Update: An edited version of the podcast is now posted along with a complete transcript of the interview with Ethan McCord.
April 5th will mark one year since WikiLeaks first released the "Collateral Murder" video, which showed a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Iraq. To mark the anniversary, the show's guest the show's guest was Ethan McCord, an Iraq War veteran and one of the US soldiers on the ground in Baghdad in 2007 who can be seen in the video helping to rescue children wounded in the attack.
In the aftermath of the attack, McCord's superiors ordered him to stop saving the wounded. He was deeply bothered by the fact that he was the only one interested in saving lives.
McCord recently appeared in a Panorama documentary. He talked about the shooters in the video being protected and not charged with war crimes, highlighted how the US had covered up the truth of the attack prior to WikiLeaks’ release of the video and juxtaposed that dark reality with the fact that former Pfc. Bradley Manning, alleged to have leaked the video (along with other material) to WikiLeaks, is being held in solitary confinement and abused and humiliated in prison. And, McCord said after the attack he could no longer justify being a US soldier in Iraq.
McCord has recently been going to schools to tell his story and talk to students about what it is really like to be in the military. He thinks he might have found his calling: talking to kids.
Here is a link that you can follow to play the podcast. You can also go to the CMN News page and download an .mp3 to listen to or go find it on iTunes by searching for "CMN News" and the podcast with Ethan McCord should appear.
Any ideas for future guests? Maybe, you want to come on the show and be part of a weekly discussion on WikiLeaks with the show's news correspondents? Shoot me a message on Twitter or to my email, which is firstname.lastname@example.org.
*TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW WITH ETHAN MCCORD:
HOST, KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Welcome to another episode of “This Week in WikiLeaks.” This is a very special episode given the fact that we are marking the anniversary of a key release in the history of WikiLeaks and about a year ago they put out a “Collateral Murder” video, which is a video that showed US military and they were targeting and killing civilians in an Apache helicopter attack. A Reuters journalist and his driver was shot and killed by US soldiers from this helicopter then the video shows a Good Samaritan, whose name is Saleh Mutashar. He drives up in a van and ends up being killed as he is trying to save the wounded and he has two children, who are in the van who are also wounded as well. And then somewhat disturbingly there are soldiers that can be heard in the background cheerleading and making comments as they are firing upon these people.
Our guest for the show is actually someone who appears in the video and his name is Ethan McCord and he is an Iraq War veteran. Thank you Ethan for joining the show.
GUEST, ETHAN MCCORD: Thank you for having me.
GOSZTOLA: I’d like to begin broadly speaking. You can talk a bit about what happened in that incident, but I know you’ve shared a lot of that story [for example, in this Wired magazine interview] with people so I think with the most part if you know and are familiar with the “Collateral Murder” video you’ve heard a bit about what it was like so I guess more importantly I would like to know what it has been like for you in the past year to have this video circulating out there where people can actually see what it was like for you in the war and then to describe your experiences in that context ---
MCCORD: What you have to understand is this is just one piece of what I experienced in the war. This is just one day. I was there from February 2007 until November of 2007. There’s a lot of days in that time frame that are similar to this incident. However—When I came home from Iraq and the army, I had been trying to put this whole incident behind me. I didn’t really want to talk about that day because that day my whole views on the war changed.
I grew up extremely conservative in a military family and felt that it was my duty to join the military and go to war and fight for this nation. And, when I got there and started realizing we were killing innocent people, for the most part. And, you have to understand they say in that video we’re shooting civilians. Every person in Iraq is a civilian. There was no army that we were fighting. There was no military we were fighting. It was all civilians. So, you know there’s no uniformed people that we were fighting. That was the hardest part because you start to see these people that we are fighting over there are people who are trying to protect their own homes from us who invaded their country.
So, when I left the military and been trying to put this incident behind me—You know, last year I drop my kids off at school and came home and turned on the news with a cup of coffee and the first image I actually saw was me running across the screen and carrying the child.
Immediately, it felt like a slap in the face. I knew exactly what it was. Unfortunately, I had seen that image in my head plenty of times in the past. The first feeling I felt was anger that this was put out but then I started realizing that this needs to be out there. People need to see what soldiers are being put through, what the Iraqi people are being put through on a daily basis. I wanted to provide context for that video because it seemed that all these talking heads on the radio or on the TV were saying one thing when it was completely wrong. They had no idea what was going on that day. That’s when I decided to come out and start speaking about it, about my feelings, about what I felt at the time and that was why I started speaking on this and over the past year I’ve been part of many speaking engagements and have actually spoken to kids in classrooms to let them know the realities of war.
GOSZTOLA: Right and what has it been like and what can you say about how commanding officers give people who are in the military who experience these incidents – like how they actually don’t tend to want to listen to people who have complaints about incidents like this? What can you say about the need for veterans to have an outlet for explaining what they went through?
