The Wikileaks Medic’s Soldier’s Apology

Two of the guys in the Company depicted in the Wikileaks video–including the medic guy who pulled the girl from the van–recently wrote a letter apologizing for their role in the events depicted in the video. Here’s how it starts:

Peace be with you.

To all of those who were injured or lost loved ones during the July 2007 Baghdad shootings depicted in the “Collateral Murder” Wikileaks video:

We write to you, your family, and your community with awareness that our words and actions can never restore your losses.

We are both soldiers who occupied your neighborhood for 14 months. Ethan McCord pulled your daughter and son from the van, and when doing so, saw the faces of his own children back home. Josh Stieber was in the same company but was not there that day, though he contributed to the your pain, and the pain of your community on many other occasions.

There is no bringing back all that was lost. What we seek is to learn from our mistakes and do everything we can to tell others of our experiences and how the people of the United States need to realize we have done and are doing to you and the people of your country. We humbly ask you what we can do to begin to repair the damage we caused.

Danger Room also has a long interview with the medic guy who pulled the girl, Ethan McCord, who first saw the video again after dropping his own kids off to school.

DR: The first thing you saw was the little girl in the van. She had a stomach wound?

EM: She had a stomach wound and she had glass in her eyes and in her hair. She was crying. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I went to the van immediately, because I could hear her crying. It wasn’t like a cry of pain really. It was more of a child who was frightened out of her mind. And the next thing I saw was the boy. … He was kind of sitting on the floorboard of the van, but with his head laying on the bench seat in the front. And then the father, who I’m assuming was the father, in the driver’s seat slumped over on his side. Just from looking into the van, and the amount of blood that was on the boy and the father, I immediately figured they were dead.

So the first thing I did was grab the girl. I grabbed the medic and we went into the back. There’s houses behind where the van was. We took her in there and we’re checking to see if there were any other wounds. You can hear the medic saying on the video, “There’s nothing I can do here, she needs to be evac’d.” He runs the girl to the Bradley. I went back outside to the van, and that’s when the boy took, like, a labored, breath … That’s when I started screaming, “The boy’s alive! The boy’s alive!” And I picked him up and started running with him over to the Bradley.  He opened his eyes when I was carrying him. I just kept telling him, “Don’t die; don’t die.” He looked at me, then his eyes rolled back into this head.

Then I got yelled at by my platoon leader that I needed to stop trying to save these mf’n kids and go pull security. … I was told to go pull security on a rooftop. When we were on that roof, we were still taking fire. There were some people taking pot shots, sniper shots, at us on the rooftop. We were probably there on the roof for another four to five hours.

Both the letter and the interview are worth reading in full.

Update: Sorry for the error in suggesting McCord was a medic. Some of the early commentary on it–and someone someone said to me subsequently–had made me believe he was.

47 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    Thanks EW!

    This part tells me more how mightily fucked things are than anything else:

    …DR: Civilians are supposed to know that they’re not supposed to pick up a wounded person crawling in the road?

    EM: Yeah. This is the problem that we’re speaking out on as far as the rules of engagement. How is this guy supposed to [decide] should I stop and pick them up, or is the military going to shoot me? If you or I saw someone wounded on the ground what is your first inkling? I’m going to help that person…

    Our forces have a ROE (Rules of Engagement) that Iraqi civilians are supposed to abide by?

    And if the fact that Iraqi civilians wouldn’t know about their roles in our ROE doesn’t strike our military’s leadership as absurd, how absurd is that?

  2. knowbuddhau says:

    You betcha they are, MadDog. Don’t they know we’re trying to assert full-spectrum dominance over them (whoever or wherever that happens to be on Battlefield Earth)? Any and all actions, or thoughts suspected of possibly leading to said actions, that oppose the US are crimes, at the least, and probably sins, too.

    Makes me wonder: Has DoD adopted the attitude, if not the policy, of Phillip II Augustus toward the Albigensian Heresy? Kill them all, let god (or Haliburton, or KBR, et al;.) sort them out.

    • DWBartoo says:

      Sanity, humanity and reason …

      What does it take to understand?

      What is the social psychology of a nation that will not and a society that cannot imagine the horror they visit upon other human beings, a people who cannot and will not grasp the enormity of their arrogance and savagery?


    • MadDog says:

      I have some understanding how bureaucracies grow over time and one of the things that happens is “slower than grass growing” incremental absurdism.

