The camera as a weapon in war
By Lauren Crothers
The video will chill your blood.
In it, a group of men wander about the dusty streets below. Two of them are Reuters staff: a photographer and driver, both carrying cameras. In a few minutes, the blood of both men will be seeping out into the rubble under them, their bodies riddled with bullets.
You see, they are about to be murdered by U.S. forces circling above in an Apache, making the aggressors essentially removed from the situation. There is no intimacy in killing from afar, no having to look your victim in the eye as you slay him. Maybe that's why so many of the airmen are able to laugh and joke.
War has become nothing more than a video game.
The soldiers' audio is clear. The video hones in on 40-year-old driver Saeed Chmagh. Remember, he is carrying a camera.
"That's a weapon," a voice says.
A few seconds later, having honed in on 22-year-old Namir Noor-Eldeen, also holding a camera, the voice says: "Have individuals with weapons."
In a matter of minutes, having reportedly spotted men they believe to hold AK47s (actual weapons, intended to kill), the forces have secured the go-ahead to shoot, and shoot they do, indiscriminately.
"Keep shootin,'" a voice says.
Cameras have been an essential component of war since they were first used in Crimea, but it was Vietnam - the first colour war, the lack of censorship, the effect that the photos had on the U.S. effort, - that changed everything. It was, in many ways, the photographers' war, despite the risk that evolved as the conflict did.
That risk is in no way fleeting. But neither are pictures, which is why it is so incredibly important to have photojournalists in combat. This video disgusts me, but it underscores the point that if a camera is a weapon, it is a weapon only in its ability to devastate those who can be damaged by the truths it conveys. That goes for the Apache camera (the footage of which was sought for the last three years by Reuters and finally released by Wikileaks), not just those held by journalists.
So, to the photographers behind these cameras putting their lives on the line every day: keep shooting. Hopefully one day there will be more actuations than bullets.
Lauren Crothers is a Star copy editor with one eye behind the lens. firstname.lastname@example.org
*Video can be seen here but be warned, its contents are graphic and upsetting.