A note from filmmaker James Spione...
Psychologists call it "psychic numbing." Tell someone that tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in the Iraq conflict, or that thousands of U.S. veterans of our Mideast wars suffer from crippling PTSD, and their eyes will likely glaze over. Most people simply cannot comprehend the meaning of such vast numbers, nor are they likely to show any particular concern. Conversely, however, the tale of a single tragic incident can create great empathy in the same person--and greater understanding of the wider effects of war.
On April 5th, 2010, the controversial website WikiLeaks released a grainy black-and-white
video that stunned the world. Recorded from the gunsight camera of an U.S. Army attack
helicopter during one of the most chaotic and deadly periods of the Iraq War, the footage
depicts the violent deaths of two Iraqi journalists, Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh,
along with at least eight other mostly unarmed individuals on the streets of Baghdad in
July 2007. Minutes later on the video, when the driver of a passing van attempts to come
to the aid of the mortally wounded Chmagh, a second helicopter attack occurs that destroys
the van and kills several more people, wounding two small children in the process.
For several days, there was a media frenzy, as commentators and pundits from all sides of
the political spectrum alternately clamored to explain, debunk, justify, or condemn the actions
of the pilots in the video. Controversy swirled around the ethics and legalities of Wikileaks'
actions in releasing the footage, and profiles soon followed about its enigmatic Australian
spokesman, Julian Assange. Especially in America, however, very little follow-up reporting
was undertaken to find out the context of this tragic event from the people who were actually
involved or affected. As has become the custom in this country, discussion about the
shootings was quickly framed as a foreign policy or strategy debate; almost wholly absent
was any curiosity or interest in finding out about the real victims of this calamity. And a few
days later, when a British Petroleum oil rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana, the story
disappeared from the national radar altogether. The arrest of a young Army private,
Bradley Manning, who now stands accused of being the source of the video, served
only to provide an end coda for the media.
Nonetheless, the events on the morning of July 12, 2007 potentially offer an unusually detailed window into the conduct and resulting consequences of the Iraq War: the confusing atmosphere in which split-second decisions are made by American forces; the extraordinary hazards faced by ordinary Iraqis trying to maintain some sense of normality to their lives in a city wracked by violence; the long-term effects on soldiers' psyches of taking part in the killing; the crushing loss and white-hot rage of families whose loved ones were caught in the cross-fire; and the physical and emotional scars of young children who have never known a world without warfare and bloodshed, terror and loss.
My short film INCIDENT IN NEW BAGHDAD examines what happened that day from the first-hand perspective of an American infantryman whose life was profoundly changed by his experiences on the scene. U.S. Army Specialist Ethan McCord bore witness to the devastating carnage, found and rescued the two children caught in the crossfire, and soon turned against the war that he had enthusiastically joined only months before. Denied psychological treatment in Iraq for his PTSD, McCord returned home, struggling for years with anger, confusion, and guilt over the war. When Wikileaks released the video of the incident, McCord was finally spurred into action, and began traveling the country, speaking out for the rights of PTSD sufferers and against the American wars in the Middle East.
However, there is so much more to the story, and I am now developing a more in-depth, feature-length examination of this incident that will include the perspectives of many more people involved in this incident: the infantry on the ground; the families of both Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh; the children, whose father was killed in front of them in the van, as well as their mother; and if possible, the 1-8 Cavalry Airborne gunner who pulled the trigger. My hope is that, by hearing from all of the first-hand participants of this tragic event, we may come to better understand the profoundly damaging consequences that ripple out through the lives of survivors over many years from just one so-called "engagement" in a war. And when we learn from all involved that this incident was not an aberration, but a commonplace occurrence over the course of many years, perhaps then we will start to understand those mind-numbing statistics, and feel the true moral scale of the damage, the wounds, the folly of a war of choice that never needed to happen.
Director, Incident in New Baghdad