      Having myself served in the military, and having had an intimate personal familiarity with their construction of skyscraper-high documentation on policy and procedure by generations of well-meaning, but ant eye-level toilers-in-servitude toiling away with another comma here, a “but” there, the very rickety nature of some of these patch-upon-patchwork monstrosities generally escapes the notice of its inhabitants until their edifice collapses of its own inescapable contradictions.

  3. fatster says:

    These two medics, Josh Stieber and Ethan McCord, should be honored for their bravery, compassion and humanity.

    Perhaps, when the collapse MadDog just cogently described, does occur, they will be.

    • BoxTurtle says:

      The medic’s consciences will bother them forever, if not longer. Any recognition they should receive would be hollow to them. The pilots who did the shooting have likely already justified it to themselves and moved on.

      That is wrong on so many levels.

      Boxturtle (But, hey, we’re looking forward, right?)

      • fatster says:

        and DWBartoo @ 7. You’re both correct. It’s a heart-breaker all the way around, isn’t it? Thnx.

      • Jesterfox says:

        My son is an Army medic with ‘compassionate’ PTSD. I wonder if this is what caused it. He says it’s not from being shot at, it’s the work. He had two tours in Iraq after one in Afghanistan.

    • DWBartoo says:

      They should be “officially” honored, fatster, each of us, here, privately and publicly, I am certain, honors Stieber and McCord, and hopes that their example may be generally appreciated, yet it is doubtful that the people of the United States of America will much hear of these men, for it is akin to showing the coffins of the fallen. To appreciate what Stieber and McCord have done, is to question the entirety of what passes as “rational” policy.

      Should this nation ever come to recognize this example of deliberate courage, humanity, AND truth, it will, most likely, only be in retrospect, at a “safe” distance of time, for Stieber and McCord’s courage and humanity and the truth they herald are all most unwelcome, today and, probably, tomorrow.

      However, let us honor and follow the careers and fortunes of these men, for they are worth knowing. They are the very sort of human beings our society must come to respect and appreciate, and, eventually to emulate, for the actions of Stieber and McCord will be most honored by those who are emboldened to behave with the same courage and humanity …

      Our times demand nothing less of all of us … as does our own humanity.


  4. harpie says:

    My heart aches for all of these people, soldiers and civilians. They are victims of the war machine.

    • bobschacht says:

      Amen to that. War makes monsters of us all–collectively, and often individually, too. Preznit Bush went on tirades about Moslem “bloodthirsty killers,” but then turned our boys into bloodthirsty killers and torturers, in a race to the bottom. That’s what war does.

      George Washington had a better idea. As Robert F. Kennedy wrote in 2005,

      “In 1776,” wrote historian David Hackett Fischer in “Washington’s Crossing,” “American leaders believed it was not enough to win the war. They also had to win in a way that was consistent with the values of their society and the principles of their cause. One of their greatest achievements … was to manage the war in a manner that was true to the expanding humanitarian ideals of the American Revolution.”

      I guess Bush & Cheney threw that tradition out with the trash, eh?

      Bob in AZ

    • milton62 says:

      If you are interested the effects of the Iraq occupation on the soldiers of Bravo Company 2-16 they are documented in David Finkel’s excellent book “The Good Soldiers”. This incident is described in chapter 5. They were in the 3rd month of a 15 month deployment and still thought they could do good.

      • harpie says:

        Thank you for the recomendation, milton62.
        The “still thought they could do good” is so true of many, who are propagandized and made to feel like the work they dedicate their very lives to is moral and good. It’s the people with the highest expectations of themselves and their country that have the farthest to fall…and who is there to pick them up, if they survive?

    • b2020 says:

      Solis is remarkably unconcerned with the lack of communication discipline and professionalism captured in the video, remarkably willing to conjecture off-camera firefights that apparently created the urgent need to look for targets elsewhere, and remarkably willing to postulate a threat to the distant helicopter and the invisible assisted troops from the chosen targets. I know this is the world of US exceptionalism, and we just live in it, but proportionality of action – which, in a “warrior”‘s case, implies the willingness in the face of uncertainty to accept some risk for yourself and yours, and an appreciation of acceptable limits of force protection – has not ceased to be an issue.

      • harpie says:

        Solis is remarkably unconcerned with the lack of communication discipline and professionalism captured in the video

        This was my first impression as well, but he addresses this concern somewhat, imo, a little later with this:

        [Solis] The unprofessional radio traffic does the fliers (and the United States) no honor, but comments as are heard in this video are hardly unique in a combat zone. Nor do such comments determine reasonableness.

        He was talking about “reasonableness” because it came up in his answer to Horton’s question:

        Horton: To what extent did the law of armed conflict provide rules for this incident? Were they violated?