MCCORD: You know, when I was in the military, I never heard of We Are Not Your Soldiers or Courage to Resist. The military did a very good job of keeping those outlets away from us. If you wanted to talk to somebody, well you can go and talk to other veterans who are around the army post who are very adamant about this war is right, this war is just. So, when say someone like me who witnesses and experiences something like the WikiLeaks “Collateral Murder” and their view changes, you really have no one to speak to. You have to kind of ball it in.
For myself that day, when we had gotten back to the forward operating base I had asked to see mental health because I was having a hard time dealing with what I had just seen with the small children. I was told by a staff sergeant that I needed to suck it up and get the sand out of my vagina. So, there’s this stigma for especially in the infantry – You have to be thick-skinned and you have to be able to deal this. I mean your job basically is to kill people. You’re not there to save people, you’re not there to provide freedom and democracy because in the infantry you’re trained from the first day of basic training to kill, kill, kill. You know, what makes the green grass grow? Blood, blood, blood. That’s what’s pressed into you. So there’s no way to get to higher ups especially in my case the battalion commander for our unit 216 was Pat Tillman’s old XO and he had given us orders out in Iraq for 360 degree rotational fire to kill everybody on the street when we were hit by an IED including men, women and children. So, who do you go to? There’s no one there. And again you don’t have the outlets like We Are Not Your Soldiers or Courage to Resist right there for you to be able to talk to.
GOSZTOLA: Now, back in October—Well, actually I think it’s good to mention and you can talk a little bit about this. You actually with Josh Stieber put out an apology letter. What did it mean for you to be able to connect with some of these families in the aftermath?
MCCORD: First off, I think way too many people underestimate the power of forgiveness and, even though myself and Josh Stieber we didn’t pull the trigger that day, we were still guilty, I guess you could say, by association. We were a part of the system that was doing this to their families. And, we felt that we needed to heal ourselves as well as to heal others was to express feelings and our sorrow. So, we wrote the letter of reconciliation and responsibility.
From my understanding, a London reporter took the letter to the widow and the mother of the two children and she said that she can forgive me because if it wasn’t for me her children would have died and that was a huge weight being lifted off my shoulders. Forgiveness is an extremely powerful thing.
GOSZTOLA: And then in October you posted some video and some photos on MichaelMoore.com and these were actually from Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, the unit in the video and you said you were showing detainee abuse but the kind of abuse that’s not violent but the kind of mental, emotional and degrading type which actually seems to be less and less significant than the violent abuse. We don’t give that the kind of attention that many might say it deserves. And so, what I’m wondering is what went into your decision to release especially since you had been exposed through a “leak” yourself?
MCCORD: When I was in Iraq, I was witnessing these things happening. I was watching good men become somewhat of animals. And the dehumanization that was taking place in Iraq, of the people of Iraq, it was sickening. You know, again, it begins in basic training. You learn to despise these people, to hate them. And, you know I released these videos for the simple fact that I believe that every person should see what happens in war. The only way we are going to stop war is if people have to live it, if they have to see it thrown in their face—Just like the Afghanistan “Kill Teams.”
I believe everybody should look at those pictures. Everybody. Because, for too many people, the war is so far away and so distant that they go on about their normal lives and they don’t care about what’s going on over there. It doesn’t affect them. But, if you’re children are seeing these pictures and you’re looking at these pictures and you’re not feeling anything, then there’s something seriously wrong with you. You have to feel some kind of anger, remorse for what’s happening to these people.
We’re destroying these nations. We’re destroying these people over there. For what? Because I still don’t know. I served over there. I still don’t know why we’re killing these people. We were killing people for coming out of their homes, for trying to live their lives we were killing people. So, yeah, I believe everybody deserves to see what happens in war so that’s why I released the videos and sure they’re not graphic in nature as far as physical violence but if you sit there and abuse someone mentally for so long, do the scars not last longer than if you were to punch somebody in the face?
GOSZTOLA: And what you can say about, being somebody that has a connection to the military and for people who are in the military, if they get these photos and if they get this video, I guess, what are they dealing with when they decide whether or not to share them? Is there some kind of disciplinary procedure they can face for sharing this material?
MCCORD: Oh, absolutely —
GOSZTOLA: What’s the ramification for somebody that goes ahead and decides to post and share this widely?
MCCORD: Not only are you going to have to deal with the people who you serve with calling you a traitor and a piece of crap and everything else you know, you’re going to have to go through court-martials cause they can say that anything is classified. But, let’s take a look at this WikiLeaks video for just one second here. The video was released on April 5th of 2010. However, the entire incident was written about in a book by David Finkel called The Good Soldiers. So, they’re stating that this was classified, but it was already released back in 2009 through a book so how is it classified if it’s already for released? I mean, word for word this video is described in the book The Good Soldiers so yet we’re going to charge Bradley Manning for releasing classified information. Shouldn’t we also be charging David Finkel for writing this book detailing the entire engagement in his book in 2009? I think that this incident was unclassified as soon as it was written about and put in this book in 2009.
GOSZTOLA: You raise a key dilemma of when information on war ceases to be classified and it does appear most soldiers are not supposed to look at even declassified information because superiors will say it was once classified and if it wasn’t declassified properly you don’t have a right to know. What does that mean for people in the military that do have to process information?
