A highly disturbing report emerged from Afghanistan today: nine youths, one as young as 9, collecting firewood mistaken for insurgents and slaughtered by NATO helicopter gunships. It was the third such incident in two weeks. Protesters responded by crying, “Death to America.”
The @WIkiLeaks feed at Twitter today quickly recalled the incident captured in its “Collateral Murder” video from nearly one year ago, for which, it added, no one was punished. I wrote about the release of that video yesterday. Now, here is another excerpt from my The Age of WikiLeaks book—an episode that was not widely covered by the mainstream media: The US soldier at the scene of the Collateral Murder incident who helped two injured children, and has been haunted ever since.
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 that day.
“I did see a video on YouTube after the WikiLeaks 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.”