        Solis: There are no rules for such incidents to be found in the Geneva Conventions. Customary law of war does provide guidelines, however. Culpability turns on whether the shooters honestly and reasonably believed their targets presented an immediate threat to themselves—the helicopter unit—or other friendly personnel.

        remarkably willing to conjecture off-camera firefights that apparently created the urgent need to look for targets elsewhere, and remarkably willing to postulate a threat to the distant helicopter and the invisible assisted troops from the chosen targets.

        He wasn’t conjecturing or postulating. He was stating his opinion about what the reported circumstances were:

        Solis: In this case, the helicopters involved reportedly were in direct support of a heavily engaged infantry unit located within a few hundred yards of the filmed shooting. […] The tape’s audio seems to indicate a belief of imminent threat honestly held by the aviators

        but proportionality of action […] and an appreciation of acceptable limits of force protection-has not ceased to be an issue

        I agree. I believe he addresses that here:

        Solis: Was that honest belief reasonable, given the circumstances? That is a question for investigators or a jury. Like reasonableness in any trial, it is often a difficult call.

        …and then answers the second part of Horton’s questions by stating his informed opinion about what an investigator might conclude:

        Solis: Based on the circumstances seen on the videotape, and given their context, I believe it unlikely that a neutral and detached investigator would conclude that the helicopter personnel violated the law of armed conflict.

    • mattcarmody says:

      Must be a really important book, it’s priced like a college textbook, something many people won’t spend the money on. One good way of making sure no one reads it. The people who do read already know how we’ve been breaking international law in Iraq and Afghanistan for almost a decade now.

  5. orionATL says:

    if one has been engaged in perpetrating a severe injustice, as these two soldiers were,

    there is no more humane, caring, contrite thing one can say than: “i’m sorry. i’m so very sorry for the hurt i caused.”

    these two soldiers had the decency and the courage to say their organization’s actions were wrong

    and to apologize for their part in that wrong.

    there are many warring emotions involved in a confession and apology like this from the two soldiers.

    but i have nothing but deep respect for their willingness to publicly apologize to those families they hurt grievously.

    all the more so because their warmates are keeping quiet and keeping their own involvement hidden.

    as a consequence, these two soldiers will likely be shunned by their buddies
    who do not possess their courage.

    and scorned in our foolish, morally unhinged media.

  6. cinnamonape says:

    “Then I got yelled at by my platoon leader that I needed to stop trying to save these mf’n kids and go pull security. … I was told to go pull security on a rooftop. When we were on that roof, we were still taking fire. There were some people taking pot shots, sniper shots, at us on the rooftop. We were probably there on the roof for another four to five hours.”

    A medic told to “pull security”?

    This actually sounds like “I’m gonna teach you f’kers a lesson for caring for Iraqi civilians, get up there into an exposed position and have your heads almost blown off.”

    This is not a medics primary task, treating injured individuals is. I don’t know about Iraq, but Medics in other conflicts were unarmed, non-combatants.

      • cinnamonape says:

        Sorry – got a little confused as they called the medic (unnamed) for assistance with the girl who was treated in the house. It was a bit vague if the medic continued to assist the kids or was also assigned to “security”. Other comments confused me about McCord’s status.

        I do know that medical corpsmen have apparently been armed, and with more than defensive weapons…despite the Geneva Conventions prohibition.

        “An unlawful combatant is an individual who is not authorized to take a direct part in hostilities but does. … Unlawful combatants are a proper object of attack while engaging as combatants. … If captured, they may be tried and punished. As examples, a US Army pamphlet mentions civilians who engage in war without authorization; non-combat members of the military, such as medics or chaplains, who engage in combat; and soldiers who fight out of uniform.”

  7. bobschacht says:

    Apparently, in their decision today, the Supremes slapped down Solicitor General Kagan today, according to a report by Nina Totenburg on NPR:

    The court’s decision not only st[r]uck down a law enacted by Congress, but it also delivered a rather pointed rebuke to two individuals. First, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, a top contender for the U.S. Supreme Court, whose brief on behalf of the Obama administration was thoroughly repudiated in the strongest terms.

    Gene Schaerr, who filed a brief on the other side for the libertarian Cato Institute, said if Kagan supervised the writing of the brief she signed, “I would agree that it does seem to raise questions about her judgment.”

    Given that bit, ISTM that Obama would really be picking a fight to nominate Kagan to the court now, wouldn’t he? It would also make her nomination something of a circus, wouldn’t it?

