Web Brings War HomeWeb Brings War Home
It has become common for soldiers to take digital cameras, video equipment, and laptops to war. They carry the devices or attach them to their gear and capture sights and sounds that range from gory to mundane, and then share their images via the Internet.
July 28, 2006
Generations of soldiers have returned home unable to find the words to explain to civilians what they lived through during combat.
As video sharing Web sites like YouTube grow in popularity, troops have begun to give large civilian audiences a soldier's-eye view of what it's like to live through war.
Many of the military members in Iraq have grown up with digital cameras, Internet access and high-tech devices. Several military spokespeople said it has become common for soldiers to take digital cameras, video equipment and laptops to war. Once there, they carry the devices or attach them to their gear and capture sights and sounds that range from gory to mundane.
Though it's not easy to upload large files to the Internet from Iraq, many soldiers are posting still and video images once they return home. The practice is gaining the attention of media, military leaders, civil rights advocates, viewers around the globe.
Recent press reports have stated that the U.S. military is attempting to restrict the content out of fear it could be perceived as anti-Arab, but Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros, a Department of Defense spokesperson, said the Pentagon is not considering a new code of conduct regarding video posting. Official spokespersons for the Multi-National Corps in Iraq (MNC-I) said they aren't aware of any such orders on the ground either.
However, commanders in war zones are warning soldiers to make sure the videos and photographs do not provide insurgents with information about their tactics, techniques or procedures, Army Major Joseph Breasseale, said Friday during a phone interview from Baghdad.
"We're dealing an enemy that is incredibly intelligent, though wildly cowardly," he said.
The Multi-National Corps " Iraq's Policy #9 states that soldier owned and maintained Web sites must be registered with the unit chain-of command. Military personnel owning Web pages, portals or sites must provide their unit, location, the webmaster's name and telephone number. Lt. Ingrid Muhling, a member of the MNC in Iraq and the Estonian Navy, said that applies to both official and unofficial sites.
Military personnel posting blogs and editorial content on others' pages or Web sites also must register the URL and make sure prohibited information is not posted on websites. All information sent or received on the Department of Defense's computer systems may be monitored. Department of Defense Directive 5230.9 states that employees " including active duty military members " are required gain clearance for public release of information that pertains to military matters and national security, but sharing information in a private capacity is permitted as long as laws and ethical standards are upheld. Several military spokespeople interviewed for this story said footage of bombs and firefights are being permitted as long as they do not provide insurgents with strategic information.
Breasseale, a media relations chief who is scheduled to return home Wednesday, said the majority of soldiers in Iraq grew up in the digital age and are following the rules.
"I think they're just trying to share their experience," he said. "I don't believe most of them have any other intent. The overwhelming majority follow the rules. They're not supposed to show faces or anything that brings shame. We don't want to bring shame to anyone and showing faces is a massive violation of the Geneva Conventions. Showing dead Iraqis is wildly irresponsible and disrespectful."
Breasseale said the U.S. military does not want to get into a "tit-for-tat" with insurgents who post images of beheadings and other graphic video.
Some of the uploaded war video available on sites like YouTube and Ogrish.com contains images of soldiers stepping lightly, guns in hand, past Iraqi bodies, while engaging in urban combat.
When military leaders find prohibited content, they try to stop the person who is posting it and they can punish soldiers. Punishment can include docking pay, confinement and more, depending on which sections of the several-thousand page Uniformed Code of Military Justice have been broken.
"Sometimes it's untraceable if they're taking it with a privately owned digital device and uploading it through a private Internet service provider," Breasseale said.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has spoken out against videos showing Iraqi bodies and a recent well-publicized video of a soldier in a mess hall singing a song that describes the soldier laughing as a young Iraqi girl is shot.
"We love the First Amendment, and we use it everyday," Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR's director of communications, said in an interview Friday. "The Internet is filled with anti-Muslim content, the vast majority of which we say nothing about. If it's something that deals with an official source, a credible source, we feel it is appropriate to challenge Islamaphobic content that promotes hatred or violence. If somebody is sending a "hi mom" from Baghdad, we have no problem with that. If it's video of war crimes or abuse, we have a problem with that." Though images of death and destruction turned the tide of public sentiment during the Vietnam War, Hooper said he would not support showing Iraqi war dead for that aim because he does not believe those images have the same effect now.
"I don't think we've reached that stage yet," he said. "We're seeing images of civilians each day in Lebanon, yet there is no cease-fire agreement."
Hayden Hewitt, who co-owns Ogrish.com, takes the opposite view. His site posts insurgent video of beheadings as well as footage submitted by soldiers. He said he believes people should see the reality of war.
"It's not like other sites where you'll get 'lol. Another beheading," he said Friday during an interview from Manchester, United Kingdom. "You can look if you want and don't if you don't. We have descriptive captions so you can make a decision: 'Do I want to see this, or do I not want to see this?"
He said the site sticks to facts. Hewitt also said people have a fascination with death and merely posting the content is not supporting it. As evidence, he points to insurgents' graphic videos aimed at gaining broader support in the Muslim world.
"That's one piece of propaganda that did backfire against the insurgents," Hewitt said. "The majority of the Muslim world turned against them when they saw it because who wants that in their name?"
He said that his site has drawn up to 800,000 hits on a big news day, though the average is more like 200,000 hits. Video footage uploaded to the site has run on major news networks like CNN, he said.
According to Hewitt, the soldiers' video footage is much more popular than that of the insurgents.
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