MCCORD: You’re told to serve your country and it’s not your place to ask when and why and how. It’s your job to just do. So, it becomes an extreme moral dilemma for soldiers and you know a lot of soldiers they tend to self-justify what’s going on, what they’re seeing, what they’re doing. But, you know, here in lies the problem because once the self-justifying is done and you come back to the United States and you can no longer self-justify what you did, you end up having the problem like we do now with so many soldiers committing suicide. When the self-justification’s run out, you have to face your own soul, your own mind. Unfortunately, it becomes very tough to deal with and to justify what you did and so, yeah, it’s a huge moral dilemma for soldiers in the military. I know it was for me.
GOSZTOLA: My question also is wasn’t this video or some account of it released before WikiLeaks actually – That it did come up in the news and there was some account of it and it did appear to be incomplete and I’ve read an account that Bradley Manning saw—It’s suggested that he saw this coverage and he thought this isn’t exactly what happened and it raised an alarm in his mind and it’s possible that it had some role in motivating him to give it to WikiLeaks, if he in fact did leak it to WikiLeaks. What’s your reaction to the fact that sometimes these accounts are actually sanitized and what the impact can be on someone who has been involved in these incidents?
MCCORD: I know for a fact that incidents are whitewashed. Taking a look at the Afghanistan “Kill Teams” where they were using drop weapons—Many people in my unit used drop weapons in Iraq. And, we were always told if you engage and you kill somebody we’re going to have your back. This is the officer speaking. We’re going to protect you. So, you’re walking around Iraq with the idea—Many of the young soldiers had the idea we’re protected, we can do whatever because we’re the big bad USA. People are going to protect us. And I’m pretty sure that’s what the Afghanistan “Kill Team” was thinking at the time. You know, unfortunately in the military it’s only wrong if you get caught.
GOSZTOLA: In closing and going forward here, we’ve now expanded our military involvement in countries into Libya and I know that you’ve done some works with veterans addressing that need that they have. I know you’ve been active with Iraq Veterans Against the War and are very outspoken. So, I’d like to give you some time to talk about the expansion of our military into countries with little regard for the individuals who we are asking to be involved in these operations and also the fact of the reality of mission creep that can take place in these wars.
MCCORD: To me—and this is my personal opinion on the matter—You know, if you take a look all around the world, we’re the only country that has bases in other countries. There’s nobody else with a base or post in the United States or anywhere close to it. We’ve been branching out and putting bases everywhere. Look at World War II, Japan and Germany. Look at that we have bases in both those places there. So, Iraq is going to turn into a military base. Korea is a military base. So, are we going to probably put something in Libya? Who knows? You know, we only tend to step in when it’s beneficial to us or to our allies. And, you know with Libya being the large supplier of oil to Europe, you know it was in our best interest to help them.
I like that they say we are just aiding in this, the bombing, although we fired like what 122 missiles and Britain fired like two. And then they are saying well we are handing this over to NATO. Well, NATO—We’re the primary funder of NATO so again the weight is going to fall back on the United States in dealing with this.
GOSZTOLA: I do want to give you one more chance to talk about, before I let you go here, one more time connecting with children and kids on this and what’s it like when you are telling them this story. I imagine a lot of them maybe haven’t heard something like this and a lot of them maybe have a tough time processing it but they. I mean, I want to know if kids actually get it and appreciate hearing from you.
MCCORD: I actually think most kids appreciate it. Ninety-eight percent of them have no idea what war is. They play “Black Ops” or “Call of Duty” on Xbox but they have absolutely no idea that it’s not a video game. When you get shot, you don’t respond. When you kill somebody, they don’t respond. You’re actually taking the lives of people and you can’t go on about your day after you kill somebody like nothing happened. It lingers. It stays with you. And of course there’s some of these kids who are completely lost to the system, that are going to join the military no matter what you say. But, I’ve spoken with a lot and I, in fact, keep in contact with a lot who still message me on Facebook to let me know how they are doing, people who were going to join the military but once they saw my video and listened to me talk decided it wasn’t going to be the best for them.
I try to teach kids alternatives in joining the military. I speak—It’s not this glorified, glamorized job that TV and movies make it out to be. It’s a horrible horrible thing. And you know not only are you going to live in war but after the war you are going to live with and it’s just not worth it.
GOSZTOLA: Alright Ethan I want to thank you for coming on the show. Do you have anything that you feel like you would like to plug? Anything people should see? I should mention if anybody listening to this is in and around New York City you’re featured in a short documentary film that’s going to be screening at the Tribeca Festival and it’s called “Incident in New Baghdad.”
MCCORD: Correct –
GOSZTOLA: And do you have anything that you want to say?
MCCORD: I’m actually through that movie I’m releasing all my pictures of that day. They will be in that documentary. So, you’ll be able to see what I saw, what everybody else saw. It shows everything. I didn’t hold anything back in the pictures.
GOSZTOLA: Thank you again and good luck to you.
MCCORD: Thank you.
[END OF INTERVIEW]