    Bob in AZ

  8. bobschacht says:

    Heh. I guess Kagan could claim a victory of sorts in the decision by the Supremes today: She managed to get most of the Court’s conservatives to agree with the “liberal” (actually, moderate) wing of the court! (Never mind that they were united in opposition to her).

    Bob in AZ

  9. orionATL says:

    harpie @9

    i enjoy horton and admire his work.
    thanks for pointing us to the interview with law of war expert gary solis.

    solis’ responses to the last three questions were especially informative.

    i was astonished with solis’ comment about “material suport” and our congress’ use of that concept in the 2009 “terrorism” legislation.

    the war on terrorism has turned out to be primarily a war on fundamental American constitutional principles

    a war carried out and carried on by our presidents and congressmen,

    that is,

    by our political leaders.

    • harpie says:

      Yes. Material support is not a war crime:

      War crimes cannot simply be made up, as this one was by Congress in the 2009 Military Commissions Act. Custom and historical precedent are required to give a war crime legitimacy. “Material support for terrorism” lacks any of these indicia. [Solis]

      I especially hope someone is hearing this part:

      While the ICRC guidance is not law, it suggests that CIA personnel and their civilian contractors in the armed drone program may be targeted, be they located at Pakistan’s Shamsi airfield, Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, or Langley, Virginia.

      I enjoyed Horton’s recent article in which he speaks about the “ancient” ends-justify-the-means arguments most recently brought to light by Wilkerson’s testimony:

      “Brecht–Change the World!”

      He ends by saying:

      Dick Cheney and Bertolt Brecht would thus appear to agree about the role of justice and the need to supersede it in the interests of their politics. And this demonstrates, once again, the convergence of political extremes [Ie:Stalin and Torquemada] and their instinctive hostility to a politically neutral, morally driven concept of justice.

      • b2020 says:

        “It’s typical for Brecht’s artistry that he presents this as a credo surrounded with a whisper of doubt.”

        Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Horton’s assessment of Brecht.

        I venture that Brecht would reject the very idea of “politically neutral, [yet] morally driven concept of justice” as a fraud on first principles, pointing to ample evidence (SCOTUS 2001 Bush vs. Gore, to take it all the way to the top) that justice is never politically neutral – which probably demonstrates some kind of “convergence” of Brecht and Lithwick – and neither are the “morally driven”. I am sure Cheney sees himself as a deeply ethical person, and precisely for that reason exempt from restraints on the fallible. In that, there is a divergence from Nazi Germany which went to great lengths to tailor the law to its ends – as aspect well worth considering when comparing the record of the Bush and Obama administrations.

        I do agree that Brecht’s artistry of doubt was remarkably absent from his own politics, especially later in life. Brecht did experience “morally driven concepts of justice” in the shape of HUAC, which apparently made him appreciate the need for professed political neutrality in objects of a justice that is not. Maybe that lesson was ultimately lost on him, but in first approximation, “revolutionary justice” – like military justice – is simply judgement in haste, reasonably seen as a contradiction in itself and yet the essence of any judiciary implemented with limited resources and no omniscience at all. It is a continuum, not a choice. In the case of Gitmo and Gulag, the “need for speed” was a pretext, not a cause, and that should be sufficient distinguish a revolutionary from a totalitarian.

        As much as the conservative mind – this includes Horton – would like to frame Cheney and Bush as neocon “radicals” and “revolutionaries”, the simple truth that they came to praise and save the system, not to bury it, and that theirs was not a sweeping systemic change but petty crime by secret memo. Obama and his pliant Congress might or might not progress beyond the unitary rule by executive order, but the less “revolutionary” Obama’s codification of Bush era crimes into the revised law of the land, the more poisoning its effect on what is left of the free and open society.

        The Founders were revolutionaries – they broke the law of the land, engaged in armed insurrection and acts of terrorism, and ultimately succeeded at sedition. It is only consistent – yet a pleasant surprise – that such people – traitors after all – would establish jury nullification and elected judges at the heart of their judiciary. I am not sure how Horton proposes to find political neutrality in any system also driven by morals, but I am sadened to see how the conservative mind fails to comprehend just how revolutionary – in every sense of the word – the Founding actually was.

        • DWBartoo says:

          Well said.

          Thank you for sharing, b2020.

          The depth, breadth, and cogency of your thinking is much appreciated.


        • bobschacht says:

          …the simple truth that they came to praise and save the system, not to bury it, and that theirs was not a sweeping systemic change but petty crime by secret memo.

          What this brings to mind is a voice from the Vietnam era: “We had to destroy the village to save it.”

