
If you needed any further proof that war is hell, look no further. But here’s the problem: I have no way of verifying that Wikileaks’ narrative here — that we’re witnessing the unprovoked murder of Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen — is accurate. All I see is a number of men cut down by an Apache gunship; the context appears to be unverifiable.
Wired sees this story as evidence of "how a website dedicated to anonymous leaks has become a venue for a more traditional model of investigative reporting." I’m not so sure. The benefit of traditional reporting is that people are eventually forced to go on record: Individuals lend their names and reputations to a specific set of facts. That doesn’t appear to be happening here. Wikileaks promises that it "goes to great lengths to verify the authenticity of the information it receives," but it doesn’t quote any sources that can lend credence to its version of events.
There is no doubt that this is a truly horrifying video to watch. But what it appears to be now, to my eyes, is an important lead to a story, rather than the final product.