The War Profiteers - War Crimes, Kidnappings, Torture and Big Money
August 4th, 2006 - Don't Look Now
US soldiers’ ‘trophy videos’ of Iraq make uncomfortable viewing for the American government next to TV networks’ coverage
By Chris Shaw
Friday August 4, 2006
Last week the Pentagon ordered American servicemen in Iraq to stop posting private video clips on the internet.
These "trophy videos" have become one of the more extraordinary by-products of modern-day warfare as soldiers - like everyday tourists - send video images ranging from the comic to the utterly horrific back home to impress friends and titillate the fans of "uncensored war".
There are hundreds of hours of this stuff posted up on a range of internet sites - most of it is fairly crudely shot and edited and usually set to thrash metal soundtracks.
But these homemade war videos offer an insight into modern warfare and the psyche of the average serviceman which conventional broadcast news and current affairs coverage cannot get close to.
Some of the material - like the famous Show Me the Way to Amarillo Peter Kay video rip-off by British servicemen - is clearly just an innocent exercise in overcoming the boredom between patrols, but it is the stuff shot on patrol that really has the power to shock.
Images I have seen recently include a close up of a suicide bomber exploding in two, an insurgent being shot through the head by an American sniper, full scale firefights between US patrols and insurgents plus endless images of body parts scattered about in the aftermath of the latest bomb explosion.
This footage is often supported by a running commentary of "awesome" and suchlike from the cameraman who has literally strapped a digital camera onto his helmet or gun barrel and shot the video while he was shooting insurgents.
So why do servicemen want to film this stuff and why do they want to share it with the folks back home ?
One filmmaker compared his material with a video game: "you're stepped away from reality ... you're seeing it through the camera lens."
Another said it was the only way he could feel proud of his work, "like a big game hunter feels proud of his kills".
Yet another said it made him feel good to bring the gruesome reality of a soldier's life in Iraq to those living safely behind their "clean, white picket fences at home".
In each case, the taking and posting of trophy video served as some kind of relief from the psychological stresses of serving as a soldier in such a violent and acutely dangerous place.
To some extent this stuff is also the flip side of the horror movies of hostages being decapitated with kitchen knives that are posted on the internet by the insurgents.
Already embarrassed by the notorious Abu Ghraib prison abuse photos, the US government has successfully shut down some of the more extreme "war porn" websites.
But in truth it is almost impossible to keep track of this stuff - hence the attempt to stop it at source by banning laptops from US military camps in Iraq.
Back at the start of the Gulf war in 2003, Fox TV and other news organisations proudly boasted that they were transmitting the first truly unedited, and therefore real, images of modern warfare thanks to the power of modern satellite technology.
This mainly consisted of victorious American forces racing unopposed towards Baghdad and US artillery firing at an unseen enemy.
The homemade stuff now finding its way onto the internet offers another less attractive but probably more realistic version of modern warfare in Iraq today. And it is a version that is making both the American military and US government feel very uncomfortable.
Chris Shaw is senior programme controller, news and current affairs, at Channel Five
External link: http://media.guardian.co.uk/site/story/0,,1836768,00.html