          But the “system” Cheney & the neocons praised and were trying to save bears little resemblance to the system the Founding Fathers were attempting to create. The system so dear to Cheney & the Neocons was a system that favored Halliburton and Blackwater, Enron and Exxon. We are but pawns in that system.

          Bob in AZ

  10. orionATL says:

    b2020 @33

    “as much as the conservative mind – this includes horton-…”

    i would never have thought to label horton ” conservative”.

    do you have a special meaning for that term?

    • b2020 says:

      There is nothing wrong with being an honest, consistent conservative. In Germany, the “green” movement had a dual root, one side of which was deeply rooted in conservatism. German political discourse also distinguishes between value conservatives and structure conservatives. Horton, to me, appears to be the former, which has significant overlap with “libertarian” and humanitarian positions, and is likely to draw from Burke

      I came to believe that Horton is a conservative in this sense (to some extent, I am, too) because of his somewhat surprising sympathy for McCain (explained, I believe, by having worked with or for him?) and Mukasey. See

      It seemed obvious to me that McCain’s posture was a fraud, subordinate to his ambition (and in light of the torture he suffered, a tragedy), and I have already mentioned the “nomination is disqualification” tautology that led me to reject Mukasey (just as Roberts) out of hand. Maybe I am reading too much into Horton’s sympathies (which are reflected in his choice of association), and I certainly do not think less of him, but I believe it is fair to say that he is, in the best sense, conservative. The republic needs more of his kind.

  11. orionATL says:


    horton’s q1 did not ask solis’ personal opinion.

    it asked solis, an expert on the law of war, whether or not the law of war provided any guidelines to evaluate the behavior of the helicopter pilots and gunners.

    if he had substituted a personal opinion or injected his personal feelings into his reply he could have misinformed us, his readers, and he would have been behaving unprofessionally.

    solis’ “job” in this interview was to educate us. it was not to agree with our sentiments.

    i would much rather he tell me “the truth” about the law of war than to make me feel supported in my sentiments.

    • harpie says:

      solis’ “job” in this interview was to educate us. it was not to agree with our sentiments.

      i would much rather he tell me “the truth” about the law of war than to make me feel supported in my sentiments.

      I agree.

    • b2020 says:

      This is a false dichotomy. An expert opinion is an opinion. The difference is literacy – an expert is supposed to have a better educated judgement. In a democracy, competence cannot be the gate for participation (we do not require political awareness for voting), and any expert worship disguised a deference to their assumed competence is in the end worse than unjustified criticism resulting from incompetence. We do not sit at the feet of the oracle to be educated, and there is no such thing as “the truth”.

      The law of war (even as a platonic hypothetical) is not the issue here. To me, Solis seemed to postulate events and circumstances not documented by the video – an off-screen battle. His assessment thus seemed based on teichoscopia – information not available to me, and the source not explicitly referenced. There is nothing here either way that would support any sentiments except possibly his own.

      I am as “unsentimental” (as much as Solis, however you want to see it) about military law (to me, a construct akin to military music) as I am about the “warrior ethos”, but I do see the internal contradictions between the professed condition of modern soldiers and the reality. One of the most telling examples is the conjecture of bravery and sacrifice for drone operators based out auf air-conditioned trailers parks in Nevada.

      Ultimately, I neither claim nor care whether the helicopter operators in question broke the law or now, they simply do not live up to the ethos that soldiers claim for themselves. The casualty rates reflect the balance of risk, and bravery without risk is at best unproven, at worst nonexistent.

  12. Leen says:

    “Then I got yelled at by my platoon leader that I needed to stop trying to save these mf’n kids and go pull security.”

    O.k. more tears. This stuff just rips me up. Thank you to these soldiers for coming out. Can not be easy.

    Americans just do not want to know about the crimes committed in Iraq. They just do not want to know, and the MSM is perfectly happy to allow them to keep their heads up where the sun never shines.

    I have heard stories like this directly from other returning soliders.

    This Is How These Soldiers Were Trained to Act”–Veteran of Military Unit Involved in 2007 Baghdad Helicopter Shooting Says Incident Is Part of Much Larger Problem

    WATCH Winter Soldier Video Testimony

    * Winter Soldier Broadcast Quality Recordings
    * Winter Soldier Audio Archives at (a project of KPFA)
    * Winter Soldier Media Coverage and Press Information
    * Winter Soldier Liveblog
    * Winter Soldier on the Hill (May 15th) on CSPAN
    * Winter Soldier on the Hill (May 15th) audio from KPFA
    * Winter Soldier on the Hill PBS NewsHour coverage
    * Winter Soldier on the Hill

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